Isn't That Special? Dana Carvey Returns

June 19, 2011 12 min read

Dana Carvey has created so many classic comedy routines over the years that it's difficult for fans to agree exactly which one is the most, well, special.

Is it his perpetually prissy Church Lady or his Grumpy Old Man, two of the most enduring characters from Carvey's star-making six-year tenure on TV's "Saturday Night Live" in the late 1980s and early '90s? (To see the Church Lady's "SNL" guest appearance in February with Justin Bieber, click here.)

Is it vapid English singer-songwriter Derek Stevens, best remembered for such wonderfully silly musical bits as "Choppin' Broccoli" and "The Lady I Know"?

Is it Carvey's spot-on impersonations of everyone from Bob Dylan and Johnny Carson to President Bush (the elder and the younger) and Arnold Schwarzenegger (in both his pre- and now post-"governator" days)?

Or is it lunkheaded heavy-metal fan Garth Algar, the "Wayne's World" mainstay Carvey portrayed on "Saturday Night Live" and in two very popular feature films?

According to the still boyish-looking comedian, who is now 56, the correct answer is: None of the above.

"To me, the funniest I ever was probably was in high school, in a VW bug, (riding) with three friends who may have been stoned, or not been," Carvey recalled from the Marin County home that he shares with his wife and two teenage sons.

Carvey then expertly re-enacted a VW bug-hatched routine in which he depicted an intensely introverted high school classmate as an oh-so-shy budding hit man. There was no punch line, per se, just one laugh-inducing riff and tangent after another — an approach Carvey prefers to this day.

"I enjoy good joke-tellers and solid puns, but I prefer to just get in a rhythm," said the former rock drummer-turned-comedy star.

"In a 500-seat casino theater with low ceilings, I'll be riffing longer. There are pieces I'm working on that make me laugh, and I'll take them further in that (theater) setting. If it's a show for thousands of soldiers outdoors at Camp Pendleton (near San Diego), where I'm doing a free show for the troops the night after I play a (nearby) casino, I'll be more concise."

In either setting, it's likely Carvey will do a new bit in which the younger former President Bush tries to convince the older former President Bush that President Obama won't — or, rather, shouldn't — get all the credit for taking out Osama bin Laden.

"But, Daddy, I laid down the military apparati! I did the surge!" the younger Bush argues. "Doesn't matter," the older Bush replies. "But, Daddy ..." "Doesn't matter. Not gonna happen."

Carvey, who impersonates both ex-presidents with absolute precision, laughed gleefully. "I can just keep going with this (Bush theme)," he said. "That can be 10 minutes."

As longtime fans may recall, Carvey's impersonations of the first President Bush were so spot on that Bush ended up inviting Carvey and his wife to spend the night at the White House. Carvey accepted and has since visited former President Bush at his home in Kennebunkport, Maine.

"Just coming from my background, my entire career has been surreal, along with having children," the Montana-born comedian said. "But that (White House visit) in particular was completely surreal. I've seen him (former President Bush) over the years and grown fond of him. He's very likable and he's been very kind to me."

Carvey is perhaps the only comedian whose resume includes having drummed (via satellite) with U2, thanks to his having hosted the 1992 MTV Video Music Awards.

A lifelong music fan, he spoke at length about his love for The Beatles in general and Ringo Starr's drumming specifically, citing some of his favorite lyrics by John Lennon ("Beautiful Boy") and drum fills by Starr ("Tomorrow Never Knows"). Asked if he first fell in love with music or comedy, Carvey replied:

"Both came simultaneously. but I'd say the first (epiphany) for me was The Beatles. My older brother, Scott, and me were into the Beach Boys. Scott had a band called The Surfers. He had a one-string guitar and I shoplifted a pair of drum sticks from (future Grateful Dead drummer) Mickey Hart's drum store. I was a juvenile delinquent back then! By the late 1960s, I got a reel-to-reel tape recorder and was taping Johnny Carson off TV and learning to sound like him. Some comedians want to be musicians and some musicians want to be comedians."

TV made Carvey a star. But apart from his two "Wayne's World" movies, his film career has never ignited.

"After I came off of 'Saturday Night Live,' the movies I was handed were pretty bad. I also tried to do a TV variety show (in 1996) with Steve Carrell and Stephen Colbert, but that didn't last very long," Carvey recalled.

"In this business, you're always afraid of humiliation and you have to deal with humiliation, and it's not a fun feeling. Neither is doing a move that sucks — and (then) you have to go on a press junket and tell everybody it's great."

In 1992, Carvey was widely touted as a successor to David Letterman as the host of the "Late Night" TV show (including by Letterman himself). During a recent appearance on "The Tonight Show," Carvey told Jay Leno he still hoped to host a TV talk show. Will he?

"I'm not really sure," Carvey replied. "I did a pilot a couple of years ago, but it was too abstract for network TV. ... Now that my youngest son will be out of high school in a couple of years, it opens up possibilities ... maybe on the Web or cable. I don't see myself (being) on the cover of Rolling Stone again. I don't have 'singularity of brand.' I'm a tricky fit."

Could it be ... Dana Carvey?

During his six-year tenure on "Saturday Night Live," Dana Carvey created and portrayed a memorable array of iconic comedy characters. Here are some of those characters' most fondly remembered catchphrases:

— "Girlie men." (as Hans, of the German bodybuilding duo Hans and Franz)

— "Could it be ... Satan?" (Church Lady)

— "Party on, Wayne." (as Garth Algar from "Wayne's World")

— "In my day ..." (Grumpy Old Man)

— "Well, isn't that special?" (Church Lady)

— "Hear me now and believe me later." (Hans and Franz)

— "How convenient." (Church Lady)

— No holiday at the inn?

From the age of 18 until he was 25, Dana Carvey worked on and off as a busboy at the San Carlos Holiday Inn in Northern California, adjacent to a theater where many top music and comedy acts performed. "I started as a dishwasher and worked my way up to busboy, or — as we liked to call ourselves — 'table maintenance worker,'" he recalled. "I waited on Rich Little, and I brought Richard Pryor a Denver omelet."

Carvey's job later provided him with comedy bits, he recalled, including: "Look how that busboy is refilling the garbanzo bean bowl! That man is off the charts!" Here is one of his favorite celebrity encounters at the Holiday Inn:

"The Jackson 5 played for a week at the theater and I waited on them. I brought Michael a plate of carrots. There was a little girl bouncing up and down on his bed, and I said: 'You shouldn't do that.' She said: 'Call me Miss Janet.' Then I said to Michael Jackson: 'Michael, you are a handsome kid, but you might want to do a little something to your face ...'"

Think quick! Four snappy questions for Dana Carvey:

1. You've worked on TV with Mickey Rooney and in a movie with (former Chicago Bears football star) Dick Butkus. Who did you learn more from?

Carvey: (laughs) "Boy, I've got to think about that one. I guess, inadvertently, from Mickey.

Q: How so?

Carvey: "Well, with Mickey, it was almost reverse learning (because) he was so bitter. I've met a lot of people in this industry, and show business can really make you bitter. Mickey would say things like: 'I was the No. 1 star in the world! The world!' Or: 'How long has Robert Redford been in this business? I've been in the business 62-and-a-half years!' And Mickey was 62 at the time. ... It was a good lesson to make sure you have a life outside of show business and that you keep your ego (in check)."

2. What do you call a drummer in a coat and tie?

Carvey: "These are great questions. Um, Ringo Starr at the Hollywood Bowl?"

3. What's the worst gig you ever played?

Carvey: "Oh god! In the old days, I played these rowdy bars and sometimes I'd have beer in a cup flying by my head. One thing that sticks out is — I'd only been doing stand-up a few years — and I had a gig at the Comedy Store in Hollywood. I was very young and green, and I played to silence. No one laughed and I didn't know how to mix things up. So I died a death and came off the stage drenched in sweat.

"As soon as I came off, they put J.J. "Jimmy" Walker up on stage, immediately, because thy thought they'd lose the crowd. He gets on stage, and loudly says to me: 'Pay attention, kid, this is how it's done.' I sat down next to my girlfriend in a booth near the stage, where people could see me, and she scooted away from me. That was humiliating."

4. Are there some people who are either beyond parodying or who are just too easy to make fun of, for example, Lady Gaga or Donald Trump?

Carvey: "Yeah. I don't spend too much time on them. My only observation is that Donald Trump is like a Batman villain. He should be in the next Batman movie. Batman (would say): 'Now, you listen to me, Trump, you've just played your last ace.' And Trump would respond: 'How do I know you're really Batman?'

"But with Oprah retiring from network TV, it made me think about Charlie Sheen. He's like the anti-spiritualist — 'I'm going to have an ego and practice hedonism, and make myself feel good.' So, (I envision) they get him on 'Oprah,' and want him to pray. And Charlie is like: 'Let me get this straight. I'm on my private jet, snorting a rock (of cocaine) and spanking a porn star, and you want me to pray? For what?'"

 Comedian Dana Carvey is known for his portrayal of a church lady on "Saturday Night Live." Photo courtesy of NBC Universal, Inc.
Comedian Dana Carvey is known for his portrayal of a church lady on "Saturday Night Live." Photo courtesy of NBC Universal, Inc.

To find out more about George Varga and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

Like it? Share it!

  • 0