Dana Carvey on doing Johnny Carson getting pulled over, his 'Fantastic' podcast and 'Wayne's World'
Every Friday, national arts reporter Geoff Edgers hosts The Washington Post's first Instagram Live show from his barn in Massachusetts. He has interviewed, among others, comedian Tiffany Haddish, actress Jamie Lee Curtis and musician Elvis Costello.
Recently, Edgers chatted with comedian Dana Carvey. Here are excerpts from their conversation.
Q: Do people tell you that your hair is quite good?
A: It's all smoke and mirrors. If we were swimming somewhere and I came up out of the water, you would see more truth to what's going on up here. I mean, the top of my head is like a game of Risk. There's so much territory and so many soldiers, and you have to kind of move them around. I'm strong in certain areas and weak in others.
Q: My son, who's 10, is a loyal listener to your podcast, "Fantastic." I don't always know if that's a good idea, but I do know that when I was leaving the house, he said, "Make sure you get him to do Johnny Carson getting pulled over for drunk driving." And I thought to myself, "I don't know what good you've done in this world, but that is some important work you've done that a 10-year-old in 2021 is asking for that."
A: It makes you very happy. I think rhythms are funny to any age. The Carson thing was something I did for friends. It made no sense other than it popped into my head one day. And I guess I realized I was processing the old-fashioned way of drinking before Alcoholics Anonymous or before rehab of just Johnny gets pulled over. And then he is talking about it in such a casual way that it doesn't seem like he's drunk driving. The very first one I thought of was, "Oh, sorry, officer, I didn't know I was swerving. I had two Slippery Monkeys at the Hook and Crook." That to me is poetry.
Q: So these aren't real places or real drinks?
A: No, totally made up just for the fun of the rhythm of it. So I was thinking about this interview. I don't do a lot of interviews, but I would say because you've heard my podcast, you intrinsically probably know more about me in a real sense than anyone else who's ever interviewed me. Because you've listened to the podcast, because that's me, an overused phrase, unfiltered, riffing in real time. Maybe you've heard some episodes with my siblings; you know a little bit about my childhood. There's a lot more to come on that.
Q: In your interviews, there are always references to darkness and what you've gone through in life. But I don't know if I've ever heard you explain what that is.
A: When I came into comedy, I had what someone referred to as a Disney face. I looked like Timmy from the Lassie show. I had a very innocent thing. And when I was doing comedy, I tried to do it joyfully. A lot of times people with the darkest childhoods don't talk about it, you know, but we're going to do it right here now. My father kind of was an orphan — passed around foster homes. So he had a pretty rough background. My mother was raised fairly wealthy in Montana. But they were kids when they had kids. My mom had five kids by the age of 32. So it was rough and tumble, sometimes violent. Dad was very, very rough on us, and he had issues with me and my brother Brad, primarily. My other brothers, who are very bright, but they were dyslexic, and my dad was always threatened by intellect or something. I know it sounds strange. "Oh, Jesus Christ, C's are fine!" But for Brad, who is a very successful engineer and scientist and myself, who got A's, he kind of had it in for us.
Q: It's a cliche, but it's true that a lot of comedy comes from pain.
A: I would say that there's a gladiatorial violence and emotional violence to going into comedy. Eddie Murphy is very unusual only in the sense of how confident and fully formed he was at 19. It took me years to get anything close to that. I was just a busboy at a junior college, busboy on the weekends taking classes, couldn't get a girlfriend, had no confidence at all. But I had an edge to me. I ran cross-country and track very, very heavily. That helped with a lot of emotion in high school and college. There's also an aggressive side to me. I'd like to say that I always played fair, but I was very competitive. If I see somebody kill in a club, even if they're my friend, I want to top them. I still love that feeling. I like not thinking and just being inside a character.
Q: There are people you've done who are obviously famous, like the first President Bush. But I find I am endlessly drawn to you when you do Brad Pitt from "Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood." The same thing with Jeff Bridges from "Crazy Heart." Tell me where those come from.
A: I get really possessed by movies. My wife and I have certain movies that we like. We watched "Out of Africa" last night. We've seen it, I don't know, no exaggeration, 60, 70 times. Memorized that movie. I didn't really like musicals seven, eight years ago. She has me watch "Sound of Music." Now, I'm possessed by it. Possessed by how brilliant it is. So I go all over the place. But (Quentin) Tarantino speaks to me in a way that nobody in the modern era since (Stanley) Kubrick probably has. I just love the humor with the violence.
I think his masterpiece so far is "Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood." ... I think we watched it last week for the 12th or 13th time. There's so much in that movie, and Brad Pitt's character and Leonardo DiCaprio's character are so emotional. What I get enamored with Brad Pitt in that film is the rhythms of how he talks. He's the ultimate affable alpha male. And DiCaprio is every bit as brilliant. I was talking to Mike Myers about it when we were doing the Super Bowl commercial. And he loves Tarantino, too. He was in "Inglourious Basterds."
Q: I love that your podcast is not celebrity-obsessed. It's not predictable. And I'm sorry, but I really want to spend my 2021 touring with Red Rednecky. You have Church Lady and Garth, but Red Rednecky really is one of your great creations.
A: Well, that was a surprise to me. I have thousands of notes everywhere, and I wrote that down as an idea. Red Rednecky, the redneck comedian, I just thought it'd be fun. Like the worst comedian ever. And he's trying to be like Jeff Foxworthy, but he is terrible. I'd never written Red Rednecky jokes until the first episode. So the first one that I did, I think was just a classic redneck joke. You know, "I'm Red Rednecky, the redneck comedian," and it's supposed to be a bad joke. "I knew a guy who married his sister only because his momma turned him down. Come and get some." The "come and get some" is such a non sequitur. For a second we were going to call the podcast "Come and Get Some." But my son, who is the podcast whisperer, said, "Let's just use one simple word." We came up with "Fantastic," because I say fantastic a lot.
Q: OK, Dana, you mentioned Mike Myers. Will we ever see a third "Wayne's World" movie?
A: If somebody wanted to do it, I'm sure we would do it. We're not chasing it, but we certainly have fun doing the characters. It's so bizarre to do them at this age. On the (Super Bowl) commercial, we were like, "Are we going to have this other kind of subtle light from the side?" No, I don't think so.
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