“Sch-wing.” “We’re not worthy! We suck!” “Party on Wayne. Party on Garth.” Actor and comedian Dana Carvey launched catchphrases and characters that the popular culture of the ’80s and ’90s eagerly embraced. His “Saturday Night Live” character Church Lady of the fictional show “Church Chat” captivated audiences with her disgust of earthly pleasures and her gleeful shaming of the many “sinners” she judged as being influenced by Satan.
Carvey explains that in his early days of opening for bands in San Francisco, he was just trying to “have an act that killed and kept me from unemployment.” The “Saturday Night Live” star took his “Wayne’s World” sketch with Mike Myers into two films, where he starred as Garth Algar, an ultra-nerdy but lovable character fond of heavy metal, which he based on his brother Brad. Carvey played Garth with such a funny jaw clench that he developed TMJ. (He told his dentist not to treat it. “Do you know how much money this is making me?” he joked.)
His impressions of President George H. W. Bush, President George W. Bush and presidential candidate Ross Perot remain in the consciousness of anyone who lived through that time period, and his current characterizations of President Donald Trump are gently hilarious.
Most of Carvey’s humor manages not to be too mean or raunchy, somehow even when spoofing a hypothetical member of ISIS who is having light doubts while completing a suicide bombing and the legitimacy of the promised reward of 72 virgins in the afterlife.
“That’s just so specific,” he muses. “Do we really have to kill the nonbelievers? Couldn’t we just get them in a headlock and give them a [mimics a noogie].”
His breadth of characters reach to a mentally ill caveman who ate one of the few members of his tribe, a hypothetical scenario of Johnny Carson testifying at the OJ Simpson murder trial, and playing egotistical bodybuilder and fictional cousin of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Hans on “SNL” with Kevin Nealon’s Franz. “We want to pump [hand clap and point] you up.”
Carvey is gentle and gives off the vibe of never feeling superior to the audience, which is why he can get away with so much. He’s also spot-on with his parenting observations: such as the waste of time and money when taking his then-teenage sons to Italy.
At the Coliseum, one asked, “…uhhh is this pretty much all we’re going to do today?” then huffed off, and upon viewing Michelangelo’s statue of David, the boys laughed for hours and made fun of his genitalia. Emphasizing the insanity of his sons’ plans (19 kids piling into one car with a random driver to go to Lake Tahoe leaving at 3:30 in the morning, driving 13 hours, for a few minutes of snowboarding) or even refusing to make a simple phone call to sort out an issue with a landlord, has, he relates, “parents in the audience with their heads in the hands weeping.”
Carvey has a comedy special currently playing on Netflix: “Dana Carvey: Straight White Male, 60” (“Not a particularly popular group,” he acknowledges in the set.)
On April 6, Carvey takes the (small) stage at the Inn at Spanish Bay in Pebble Beach at the 26th Annual Comics for Kids Auction. The elegant event has a cocktail reception, silent auction and drawing which directly benefits the Boys & Girls Clubs of Monterey County, which serve more than 4,000 children. Carvey previously hosted the event over 10 years ago.
“We’re excited to have Dana Carvey join us again for this event and rally the audience to support the Clubs,” notes Ron Johnson, president & CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Monterey County. “We are so grateful to have such an incredibly generous community of supporters who care about the lives of children and families in need.”
For over 50 years, the Clubs, located in Salinas and Seaside, have provided meals, help with homework, college counseling services, after-school care, summer programs, sports and more for kids aged 6-18. An average of 600 youth come through the Clubs daily, and funds are needed to expand teen centers and add more math, literacy and college preparation services.
Carmel Magazine interviewed Dana Carvey by phone from his Northern California home shortly before the issue went to press.
Dana Carvey: “Can you hear me now? How about now? Now?”
Carmel Magazine: “Can you hear me? Can you hear me?”
CM: So I watched my “Wayne’s World” VHS tape on repeat in college maybe 100 times. Some people had the “Godfather.” This was my touchstone and cinematic masterpiece for some reason.
DC: I’m sorry.
CM: I don’t know why it was so perfect at the time, but we repeated the lines everywhere.
DC: The backstory of “Wayne’s World” is it was kind of a PG movie with no drugs and no violence. It was two losers who are happier than anyone else. Like you did, the lines were designed to be repeated with people and to have that experience with others.
CM: I don’t know if it’s your delivery, but when you perform, you seem kinder than other comics, no matter what the material is. Your comedy isn’t hurtful.
DC: A lot of it was [the influence of] television in the ’60s like “Bonanza.” It’s the opposite of narcissism. I am more of an empath. I want to make the audience happy and share comedy with each other. It’s my way of communicating.
CM: Does this have anything to do with being raised in Montana? The people there seem pretty decent.
DC: The people are very nice and friendly. We left there when I was five, but we went back in the summers and I go there with my family now. It’s just like a different country there. You drive on the road wondering where all the cars are. It’s eerie. Who’s to say where personality comes from?
CM: Did you ever have any epic fails, where you didn’t read the room correctly and things just bombed?
DC: Oh yeah. I almost quit a bunch of times. I played a whole restaurant once and people were just eating and they weren’t even facing me. It’s an emotionally violent sport. You take it personally until you have about 800 victories, and then that reverses the times you bombed. In the ’70s when I was in college, there weren’t comedy clubs in San Francisco so I would open for bands for 50 bucks. I would basically come up there screaming while everyone just waited for the act they actually wanted to see. In ’83, we did a comedy night with no emcee at midnight for five minutes each. I followed Sam Kinison, and he just killed it. They always called me ‘Danna Glarvey.’ When I got up there and they said, ‘Danna Glarvey,’ I said [in Garth’s excited voice] ‘Party on!’ And I got nothing.
CM: What’s your creative process like?
DC: I take stuff and go all abstract with it. I don’t worry about accuracy and I take it to a place of madness that is nonsensical. It’s different sports depending on different rooms. A 70-seat club in LA is different than the Staples Center or a small room. A lot of it is managing the room. If the audience is drunk it’s not good. If they are buzzed it’s okay, but when they are drunk, they start talking really loud. I’ll have an inebriated angry woman who will stand up and start screaming at me because she hates her husband or something.
CM: Do you spend a lot of time writing, or do you just wing it?
DC: I’m different than a lot of comedians because I like to do more sketches. Jay Leno will say, [in perfect Jay Leno voice] ‘You’ve got to do more jokes.’ My style is more observational. I was influenced by Lenny Bruce, early George Carlin and Richard Pryor. And ‘Monty Python,’ which was very sarcastic and done in a silly way. It’s about an attitude and sketches so clubs are a bit harder for me.
CM: Is comedy more of an art or a science?
DC: Well you can definitely teach it to someone…Part of comedy is surprise: when you think you are going one way and then you go that way. It’s like the joke, ‘I found out my 10-year-old son is visiting S&M clubs.’ [Pauses a beat.] ‘Well we can’t spank him.’
CM: Do you still bring out any of your old “SNL” characters?
DC: Oh yeah, I’ll bring out Church Lady. [In Church Lady’s snippy, nasally voice] ‘Well isn’t that special? Someone thinks they are soo much better than the rest of us. Someone’s been listening to SATAN!’ It’s always funny when someone is patronizing and judgmental. She’s the ultimate.
I’ve got a few things that always work. Like I do Jimmy Stewart as a waiter, and then he swears. [In Jimmy Stewart’s trademark voice] ‘Well, FUCK!’
I’m not Rich Little. Right now, I’m having fun doing Jeff Bridges doing random things like eating yogurt. I love abstract nonsensical comedy.
CM: Have you been to the Carmel area before?
DC: Yes, it’s beautiful. And lots of ancient white men with oxygen tanks wearing super bright canary yellow pants and orange shirts being pushed around in their wheelchairs by their wives. I’m old now too.
CM: You’re a youngster for Carmel. You’re one of the ‘kids.’
DC: I’m more excited about this gig already.
CM: What do you find particularly important about the Boys & Girls Clubs?
DC: Obviously you want to help any child if you can. My wife had a good education and she tutors kids in English and math. Olympic runner Michael Johnson and I support the Northern Light School [for disadvantaged kids] and sell ourselves for parties. My father was an orphan and grew up in foster homes and had help from similar organizations.
I will leave you with a bit I do lately. If the news gets you down, think of it as being delivered by Paul McCartney. [Launches into McCartney’s English accent in a wobbly voice describing the current federal government shut-down.] “There’s like a little barrier, a little shurtty down…”
The 26th Annual Comics for Kids Auction
featuring Dana Carvey takes place Sat. April 6 from 5:30-10pm at The Inn at Spanish Bay in Pebble Beach. For more information on the show, go to www.bgcmc.org/comics-kids-2019/ or call 831/394-5171.