When Dana Carvey started on Saturday Night Live in 1986, he said he was terrified.
He had no experience in sketch comedy and the show was facing the threat of cancellation. Yet that year's cast revitalized Saturday Night Live and Carvey became famous for characters like the Church Lady, Hans and Garth of Wayne's World.
He went on create The Dana Carvey Show, featuring future stars like Stephen Colbert, Steve Carrell, Louis C.K. and Charlie Kaufman. The show was cancelled after seven episodes, and Carvey stepped out of the spotlight.
Since then he has focused on standup, though he says his act also incorporates sketch comedy. Fans can see for themselves when he performs Friday at Tampa Theatre.
In an interview, Carvey discussed Saturday Night Live, The Dana Carvey Show and the Hans and Franz movie that never happened. Here are excerpts.
How do you think your standup's changed since Saturday Night Live and your other work in sketch and acting?
I think the same kind of things I like to do, but I guess it's more pointed — a little darker, a little edgier. But with me, it's more subterfuge, I don't think maybe people really notice. But it amuses me.
What was your first meeting with Lorne Michaels like?
I had auditioned for Saturday Night Live three times and I always bombed — not for Lorne, but for Al Franken and different people. One time I followed Sam Kinison at the Comedy Store at midnight with no introduction and I bombed, all the SNL people were there. But then Lorne Michaels wanted to see me and I said, "Oh, I got to be in a better environment." Rosie O'Donnell was playing a club on the West Side called Igby's, so she let me come in and do 45 minutes instead of five minutes. Lorne walked in with Cher and Brandon Tartikoff, the head of (NBC) at the time. I did well enough that I met him outside on the sidewalk. ... I wasn't sure what he thought of me, but then later on he said he was already planning on what sketches I would be doing.
You were in one of the most successful SNL movies ever, Wayne's World, but you also had a script for Hans and Franz: The Girly Man Dilemma. What would have that been like?
It was kind of like Austin Powers in a sense, written with Robert Smigel and Conan O'Brien. It was really cool, it was just very heavy on Arnold (Schwarzenegger) and Arnold decided not to do it at the last second. I don't blame him, he had like 10 things in development, but it was very hard to extricate him.
It was a musical, there were songs, and we'd come to L.A., Hans and Franz, looking for Arnold. Siskel and Ebert were watching the movie as it happened and we kept coming into the screening room during the movie. There was a big button that the bad guy pressed that said "hurt the weather." We had Stallone in there as a cameo, "The weather's been hurt lately," it was just really over-the-top, crazy, silly acid humor. Arnold was swimming and we were water-skiing behind him out in the ocean. (Laughs) But once Arnold decided not to do it, it fell by the wayside. But it was a funny script.
Then you had your own show, The Dana Carvey Show, which had a pretty amazing group. How was that cast selected?
Robert Smigel and I, we really collaborated a lot in the last three years of SNL on Regis and Carson and the McLaughlin Group, so we decided we wanted to do a show. It came from him mostly. He introduced me to Louis, then Louis and I met in L.A. just to make sure he'd be the head writer and I liked him right away, really smart. We looked at a lot of people that had auditioned for SNL and had been passed over.
Carrell and Colbert were the two that stuck out for me. I referred to them as the two Steves. I said, "Just give me the two Steves and then Louis and Robert can pick the rest." Not that they didn't like the two Steves, but I felt like right from the beginning, I thought they had all the ingredients to do whatever they wanted in Hollywood. That ended up being true, which is great — Louis's the greatest filmmaker and standup. I was kidding Colbert the other day that our other cast members are going to break soon because everyone from that show eventually becomes a superstar.