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Just in Time for the Election, Dana Carvey Makes His Comeback

The SNL alum has a new Netflix special and the Trump impression we’ve all been waiting for.

 

Take a second to let the relevant fact embedded in the title of Dana Carvey’s new Netflix stand-up special, Straight White Male, 60, sink in. (He’s actually 61. Sixty-one!) Carvey, the San Carlos–raised SNL alum famous for riffing on George H.W. Bush, Ross Perot, and the Church Lady, is back from his self-imposed decade-plus exile from the mainstream. And he’s picking up more or less where he left off, having essentially traded in his impersonation of H.W. for one of the latest GOP torchbearer. We spoke with the longtime Marin funnyman about his latest comeback (premiering Nov. 4), milking The Donald for all he’s worth, and getting in touch with his dark side.

So did Trump being out there basically force you out of retirement? 
We recorded the special on May 1, and since then, he’s like the gift that keeps giving. Everybody does him way down here [lower-pitched Trump voice, still mostly spot-on]. But there are so many subhooks I’m still learning, all his weird ways of talking. He’s like George Bush Senior in a way—it’d take a year to get all the weird, OK, OK, he’s a loser! It’s just a very strange voice. But to do it’s really fun. 

What’s your approach to doing Trump?
I guess the idea is trying to understand in an apolitical sense the visceral reaction to what he’s doing. It’s all emotional. I never had to write anything into it. They’re friends of mine—that’s another hook to exploit. That I can tell you; I can tell you that. They’re friends of mine. I work with these people! 

Dana Carvey as Garth in Wayne's World.

Photo: Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Is there anything special to caricaturing politicians?
Well, I came up with a Bernie Sanders one, too, after I saw Larry David do it. I wanted to distill it: I find the people with the money; I give it to the people! When I work in front of millennials, they’re 90 percent for Bernie, but they have to laugh. And if I’m in front of a conservative crowd, I like to poke them in the eye, too. I’m not hard right or hard left. I’m just looking at it as an observer. 

In the special, you do another voice, of your teenage son—that’s a buncha fuckin’ bullshit—and I swear that was Garth from Wayne’s World.
It’s kind of every teenager. Certain voices are kind of generic, but there were these very specific sounds I heard and tried to extrapolate. Garth had a very soft, lilting thing—I like to play. But I specifically heard that rhythm from my son walking off, going that’sabunchafuckinbullshit. It’s really cathartic. Like, bullshit is not enough. Certain rhythms hit my head and are really fun. I feel like I’m still a sketch player at heart. 

You kind of took yourself out of the game for a while there.
Well, I was still doing corporate standup, which paid me as if I was a movie star. My childhood was rough, and it was important to me—I don’t have any self-congratulatory thing about it—but I wanted to be around [for my kids]. I also lost the power to have control over my movies. I got to edit and write my own part for Wayne’s World 2, and then I did two stupid movies that bombed, and I realized they were going to try to control me. I asked a therapist, Am I crazy? I just legitimately—it’s in my wiring—I’m allergic to fame. Young comedians I meet have the same issue with it. Some tolerate it, some love it, and some go, Whoa! I don’t even know how people perceive me. I tried to be a businessman as much as I could. But it never animated me. I live very simply. I just wasn’t desperate. 

What made you want to go to L.A. and make this comeback?
I just want to make people crazy—I want to make them repeat things with their friends. The first thing I said to my producer was, “Can I do it in front of an audience that’s not my audience?” So it’s a bit of a high-wire act. I do an atomic bomb joke—that’s just me probing my own darkness and humor. There’s a lot of twisted stuff in here. I could have gotten in costume and done a Church Lady revue, and maybe that’s smarter as a brand, but I’ve never been a good businessman.

How are you different now than back in the ’90s?
I’m just going to do what I want. I don’t feel a sense of I gotta make a comeback. I still think being balls-out funny is the highest goal. I’m old-fashioned that way. 

 

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