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Carvey's Comeback


Photo of comedian Dana Carvey. Photo courtesy of Dana CarveyComedian Dana Carvey has stopped performing ... Not!
Photo courtesy of Dana Carvey

One could call comedian Dana Carvey's (B.A., '79) new bit for 2011 a one-man show. This descriptor, however, fails to take into account all of the funnyman's famous impersonations.

Sure, he's been resurrecting some of his career-defining personas: Everything from George W. Bush to Bill Clinton, Clark Gable to former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. But he also has unveiled some new ones, including Barack Obama and Neil Young. Garth (from the 1992 movie, "Wayne's World") and The Church Lady (of "Saturday Night Live" fame) are part of the show too.

For Carvey, the show is an unofficial comeback tour. Following "Wayne's World," he wound down his busy schedule to spend more time with his wife and sons. He didn't stop performing completely (a 2008 HBO special was among his most critically acclaimed performances of all time), but essentially stopped traveling to do so.

Now that the boys are 17 and 19, respectively, however, the comedian has hit the road again. He kicked off the year with this new show. In February, he hosted "Saturday Night Live" again. And a handful of new movies are in the works.

"It was just time to get back out there," he jokes on a recent telephone call. "If the Kardashians can make money [for what they do], why can't I?" Though he practiced impressions and comedy routines in front of family and friends as a child in San Carlos, Calif., Carvey didn't perform in front of crowds until his senior year at SF State when he performed at local comedy clubs, including the now-defunct Holy City Zoo (where he'd bring his entire dorm to guarantee a favorable crowd). "Comedy was exploding in San Francisco when I was at SFSU and I really was in the right place at the right time," he says. "I'm glad I came."

After he graduated with a radio-TV degree he won the acclaimed San Francisco Stand-Up Comedy Competition, following in the footsteps of another rising Bay Area-based comedian, Robin Williams. The rest, as they say, is history. By 1986, Carvey had become a regular fixture on "Saturday Night Live." When he broke out The Church Lady the following year, Carvey had ensured himself something that was a bit of a rarity in the world of comedy: longevity.

As Carvey gained a national following, he added to his routine, sharpening dozens of different impressions for various audiences and skits. While some of these characters -- like Hans and Franz, for instance -- were based on reality, others were complete fabrications.

Many of the characters still exist (in one form or another) today, though Carvey has added new ones into the mix, including his best impression of author and spiritual thinker Deepak Chopra -- with Tourette's Syndrome. This latter bit exemplifies what Carvey says he's grown to love most about comedy: rhythms.

"I'll try to write jokes, but really for me the formula is abstraction with good rhythm," he says. "When you hear an impression of someone waxing poetic about spiritual certitude, followed quickly by something random like, 'Beat me with a spoon,' it's funny."


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