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The Real Reason We Don't Hear About Dana Carvey Anymore

Throughout the '80s and '90s, Dana Carvey was a towering presence in comedy, the unequivocal star of Saturday Night Live during his 1986-1993 tenure for recurring characters such as the Church Lady, Garth of "Wayne's World," Hans of "Hans and Franz," and unhinged impressions of celebrities such as George Bush and Ross Perot. Here's what he's been up to recently. Now isn't that special?

He had to endure multiple heart surgeries

Having major surgery, recuperating, and then having major surgery again because the first surgery was botched will definitely sideline a person for awhile—and that's precisely what happened to Dana Carvey. In the '90s, doctors discovered Carvey suffered terrible chest pain related to blood not flowing properly to the heart. Three angioplasties (in which an artery is kept open by inserting and inflating a tiny balloon) were performed, but after each one, the artery blocked back up. In 1998, Carvey finally underwent a double bypass—the last and most serious surgical option available to treat the problem.

Still, the terrible chest pains continued unabated. Carvey returned to his surgeon to see what was wrong, and tests revealed the doctor had made a terrible mistake: he'd bypassed the wrong artery. Carvey had no choice but to repeat the painful and elaborate double bypass surgery...but with a different doctor. Carvey sued the original heart surgeon for $7.5 million and settled out of court in 2000.

He left Hollywood for a while to raise his kids

After he left SNL in 1993, Carvey starred in a string of what he calls "awful movies"—including Trapped in Paradise with Nicolas Cage. He didn't want to be away from his two very young sons: Dex, who was two at the time, and Tom, an infant. "It felt weird and awkward to hand the kid to a nanny, so that kind of went out the window," Carvey said, explaining his decision to bring his kids with him to the set of Trapped in Paradise. "One son had a lot of ear infections, and the other one got the flu. I'd sleep a few hours, and then I was trying to entertain one of my sons in the basement by pushing this cart around."

During the filming of Wayne's World 2, one of his sons walked up to him while he was wearing his character Garth's signature long blond wig and said, "Daddy, no funny hair" and then started sobbing. Carvey took those two incidents as cues to focus on his family full-time and moved his wife and kids to a "a small town with trees" in northern California, "where we never had to lock our house." In other words, Carvey didn't tend to his career for two full years. (Dex and Tom Carvey are now both in their 20s, and are both pursuing careers in comedy, just like their dad.)

He was almost the host of Late Night with Dana Carvey

He could've been a player on late night TV, and might still be hosting a show on network TV to this day...except he didn't want to. In the early '90s, Johnny Carson made the decision to retire from The Tonight Show after 30 years, and Jay Leno got the job as new host. Late Night host David Letterman was so miffed that he jumped over to CBS to go head-to-head with The Tonight Show, leaving Late Night open.

NBC tasked SNL creator and executive producer Lorne Michaels with finding a host, and he looked to his SNL cast. Carvey, amiable, versatile, and one of the most popular cast members in years, was offered the job. NBC thought it was such a lock that they gave him $1 million (and a Beatles album signed by all four Beatles worth $400,000) just to consider the offer—and it landed him on the cover of TV Guide as Letterman's heir apparent. It took him a year to decide, but eventually Carvey decided to not do Late Night, because hosting a show every night is "a big slog...It's a big decision to take that on and spend years in this box, basically. It's emotionally intense to be on TV that much."

He feuded with Mike Myers over stealing Dr. Evil

Mike Myers brought the character of metalhead TV host Wayne Campbell to Saturday Night Live when he joined the cast in 1989. The show's writers helped him develop the character, and the sketch evolved into a mock cable access show hosted by Myers as Wayne and Carvey as Wayne's best friend, Garth. "We were never meant to be a comedy team," Carvey said. "Mike just invited me into the sketch. I'm grateful that he did."

Carvey based the shy, quirky Garth on his own brother, and the sketch became so popular that it spawned a Wayne's World movie in 1992, and a sequel in 1993. Both Myers and Carvey left SNL soon thereafter, and were fine...until Myers wrote and starred in Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery in 1997. The character of Dr. Evil (played by Myers) was a parody of various James Bond villains, but his mannerisms closely reflected those of SNL creator Lorne Michaels. Or, according to Carvey, they more specifically mirrored Carvey's impression of Michaels, which he'd do around the offices of SNL. "With the pinky coming out, yeah. It's a really funny affectation, because it's so specific," Carvey told Howard Stern. Carvey was so miffed that he didn't talk to Myers for about a decade. But they've since made up, appearing together at multiple Wayne's World anniversary screenings.

He could have been a Bad Boy

The movie that became Bad Boys—the 1995 action comedy starring Will Smith and Martin Lawrence—was first offered to Carvey and his SNL co-star Jon Lovitz in 1992. (At the time, it was titled Bulletproof Hearts.) It could've been a huge hit for Carvey at the peak of his SNL and Wayne's World fame, and producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer envisioned it as a buddy comedy for an older audience. But then director Michael Bay, at the time best known for making music videos, joined the project, and convinced producers to make it a youth-oriented action flick. Carvey and Lovitz did a screen test, which Carvey felt was so inappropriate for him that he left the movie.

He tried to make a Hanz and Franz movie

Carvey had a lot of popular recurring characters on SNL—Garth, the Church Lady, and, with Kevin Nealon, European bodybuilders Hans and Franz. (They wanted to "pump...you up!" and hated "girly men.") SNL writer Robert Smigel worked on the screenplay for a big-screen adventure with Carvey, Nealon, and Conan O'Brien, which followed Hans and Franz going to Hollywood to become movie stars like their hero Arnold Schwarzenegger and crossing paths with a bad guy who forces America's girly men to get pumped up. Oh, and it was also a musical. A substantial role was written for Schwarzenegger, playing himself, but he dropped out of Hans and Franz: The Girly-Man Dilemma after the failure of the similar self-effacing and meta Last Action Hero. (Carvey and Nealon at least revived the characters for a series of insurance commercials.)

The failure of The Dana Carvey Show

Just two years after leaving the friendly sketch comedy confines of SNL, Carvey returned to TV in 1996 with The Dana Carvey Show. While it was critically acclaimed and became a legendary cult hit among comedy nerds, it was a commercial disaster. ABC scheduled it to air immediately after its family-friendly mega-hit Home Improvement. The network, recently purchased by Disney, must have thought it would be getting the funny-but-tame Carvey—the Church Lady, Garth, George Bush. What they got was wild, wacky, and weird.

For example, the very first sketch of the very first episode featured Carvey as President Bill Clinton, showing off his "sensitive side" by revealing a large set of teats and suckling a bunch of puppies. (Other memorable sketches included "The Nauseous Waiters"—waiters delivering the specials while gagging—and "Skinheads from Maine"—guys with thick New England accents saying racist stuff.) The show honed the talents of a lot of the most important comedy writers and performers of the last 20 years. Writers on the show included Charlie Kaufman, the Oscar-winning screenwriter behind Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Adaptation; The Office co-creator Greg Daniels; Community and Morel Oral creator Dino Stamatopoulos; 30 Rock co-creator Robert Carlock; and head writer Louis C.K. The waiters grossed out by food were played by Steve Carell and Stephen Colbert. Still, ratings dropped after the first episode, and The Dana Carvey Show was canceled after seven weeks.

His next sketch comedy show never made it to TV

It took nearly 15 years for Carvey to attempt sketch comedy again. In 2010, he and Dana Carvey Show writer Spike Feresten created a series for Fox called Spoof. Unlike Carvey's previous TV sketch shows, this one was completely pre-taped and didn't feature any in-studio pieces or a live audience. Fox paid for a pilot, but opted not to order it to a full series. Two of the sketches in the one and only episode of Spoof, which was going to focus on parodies of movies and TV shows, have surfaced online. One is a Lost send-up called Weird Island; the other is a Sherlock Holmes-esque action flick about Charles Darwin.

He starred on a game show for celebrity impressionists

In 2016, Carvey starred on a game show befitting his talents. USA's First Impressions with Dana Carvey is a competition show that sought out America's most skilled amateur voice impressionist (with a cash prize of $100,000). While hosting duties were left to Freddie Prinze, Jr., the very qualified Carvey is the one who got his name in the title, as he served as the show's "Expert in Residence," both judging and coaching the contestants, who had to do impression-related tasks such as coming up with a good one in under 30 seconds. (And also, on occasion, Carvey interjected with his own impressions.) Unfortunately, the show was not a huge hit, and it hasn't been renewed for a second season.

He's doing standup again

Carvey is mainly known as a sketch comedy performer and actor in movies of varying quality and success. But when he first got into show business in the early 1980s, it was as a stand-up comedian (with an act punctuated with musical bits and impressions). Carvey first started doing standup in the late '70s in California, up until he made it onto Saturday Night Live. After leaving the show, he did stand-up here and there, taping a few specials (Critics Choice and Squatting Monkeys Tell No Lies). Recently, Carvey starred in his first new special in nearly a decade, Dana Carvey: Straight White Male, 60. Along with Jon Lovitz, he's a comic-in-residence at The Foundry in Las Vegas, where over the course of 2017 he'll perform 20 shows of stand-up, comedy sketches, and musical numbers.