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The Untold Truth Of Dana Carvey

Actor and comedian Dana Carvey is often considered one of the all-time great "Saturday Night Live" cast members. His impersonation of then-president George H. W. Bush remains one of the most iconic comedic portrayals of a president in pop culture history, on "SNL" or otherwise. And while he created and played so many classic "SNL" characters that it's tough to pick any as his most definitive, it's easy to make the case that Garth Algar is his overall biggest, given that he went on to co-lead two successful "Wayne's World" films.

Carvey has been in show business in some form since the 1970s, and he continues to be active in stand-up comedy, podcasts, and other ventures to this day — meaning that his career spans an impressive six decades thus far. In that time, he has not only returned to host "SNL" multiple times, but also appeared in a number of films and has long been a favorite talk show guest, even when there isn't any particular project he is promoting at the time. 

Both his professional and personal life has experienced various highs and lows, and there are aspects of both that most people might not be aware of. From surprising details about his pre-"SNL" career to his serious late-'90s health scare and beyond, Carvey's life both on screen and off has been a fascinating one indeed.

He received no formal comedy or acting training

Most of Dana Carvey's peers, especially those that were on "Saturday Night Live," got their start in comedy troupes like Second City or the Groundlings before joining the venerated sketch comedy institution. There are also a fair amount of trained actors in the bunch, those that took acting classes for years in school and/or outside of it. But some people just had so much natural talent for both acting and comedy that they didn't need any of that, and such was the case with Carvey.

Carvey told Wired.com he was a shy and introverted kid, and didn't initially have any designs on being a performer. In fact, he majored in broadcast communication in college, rather than focusing on the performing arts. However, he also began dabbling in stand up while in college, and discovered that he was good at it and that audiences seemed to agree — and decided that maybe he would give acting a shot after all. The rest is history — well, almost...

Dana Carvey was in several movies and TV shows prior to SNL

"Saturday Night Live" was the first time that most people became aware of Dana Carvey. Most of his success seemed to occur alongside and after his stint on that show. And while that was certainly his breakthrough role, it was far from his first time appearing on screen. In fact, not only did Carvey appear on multiple television shows prior to "SNL," but he even already had a few movies under his belt prior to the first time he said, "Live from New York..."

Carvey's first screen appearance was in a blink-and-you'll-miss-it role in the 1981 horror film "Halloween II." The following year, he was a main cast member on the sitcom "One of the Boys" alongside Mickey Rooney and Nathan Lane, though it would only last one season. In 1984, Carvey was part of the main cast of another single-season show, the action drama "Blue Thunder." Also that year, Carvey appeared in two more movies, again in small roles — though, notably, one of those was as a mime waiter in "This Is Spinal Tap" opposite Billy Crystal. Even the year that he joined the cast of "SNL," Carvey added yet another movie to his filmography, this time in a more sizeable role in "Tough Guys" — where he got to work and become friends with his idol, Kirk Douglas (per The New York Times).

He's one of only four people to win an acting Emmy for SNL

Any television show is hard work, but few work as hard as the cast and crew of "Saturday Night Live." Not only do they put on a live comedy show for millions of viewers, they do so week after week, barely catching their breath from one episode before they are back at it and planning the next. With this in mind, it seems a bit unfair how few "SNL" cast members have won Emmy awards for their work on the show. In fact, only four regular cast members in the entire history of the show have won an acting Emmy during their stint on the show (per Billboard) — and Dana Carvey is one of them.

The first to do so was Chevy Chase, followed shortly after by Gilda Radner. The latter got her award in 1978, and it would be a whopping 15 years before it would happen again. After getting nominated three previous times, Carvey finally won an Emmy for Outstanding Individual Performance in a Variety of Musical Program in 1993 for his work on "SNL." Even more remarkable is that, despite subsequent casts that included the likes of Will Ferrell, Bill Hader, Amy Poehler, Kristen Wiig, and Jason Sudeikis, it would take all the way until 2016 before the fourth regular "SNL" cast member would get an Emmy when Kate McKinnon won hers that year.

He was heavily courted by NBC to take over Late Night after Letterman's departure

Dana Carvey was recently among the line-up of guest hosts who stood in for Jimmy Kimmel while the host was on vacation. And seeing how comfortable Carvey was at hosting "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" had a lot of people wondering why he never tried out that gig after his time on "Saturday Night Live." Well, if NBC, Lorne Michaels, and David Letterman had their way, he would have after Letterman left "Late Night" to move to CBS.

Needless to say, it was Conan O'Brien who was eventually picked to take over for Letterman, and O'Brien really made the show his own and became one of the biggest comedic voices of his generation. But, as Carvey told Decider, there was a time when O'Brien was only planning to serve as a writer and producer for "Late Night," and Carvey was being pursued to be the host. Letterman personally recommended him for the job, and NBC offered him $1 million just to say that he was willing to consider it. Ultimately, Carvey decided that he didn't want to commit to the immense amount of time and energy that hosting a nightly talk show requires, and turned the job down — paving the way for O'Brien to take the job instead.

Dana Carvey had friction with Mike Myers

The last couple decades of the 20th century were ruled by slacker hero duos like Bill and Ted, Beavis and Butt-head, and of course, Wayne and Garth. In what is frequently brought up when people discuss their favorite recurring sketches in "Saturday Night Live" history, "Wayne's World" wasted relatively little time in making the transition to the big screen. The first one is one of the two movies that will always be in top contention for best "SNL" film (alongside "The Blues Brothers").

While Dana Carvey and Mike Myers had flawless comedic chemistry on screen, the performers have had a somewhat rocky relationship behind the scenes. Carvey revealed in a 2019 interview with Howard Stern that he felt Myers wasn't receptive to any of his ideas while writing the first "Wayne's World" movie, and got so fed up with being shut out of the creative process that he briefly quit the project altogether just three weeks before filming was to begin. Carvey also told Howard Stern in 2016 that felt that Myers stole Carvey's Lorne Michaels impression and used it without permission or acknowledgement for the character of Dr. Evil in the "Austin Powers" film series, which put another strain on the pair's friendship. 

Fortunately, the two have mended fences in recent years and say they are close friends again.

Garth is based on his engineer brother, Brad Carvey

Though the character of Wayne Campbell was entirely Mike Myers's creation and made appearances on other shows that Myers was part of prior to "Saturday Night Live," sidekick Garth Algar was completely the brainchild of Dana Carvey. In fact, Carvey has mentioned in interviews that Garth's personality and manner of speaking — though not so much his metal fan look and attire — were inspired by his brother, Brad Garvey.

Apart from being the inspiration for an iconic comedy character, Brad has achieved some fame on his own as well. A brilliant engineer, Brad was one of the people who invented the Video Toaster computer program that was first used in the early-'90s as a way for people to create and edit movies at home. It gave consumers the same benefits of much more expensive systems and equipment at a fraction of the cost. Variations iterations of the program continued to be used all the way into the 2010s. Brad has also done effects work on several major Hollywood productions including "Men in Black," "Stuart Little," "Black Hawk Down," and his brother's film, "Master of Disguise" (per Post Magazine).

The Dana Carvey Show launched the careers of Steve Carell and Stephen Colbert, among others

Dana Carvey may have turned down the chance to host a late night talk show after "Saturday Night Live," but that doesn't mean he didn't take another stab at television after he left the show. A few years after his "SNL" exit, Carvey debuted "The Dana Carvey Show" with what is, in retrospect at least, a ridiculously stacked ensemble of talent. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough to keep the ahead-of-its-time sketch show from being axed after just seven episodes.

In addition to starring Carvey, the show also featured then-unknown performers named Steve Carell and Stephen Colbert in its cast, before their "Daily Show" breakouts. Bob Odenkirk also made appearances, but he was already established thanks to HBO's "Mr. Show." Just as impressive was the writing staff of "The Dana Carvey Show," led by Louis CK and also including Robert Smigel ("TV Funhouse"), Dino Stamatopoulus ("Community"), Robert Carlock ("30 Rock"), Jon Glaser ("Late Night with Conan O'Brien"), and future Oscar winner Charlie Kaufman ("Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind"). 

Bad Boys started out as a buddy comedy starring Dana Carvey and Jon Lovitz

It's hard to picture the classic Michael Bay film "Bad Boys" starring anyone other than Will Smith and Martin Lawrence, as it was the pair's chemistry that made the movie what it was. If forced to imagine who else might have possibly come anywhere close, there probably isn't anyone who would suggest Dana Carvey or Jon Lovitz. However, those two "Saturday Night Live" alums were originally in mind for the project that would become "Bad Boys."

In its earliest stages, "Bad Boys" was known as "Bulletproof Hearts" and producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer had Carvey and Lovitz in mind for the leads. But when Michael Bay joined the project, he began to steer things in a different direction creatively, with Carvey soon realizing that he was no longer the right fit for what the movie was becoming (per The New York Times). It's unclear if Lovitz was ever officially on board, but he was no longer attached following Carvey's exit. Needless to say, while "Bad Boys" as it exists definitely wouldn't have worked with Carvey and Lovitz, it's still a shame that we never got a Carvey/Lovitz buddy cop comedy. 

Carvey stepped away from showbusiness to focus on his family and raising his kids

Every actor who becomes a parent faces the difficult question of how to balance the extreme demands of their career with spending time with their children. Some just roll right along with their careers and squeeze in family time when they can, some slow down their output a bit, and some just take a break entirely. In Dana Carvey's case, he ultimately decided to go the break route after the birth of his two sons.

Carvey had initially tried balancing work and family, but after a heartbreaking moment with one of his sons on the set of "Wayne's World 2" where his youngest cried about his dad having to put on the Garth wig again, Carvey made the choice to start winding things down a bit (per People). He did a few movies in 1994 and then "The Dana Carvey Show" in 1996, and after that, largely stepped away from performing for several years. Other than minor roles and cameos, he wouldn't take on any big projects again until his 2002 film "The Master of Disguise." He wouldn't do another feature-length film until nearly a decade after that. 

Carvey was developing a Hans and Franz movie

After a string of poorly-received films, Dana Carvey realized that he needed to start taking more creative control of his movie output. With that in mind, he set about planning two different movie projects, both of which he was going to co-create and co-write with creative partners that he had previously worked with and trusted (per AV Club). One of those movies was to be another "Saturday Night Live" adaptation, this one set to bring the Arnold Schwarzenegger-worshipping bodybuilders Hans and Franz. The duo was played by Carvey and Kevin Nealon, and the two were collaborating on the movie with Robert Smigel and Conan O'Brien.

The Hans and Franz film was written heavily around Schwarzenegger's involvement and the star was initially on board. But according to Carvey during an interview with Howard Stern, Schwarzenegger ended up dropping out — and he was such a big part of the script that the entire thing would've had to be rewritten completely, so it was ultimately just scrapped instead. The aforementioned AV Club interview also sees Carvey mention a Western-themed comedy he was writing with Bob Odenkirk around that same time, called "Tucson," but that too was abandoned for unspecified reasons. 

He's an avid runner and his favorite athlete is a famed track star

On the whole, Dana Carvey is a relatively private person. Sure, he makes plenty of appearances on talk shows and has done a fair amount of interviews, but he typically focuses on discussing his work or doing comedy bits rather than taking a deep dive into his personal life. With that in mind, just about any revelation concerning Carvey's hobbies and interests off stage/screen is a surprising one — including the fact that he's an avid runner and a fan of the sport of running in general.

Carvey has been interviewed by outlets like Runner Space, where he primarily discusses running and barely gets into his acting or comedy career at all. During those interviews, he has also said that his favorite athlete of all time is also a runner — Steve Prefontaine, who set multiple records in the 1970s and is said to have been one of the driving forces behind the so-called "running boom" in that decade. Prefontaine is also the subject of two biopics, with Jared Leto and Billy Crudup both playing the runner and depicting his remarkable career prior to his tragic death at just 24 years of age.

He suffered years of health problems stemming in part from a botched heart surgery

There is another reason we didn't hear much from Dana Carvey for a bit in the late-'90s and early-2000s, and it wasn't just because he took a break from the business. Per USA Today, Carvey was experiencing heart problems and endured three separate surgeries to try to clear a blocked artery, but none of them held. Finally, things progressed to Carvey undergoing a double bypass in 1998. 

As time went on, Carvey continued to experience chest pains and other symptoms. A scan revealed that the surgeon who performed his bypass had actually operated on the wrong artery, and the narrowed one remained. He eventually had the problem fixed, and would go on to be awarded a $7.5 million settlement as a result of the botched bypass. It wasn't a cash grab, just Carvey wanting the surgeon — who had denied making a mistake — to face some repercussion for what he had done. In fact, Carvey donated the entire settlement amount to charity, proving that the lawsuit was never about the money for him (per ABC News).