A Look Back at the Wonderfully Weird Dana Carvey Show

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Seven episodes isn't really enough time to evaluate a budding sketch show, though that's all The Dana Carvey Show got when it premiered and was swiftly canceled in 1996. But most people gave the show significantly less time before passing judgment: One sketch. On March 12, after the profanity-scrubbed Home Improvement ("wro wro wro wro"), the show debuted with Carvey sitting at the Oval Office desk as Bill Clinton. He was eager to demonstrate to the American people that he felt their pain—he planned to nurture them as no other President could. Then he opened his shirt to reveal multiple teats acquired through voluntary hormonal therapy and began breast feeding a baby, then puppies, then kittens. And then he stood up, revealing a chicken butt, and showed off his eggs. Milk sprayed all over the place. People changed the channel.

Watch the season premiere:

Surreal, conceptual, and sometimes topical humor was The Dana Carvey Show's calling card. Produced by Conan O'Brien architect Robert Smigel, the show sported a collection of comedy's most twisted, brilliant minds before they were big. Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert, Elon Gold, and Heather Morgan were among the cast of actors helmed by Carvey, with Louis CK, Dino Stamatopoulos, Spike Feresten, and even a young Charlie Kaufman contributing as writers. Episodes bounced from Larry King Live parodies to "Grandma The Clown" weirdness with little warning or transition. Not that it mattered, as the show's disjointed nature emphasized just how right-field the sketches were—a welcome departure from the straightforward satire of Carvey's former home, Saturday Night Live. "Waiters Who Are Nauseated by Food" starred Carell and Colbert as two grossed-out servers. "Skinheads From Maine" painted a picture of what extremely racist people look like as good old-fashioned small town folk. The now well-known "Ambiguously Gay Duo" made its debut here. And in an amazing sketch from the show's unaired eighth episode, Tom Brokaw was shown prerecording a segment about the death of Gerald Ford, with multiple takes to cover the ways he might die at some point. Every way.

Watch the fifth episode:
("Waiters Who Are Nauseated By Food," with Colbert and Carell, begins at 11:18)

Not every joke hits, but often that's because the bits are part of a larger whole. Over the course of the show's eight episodes, Carvey and Carell starred in a series of sketches about two prank-loving youngsters. Only instead of, you know, actually doing pranks, they did things like go to a drive-thru and paying for their fast food, then speeding away before collecting the grub. It's a gag that rarely escalates, until the final episode when the two guys have an "aha" moment: Reflecting on their latest "prank," they pause to wonder what they're doing with their lives. It's was pay-off for all the previous weeks of waiting, and made the rest worthwhile in one fell swoop. And watching sketches like "Bob Dole Undercover," where the former presidential candidate donned wigs and sabotaged the administration from the inside, you could almost picture the writers room giggling, giddy to try these gags out. It's in these ways that The Dana Carvey Show represented a typical sketch comedy show in its entirety: Some jokes play well on their own, some play well with others, some need others to make sense, and some are just plain silly. Catching just one episode, or God forbid just that first brazenly satirical sketch, didn't do this wonderful show justice.

Watch the unaired eighth episode:
(See "Bob Dole Undercover" at 4:27; the Tom Brokaw sketch begins at 10:55)

Like what you see? Watch all eight full episodes right here.

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