Comedy

The Weekly Interview: Jon Lovitz and Dana Carvey

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The SNL comedy friends begin their new residency at the Foundry at SLS in January.
Matt Kelemen

Dana Carvey and Jon Lovitz became fast friends 30 years ago as Saturday Night Live cast members and have been looking for excuses to work together even since. Now SLS is giving them an excuse to meet up for weekends in Vegas starting January 6 with the duo’s new and mostly monthly residency Reunited. Carvey and Lovitz will appear at the Foundry at least 20 times in 2017, creating an atmosphere of “controlled mayhem” with stand-up sets, musical interludes and Q&As with the audience. The comedy veterans spoke with Las Vegas Weekly by phone a week before the November 4 debut of Carvey’s new Netflix special Straight White Male, 60 and as Lovitz prepares for the world to see him working for Arnold Schwarzenegger in the next season of Celebrity Apprentice.

What is the origin of Reunited? How did the idea come about? Lovitz: Basically what happened was I’m going to be on Celebrity Apprentice in January, and Vince Neil’s on it. Vince and I were hanging out a lot and [with] a friend of his, Michael Politz. We were staying in this hotel in Marina del Rey. Michael came up to visit Vince and I met Michael and we became friendly, and he said, “Hey, are you doing anything in Las Vegas?” I said, “No, I’d like to.” So he said, “Let me see what I can do.” So he set it up at SLS, and they wanted to do a show with me and someone else. They loved the idea of Dana Carvey and I, and I told Dana and he liked it, and then they put the deal together.

You’ve appeared together before an audience several times in the past few years. Does this feel like an extension of what you’ve done in podcasts and last year’s Laugh Factory event? Carvey: (Laughs) Wow, good research. We did do a couple of podcasts, yeah.

Lovitz: We did that one that was really fun, but that’s really it. We used to want to work together all the time on Saturday Night Live, but it was tough getting sketches on together. Once in a while we got to work together, but not much. And we became very close friends. We loved just hanging out. We’ll probably do an opening number and each of us do a half hour of standup then come out and do a question and answer, and show videos of sketches.

Carvey: And Vegas is fun. Nothing against Altoona or Walla Walla, Washington. Vegas is close to where I live now. I can drive or fly. It’s got everything, so it’s kind of nice that I have a place to go play once a month with Jon. It seems like a fun thing to do. We can’t guarantee that it may be the greatest show in the history of Vegas, but we don’t want to put pressure on ourselves or the SLS. But that’s always our dream, and our goal. Right, Jon?

Lovitz: Yes. Cirque du Carvey.

How have you developed the show so far? Have you talked about what you want to do musically? Jon, you play piano and sing, and Dana’s an excellent drummer. Carvey: Right, thank you. We’ll definitely play around with that. We’ll probably have a little drum set. We’ll have a keyboard piano, and we’re definitely going to do some of that during the third act of the show after each of us does their stand-up. That’s going to be the fun part of it. I will definitely try to recreate my drum solo from Wayne’s World each night.

Lovitz: We’ve actually played around at my house together. Somehow musically we think very similar, because we both loved the Beatles growing up and a lot of the same bands, so we kind of have this thing … not that we are the Beatles at all, but I’m just saying that sensibility of rock, we have the same sensibility so we play well together.

Carvey: And Jon can actually … he can really play the piano. I mean, I pretend (laughs) … if you knew how rudimentary “Choppin’ Broccoli” is. It’s pretty simple.

Are you going to recreate SNL sketches or are you going to talk about them during the Q&A? Lovitz: Yeah, that was the idea. I don’t know about doing the same sketches over. I don’t think it would work. Maybe something new would, but it’s like competing with yourself. But yeah, people ask. We did one sketch called “You Mock Me,” and it was very silly. I remember during the sketch, it was John Malkovich, and we would make fun of John Malkovich behind his back. My whole goal was to make people laugh. I just went nuts in that sketch, and then he started doing it, too. He was trying to do it to me, and it escalated to the point of ridiculousness, and I started laughing onstage at one point.

And you’re both going to have 30 minutes solo? Lovitz: Well, the show’s an hour and a half, so I think we’ll probably both come out at the top together and do a little something, and then we’ll each do stand-up for about a half an hour and then do some Q&A.

Carvey: Show some video. We’ll have some videos queued up, and maybe do some music, take requests. We want it to be controlled mayhem. There’s a sense of anarchy, so we’re just going to be really playful and loose. We maybe bring people up from the audience or we may not, we may break into song. Jon’ll play the drums, I’ll play the guitar. We’re just going to try and be really loose about that part of the show. Anything goes. Maybe we’ll sing that song, Jon.

Lovitz: (Sings) Anything gooooes!

I think it will be interesting for people to see the rapport you have, if they haven’t seen you in the podcasts. You guys are almost like brothers in the way you go at each other … well, maybe Jon toward Dana a little more. Lovitz: Well, that podcast I wasn’t saying that much because it was more about me interviewing Dana about him and his career and everything, but that is true. We’re very close friends and fond of each other in … a straight way.

Carvey: I’ll speak for myself.

Lovitz: But yeah, we tease each other a lot. On the show, Saturday Night Live, it’s very competitive, but Dana and I were both doing well, and we would talk about it, and Dana would always say, “Well at least we’re admitting it and talking about it.” But you’re competing at the same time, so we’re talking about it to break the tension.

Do you guys remember when you first met, or were you first exposed to each other through each other’s comedy? Lovitz: I totally remember meeting Dana because it was the second year. It was in ’86 and it was the offices at Brillstein-Grey, which was managing both of us. I was with Phil Hartman, and then Dana was there. Phil and I had never met Dana, and we met and were all talking. I remember Dana left and I said to Phil … Phil was already on the show. I don’t think they had picked Dana yet to be on it, and I said to Phil, “Boy, I hope that guy gets the show. What a nice guy. He’s so nice.”

Carvey: I was a good actor at that point. But I had seen Jon on SNL with “Master Thespian” and “The Liar” and stuff, and I thought he was really funny and really popped off the screen.

Jon, did you perform with Phil in the Groundlings? Lovitz: Yeah, Phil had been in the Groundlings for 10 years and he was like the king of the Groundlings. I was in the school and then I got in the company, and he picked me to understudy a part in a play he was starring in. He was nine years older than me. He was the only guy that had money. He had a house, he had a new car, he had a job. Everyone else was like dead broke. I always looked up to him, and then when he said I could understudy the part it was his idea. I was so grateful, and I got in the company, so he was like my big brother that I always wanted. I just idolized him. So the second year [for Lovitz as an SNL cast member] I suggested four people from the Groundlings that I looked up to, that were older than me and had been there a while, and he was one of them. And they picked him.

I think people have a pretty good idea of what Dana’s stand-up sets are like, and Jon, you’ve stepped it up in the last 10 to 15 years, focusing more on stand up. Can you give an idea of what your approach is? Do you still have an improv base? Lovitz: It’s mostly written, you know, rehearsed, but I’m at the point now where if I think of something I’ll just say it, but it took me a while to get to that point in stand up. I just thought … well, first you’ve got to think “Who am I on stage? What’s my persona?” And then I realize, well, it’s me. If I was going to be on a talk show and they said “Write material, but you’re you.” So it’s really just me being funny and silly, and then I decided to not limit myself to being a certain type of comedian because there’s political comics or observational or impressionists. There are all kinds, but I just thought “You know, whatever I think’s funny I’m putting in the act.” It’s really my sense of humor. In the act I do now on the road I make fun of myself, I talk about politics, political correctness. I play the piano, I sing funny songs, I tell jokes. I do some impressions, so whatever I think’s funny I put in the act.

And before the residency starts in Vegas you’re focused on stand-up for the rest of the year? Lovitz: Yeah, doing that all over in clubs and theaters, and also I did a small part in a movie recently and I did the TV show Celebrity Apprentice, which starts airing January 2. That’s not acting. I’m totally being myself trying to do these impossible tasks.

Carvey: Is it true that instead of Trump saying “You’re fired,” Arnold says, (Schwarzenegger accent) “Get to the chopper?”

Lovitz: No, no one knows what it’s really going to be. He would try different things. He even said in the press conference, he goes, “I’m not sure. I’m going to say different things.” So what it’s finally going to be I don’t know.

Carvey: Okay, but I thought “Get to the chopper” would really make me laugh if that was what he said. And then the person who’s fired on Celebrity Apprentice would have to be taken away in a helicopter.

Lovitz: I don’t know.

You could work this out at Reunited. Lovitz: I really don’t know … I mean, one time he looked at me and goes, “Get out! Schnell!” One time he said something in German and I said, “What are you doing, auditioning for Hogan’s Heroes?

Carvey: Hogan’s Heroes! Now that’s something we need to bring back.

Dana, when I interviewed you last February [2015] you had just moved back to LA and were doing a lot of film and editing. Most of your professional activity was in stand up. Since then you’ve come a log way from “Mr. Orange.” You’ve got [USA Network series] First Impressions, the Netflix special is about to come out. Is 2017 going to be one of your busier years in a while? Carvey: I don’t know. There’s just so much show business. When I came down here I kind of ran into Chris Meledandri with Illumination [Entertainment] and I’ve known him a long time. He’s always trying to get me in one of his cartoon movies, so The Secret Life of Pets—$864 million [box office gross]—so that was pretty shocking. Even promoting the Netflix special, there’s all these podcasts, so I’m going to go on Marc Maron and Adam Carolla. Show business has evolved since we talked. Now I’m doing these short vignettes on Facebook. You can look them up. That’s for my own amusement. They have over 2 million views.

Yeah, I saw them. It’s an evolution from what you were doing last year. Carvey: Yeah, I loved the “Mr. Orange” sequence, but this one’s a little more … you know, just a place to put something. But yeah, I’m a lot busier. There’s just a lot of show business. Maybe next week I’ll probably do Today Show, Howard Stern, Jimmy Fallon, maybe SNL. I don’t know. … I just try to keep it interesting for me, so that’s what I’m doing. I understand where I’m at demographically and so forth, but I go to the Comedy Store now and I’m having my kids around, with millennials. It’s kind of interesting. I get a kick out of playing the Comedy Store where half the audience is kids in their 20s going “Who’s this guy?” I love having a mixed audience, because I’m now … my style of comedy is kind of eccentric. I’m not really trying to keep relevant, but keep it interesting at this point. Jon gave me some financial advice 26 years ago [Lovitz laughs] and I took his advice, so I’m pretty good financially but I love coming to Vegas. Playing a room with Jon one weekend a month seems really, really fun, so I’m looking forward to it. And maybe some of our friends, if they’re in town they’ll come by. It’ll be loose enough that anyone can get up and sing a song with us if they want to.

Do you think your sons will show up, or maybe Jerry Bruckheimer III [Lovitz’s dog] might make an appearance? Carvey: Jerry will be there every time.

Lovitz: My dog? Oh, he’ll be there, yeah. I think he’d be a big addition to the show, but once he’s onstage no one’s going to look at us.

Carvey: It’s kind of awkward to say that Jon and I have talked about it. His little dog is real cute, but Jerry has a drinking problem.

Lovitz: (Annoyed) Al-right.

Carvey: But yeah, I can see my sons doing a guest spot here and there, or any of my friends from SNL if they’re in Vegas. It’s kind of a show where in the third part, the third act, so to speak, that open section we have, anyone can come in and do anything when they’re in town. That’s kind of a little bit unique. We’re not comparing ourselves at all, but we’re fanatics for the Rat Pack in Vegas. What is the album we listen to, Jon?

Lovitz: The Rat Pack Live at the Sands.

Carvey: We want to have it be playful like that, and we’re good enough friends that we can tease each other or try to upstage each other, or John could come out and interrupt my act. We want it to be barely controlled mayhem, like I said. It’s going to be very, very playful. It won’t be rigid or paint by numbers.

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