Why So Serious, Drew Carey?By John Wenzel | June 14th, 2012 | No Comments »
Whether or not you watched “The Drew Carey Show” during its 1995-2004 run, you were probably unable to escape it.
The sitcom, based in Carey’s real-life hometown of Cleveland, launched several careers (Craig Ferguson, Ryan Stiles and Carey’s own, among others) and became a pop culture staple. And Carey has stuck around ever since, hosting the U.S. version of the popular British improv show “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” and taking over for the inimitable Bob Barker as host of “The Price Is Right.”
We caught up with the 54-year-old comedian via phone last week before his Comedy Works South appearances Friday, June 15-Saturday, June 16 to chat about his return to stand-up (and first foray into sketch comedy), a cruel prank that brought him to tears (the good kind) and more.
BTW: We’re sorry we weren’t able to interview him closer to the show, as the nutjobs from the Westboro Baptist Church announced they plan to picket his show on Saturday. Why? They happen to be in town for Denver’s 2012 PrideFest, so why not stop by and hold idiotic signs outside the venue while “a classic worker of iniquity” tries to make people laugh inside?
You’ve been at this for awhile now, but I’m curious what your first time on stage was like — and what made you want to come back?
It was awful. It was at the Sahara Hotel in Vegas as part of the Sahara Talent Showcase.
Well that’s not too shabby.
Oh, all you had to do was sign up and it was on a Monday night signup sheet, and man it was terrible. (laughs) And I don’t know why I wanted to do it again. I watched comics from “The Tonight Show” all the time thought I wanted to try it. But it was awful. I wasn’t funny and nobody liked me. But I think I wanted to try it again to see if I could get better.
What’s the impetus for this current stand-up tour? I can’t say I recall seeing you come through Denver anytime recently.
I want to start doing stand-up again and don’t frankly have enough material to go out and headline for an hour. If I was putting together an improv show or doing improv I could, but I just wanna do stand-up. So there’s this friend of mine that I do improv with named Heather Campbell and she’s in a sketch group called The Midnight Show in L.A. that’s one of the best I’ve performed with, and I thought they were really funny and crazy. They’re really out of hand — right up my alley. So I asked them if they’d like to do a summer tour with me. The first part of the show is them doing sketch and I’m in a bunch of the sketches, then I do stand-up.
Why did you pick a traditional comedy club instead of a theater?
It’s better to do comedy clubs because they’re low stakes and people are used to seeing these things there. And it’s just a better place for me.
Is it hard to surprise you or make you laugh after so many years of doing improv?
Maybe. Last night I went to a local show in L.A. that (comedian) Blaine Capatch hosts at this restaurant called What’s Up Tiger Lily? and Marc Maron and Greg Proops and me and a couple of people I hadn’t seen were there, and they were fucking hilarious. I did my set and just sat in the audience and laughed. As long as it’s funny, I’ll laugh. But that’s the whole trick. You’re talking to someone who hasn’t seen a lot of comedy (lately). The audiences we’re performing in front of have seen more comedy than we have in many cases. I don’t go to funny movies or watch YouTube clips or whatever. So that’s how it always is — you have to have a fresh take on stuff.
Do find it’s tough do do that, not having done stand-up for awhile?
It depends. I remember people like, in the ’60s, like airplane jokes might have been really passé and hack and done, but then Bill Cosby had an airplane bit that was really funny. As long as there’s a funny joke in there. It is kind of hard but the sketch group, The Midnight Show, they’re really edgy with a capital “E.” They’re not afraid of any subject or anything. You might watch one sketch and go like, “Oh my God,” and in the other one you’ll be laughing. It just depends on your temperament. So it’s always been like that in comedy.
Can you remember the last time you laughed so hard you cried?
Yeah, it was when we were about to go on stage at the Improv on Memorial Day weekend at the MGM Grand. I was up in the bathroom and washing my hands because I’d been eating with (“Whose Line Is It Anyway” buddy) Brad Sherwood. So he was peeing and we were talking — and this is like five minutes before I had to go on. And then (comedian) Jonathan Magnum came in and he had to take a shit. So we were like, “Let’s get out of here.” I left and I just had come down the stairs from the bathroom and I heard a scream from Sherwood, like a maniac, he said, “I turned the lights off on him!”
Oh man, that’s just cruel.
What he’d done is he waited while he was washing his hands until he heard the toilet seat go down and the “zip” from Magnum, then he counted a couple beats and waited then turned off the light and went out the door. I was laughing so hard I was crying. Then Jonathan came down right before I went on stage and said, “If you would have waited five more seconds that would have been a DISASTER. And if you had an infrared camera you would have seen me with my pants around my knees looking for the light switch as I moved along the wall.” I said, “You’ve gotta stop, I’m about to pee my pants,” I was crying from laughing so hard. And Brad said, “If you really wanted to be mean, if you really want to do that to somebody, you should wipe shit on the walls first and then turn off the lights.” All three of us were crying and laughing. I honestly almost pissed myself and I was about to walk out an onstage in front of everybody. I couldn’t even remember what my name was at that point.
John Wenzel is an A&E reporter and blogs editor for The Denver Post and the author of “Mock Stars: Indie Comedy and the Dangerously Funny” (Speck Press/Fulcrum). Follow him @johntwenzel and @beardsandgum.