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Reviewing Too Funny to Fail: The Life and Death of The Dana Carvey Show

In the spring of 1996,I was 14 years old and in the eighth grade about to go to high school in the summer. During that time on Tuesday nights right after Home Improvement on ABC, a new midseason replacement show premiered called The Dana Carvey Show. It starred Dana Carvey,of course, who had been a star on Saturday Night Live and with the Wayne’s World movies and was wanting to branch out and do a new kind of sketch comedy show that audiences hadn’t seen before.

And I was a fan,a big time fan! I thought it was hilarious stuff and the sketches I remember to this day. Unbeknownst to me,the show was deemed too racy and inappropriate for a prime time audience, as well as a show that probably shouldn’t be following Home Improvement and preceding NYPD Blue, two of TV’s hottest shows at the time. As a result,The Dana Carvey Show was cancelled after eight episodes.

Too Funny to Fail: The Life and Death of The Dana Carvey Show, details the creation of the show as well as the stars and writers of the show, many of whom went on to bigger successes after the show was canceled and even fans of the show who later became comics themselves.

Among the cast members who became successes were Stephen Colbert,who went on to be a correspondent on The Daily Show and later The Colbert Report,and now as the host of CBS’ The Late Show, Steve Carell,who also starred on The Daily Show and played Michael Scott on NBC’s The Office and has had successes at the box office with Anchorman, The 40-Year Old Virgin,and as a voice in the Despicable Me movie franchise.


Writers for the show included Louis CK, who has become one of the funniest comedians today and starred in his own show on FX titled Louie,Jon Glaser,who went on to write for Late Night with Conan O’ Brien and had a recurring role on Parks and Recreation,and Spike Feresten,who was writing for Seinfeld and brought in to try and “save” the show. Robert Smigel,was the show’s executive producer and co-creator.

The first sketch that aired on The Dana Carvey Show was an ill-fated decision made by the writers and producers where Bill Clinton,portrayed by Carvey, breastfed puppies and kittens,causing audiences to turn the show off and as a result,the show got poor reviews and ratings.

Other sketches on The Dana Carvey Show were stupid pranksters,a sketch with two guys (Carvey and Carell) who pay for various items (gas,food,prostitutes) and leave without the various items. Leftover Beatle Memories,where Paul McCartney (Carvey) describes eating his first Snickers bar in America. Germans Who Say Nice Things,which consisted of Carvey and Carell shouting nice phrases at the audience. MTV’s Singled Out featuring the Unabomber,Ted Kaczynski (Carvey) appearing as a contestant on the dating show. Various cable channels (Discovery Channel,Food Network,C-SPAN) “After Dark”. And of course, First Ladies as Dogs,portrayed by Heather Morgan,the lone female cast member.

The show was also given a title sponsor every week, such as The Taco Bell Dana Carvey Show. Mug Root Beer,Mountain Dew,Pepsi Stuff,and Szechuan Dynasty,a Manhattan Chinese restaurant, were among them.

Some material was able to be salvaged for Saturday Night Live, one sketch included Carvey as Tom Brokaw recording obituaries for Gerald Ford and various odd causes for his death,and The Ambiguously Gay Duo,a cartoon with two superheroes (voiced by Colbert and Carell) whose sexuality is always in question.

As a kid who loved the show,as an adult I love it even more because of how ahead of its time it was. You have shows on now that push the envelope far more than this show did.

There were even sketches on there I forgot about like Grandma the Clown. I also didn’t know that Colbert and Carell voiced Ace and Gary from The Ambiguously Gay Duo. I wish this show had maybe gone to HBO after it’s ABC run, but that’s the thing about brilliant but cancelled series,sometimes they’re so bad,they’re actually really good.

If you want to know what this series was about, what happened to it, or the story behind it and even the stories behind the sketches on the show,check out this documentary,now showing on Hulu. You can also see the entire series there as well.

Thumbs Up!


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November 2017
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