Funny man Dana Carvey returns — happily — to the Gallo Center

bvanderbeek@modbee.comMay 22, 2013 

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There's a place Dana Carvey attempts to visit every time he steps on stage.

It has nothing to do with "Saturday Night Live" and is in a different emotional galaxy than "Wayne's World."

"What I'm doing is always trying to get to that moment in the back of the bus with my high school buddies," Carvey, 56, said last week in a phone interview.

"We'd redundantly repeat different phrases over and over again until we'd giggle ourselves into oblivion. It was never a set-up punch. The inexplicability is always the goal. People can take what they want. There might not be a joke there, but it still can make people laugh."

Carvey, who played to a sold-out Gallo Center for the Arts in 2009, returns to that stage to perform his stand-up act on June 7.

"It's a really nice theater and I had a great time there with a terrific crowd," Carvey said. "I'll be coming there with some new ideas, so it should be interesting."

And it will be fresh.

Yes, there are characters Carvey is happily obligated to reprise, such as his classic Church Lady from "SNL," or Garth from "Wayne's World," but he's always trying to push the boundaries — to see what works and what doesn't, and to keep himself and his act motivated and relevant.

All the time, he knows what will kill an audience in a 200-seat club could kill a comedian in a 1,200-seat hall, such as the Gallo.

"The stuff I do now is more universal," Carvey said. "I lean heavily on Obama, and juxtapose him with some other recent presidents. Some of it can be edgier in different settings. I'm working on a bit that claims every group of people has good and bad. There must have been a few adorable Nazis. Maybe not many.

"But if you go to the clubs now and see what they're doing ... whew. They're doing rape jokes and all of it is blown out and wild. I'm not sure what's off-base anymore if rape jokes are working. Wow."

So, rape jokes are out.

But don't be surprised to see Carvey work the edges in other directions.

"Jesus, Hitler and Lincoln — those are the three tent poles of absurdist comedy," Carvey said before launching into a riff on Jesus' wine consumption and observing that if he were an alcoholic, rehab would have done no good "because he can turn water into wine."

He knows, of course, that such comedy "might be a little edgy for people."

Those are the kinds of calls Carveycan make on stage. In the give-and-take between performer and audience, the traffic cop is the person on stage, and Carvey not only acts as the cop, but also is the guy at the midpoint of the crosswalk when the light flashes "Don't Walk."

"Some comedians keep their act static for multiple decades, which allows them to do a lot of dates," said Carvey, who for the last 20 years has limited his stand-up work to about 30 shows a year.

"If you've ever been to Vegas, you do get a sense some guys are phoning it in. Being present in the moment takes a lot of energy. Not pushing is horrible. You have to invest yourself in the moment, and it's jazzlike.

"If the audience likes something I do, like a reference to Obama, maybe I'll do 10 more minutes of Obama. That takes emotion and brain power. But I bomb most of the time. I usually play to quiet crowds. Comedy doesn't always happen; you have to have an act so that on even your worst night, it's not humiliating."

Yes, self-deprecation is a part of the arsenal of every comedian not named Andrew Dice Clay.

It's also about taking chances and knowing that not every time you go on stage, that seat with your buddies in the back of the bus is not a place you'll reach.

But you can try.

"What my goal is, is to do the greatest night of comedy ever," Carvey said. "I'm not saying I'm going to do it. Part of the reason I can't do a lot of dates is that my nature is to go all out, which is almost pathetic."

Brian VanderBeek can be reached at (209) 578-2150 or follow him on Twitter, @modestobeek

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