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5 Fast Facts About Dana Carvey

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Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

When it comes to Dana Carvey, the question most people ask isn’t “What’s your favorite Dana Carvey impression?” or “Is Wayne’s World 3 still happening?” It’s “What the hell happened to Dana Carvey?” The former Saturday Night Live star has kept a rather low profile since his 2002 bomb, The Master of Disguise. But now he’s back in the spotlight thanks to his Netflix special, Straight White Male, 60. Here are five quick facts about the comedian to catch you up on his multi-decade career. Party on, Dana.

1. HE HAD SMALL PARTS IN HALLOWEEN II AND THIS IS SPINAL TAP.

Before Dana Carvey landed his star-making gig on Saturday Night Live in 1986, he racked up a few film credits in blink-and-you'll-miss-him roles. His first movie was Halloween II, in which he played a news crew assistant with zero lines. At least he got more to do in Rob Reiner’s definitive mockumentary, This Is Spinal Tap. That time, he appeared as a mime waiter alongside Billy Crystal. Watch them gripe outside the kitchen in the clip above. 

2. HE AUDITIONED FOR SNL WITH ROBIN WILLIAMS AND JIMMY STEWART IMPRESSIONS.

Carvey is famous for his impressions, and they certainly helped him win over Lorne Michaels in his audition for Saturday Night Live. As you can see in the above video, he warmed up with his take on Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous host Robin Leach before moving on to Jimmy Stewart, “senile” Robin Williams, and John Travolta. You can also see flashes of Wayne’s World co-host Garth Algar in his impersonation of his brother Brad, who inspired the character.

3. HIS SHORT-LIVED SHOW HELPED LAUNCH THE CAREERS OF LOUIS CK, STEPHEN COLBERT, AND STEVE CARELL.

After leaving SNL in 1993, Carvey made a few movies, like Clean Slate and Trapped in Paradise. Then, in 1996, he debuted his own sketch show—The Dana Carvey Show. The series featured an insane slate of comedic talent: Saturday Night Live veteran Robert Smigel co-created the show, Louis CK was the head writer, Stephen Colbert and Steve Carell wrote and performed on the show, and the writers room was populated with future showrunners and screenwriters like Robert Carlock (30 Rock) and Charlie Kaufman (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). Still, the show struggled with ratings, so ABC canceled it before the eighth episode even aired. The Dana Carvey Show enjoys a cult status among comedy nerds today, particularly for skits like Carell and Colbert’s “Waiters Who Are Nauseated by Food.”

4. HE TURNED DOWN HOSTING NBC’S LATE NIGHT.

Before Carvey developed his failed series, he was approached with an intriguing offer. David Letterman’s jump from NBC to CBS left a hosting vacancy on the Late Night show. Carvey was offered the job, but turned it down because he thought it was too big of a commitment. So instead, the hosting spot went to another SNL alum (albeit in the writing department): Conan O’Brien.

5. HIS WORK WAS REFERENCED AT GERALD FORD’S FUNERAL.

Many public figures bristle when an SNL actor impersonates him or her on TV. But not George H.W. Bush. The former president was a huge fan of Carvey’s impression of him. He invited the comic to stay at the White House, and the two even exchanged letters. But perhaps Bush’s most public endorsement came during Gerald Ford’s funeral. In the middle of his remarks, Bush observed, “[Ford] had a wonderful sense of humor, and even took it in stride when Chevy Chase had to make the entire world think that this terrific, beautifully coordinated athlete was actually a stumbler. Ford says it was funny. He wrote that in his memoir. I remember that lesson well, since being able to laugh at yourself is essential in public life. I'd tell you more about that, but as Dana Carvey would say, ‘Not gonna do it. Wouldn't be prudent.’”

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The Mystery Science Theater 3000 Turkey Day Marathon Is Back
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Shout! Factory

For many fans, Mystery Science Theater 3000 is as beloved a Thanksgiving tradition as mashed potatoes and gravy (except funnier). It seems appropriate, given that the show celebrates the turkeys of the movie world. And that it made its debut on Thanksgiving Day in 1988 (on KTMA, a local station in Minneapolis). In 1991, to celebrate its third anniversary, Comedy Central hosted a Thanksgiving Day marathon of the series—and in the more than 25 years since, that tradition has continued.

Beginning at 12 p.m. ET on Thursday, Shout! Factory will host yet another Mystery Science Theater 3000 Turkey Day marathon, hosted by series creator Joel Hodgson and stars Jonah Ray and Felicia Day. Taking place online at ShoutFactoryTV.com, or via the Shout! Factory TV app on Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Fire and select smart TVs, the trio will share six classic MST3K episodes that have never been screened as part of a Shout! Factory Turkey Day Marathon. Here’s hoping your favorite episode makes it (cough, Hobgoblins, cough.)

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11 Bite-Sized Facts About Cannibal! The Musical
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Troma Entertainment

Back in their film school days, the creators of South Park made a twisted tribute to Rogers and Hammerstein. Cannibal! The Musical is (very) loosely based on the life of Alfred "Alferd" Packer, an American prospector who resorted to eating his travel companions in the harsh winter of 1874. Below, you’ll find a buffet of bite-sized facts about this weirdly upbeat black comedy. Bon appétit!

1. IT ALL STARTED WITH A GAG TRAILER.

In 1992, Trey Parker was studying film at the University of Colorado, Boulder, where pretty much everyone knows all about the legend of Alfred "Alferd" Packer. Indeed, when a new restaurant opened up on campus in 1968, the student body chose to name it after this famous man-eater. The restaurant’s slogan? “Have a friend for lunch.” As a joke, Parker rounded up some of his fellow film majors and spent three days shooting a phony trailer for a nonexistent movie called Alferd Packer: The Musical. Included in the ensemble was Matt Stone, with whom Parker would go on to create South Park.

Once the Alferd Packer promo was finished, those who worked on it weren’t sure if they could turn this concept into a feature-length picture. Fortunately, the trailer was a huge hit. “People thought it was really funny,” Parker told The Denver Post, “so we went around … and said, ‘So do you want to invest?’” Thanks (for the most part) to donations from a few CU grads with wealthy parents, Parker and his co-stars amassed a $100,000 budget.

2. LIANE THE HORSE WAS NAMED AFTER TREY PARKER’S EX-FIANCÉE.

At age 21, Parker was all set to marry his high school sweetheart. “We had plane tickets, the dress was bought, the church was paid for,” Parker shared on the DVD commentary. Then, about a month before the wedding, he caught his bride-to-be with another man. Devastated, Parker broke off the engagement and came up with an unusual way to get even. “I really wrote this movie for her,” he said.

A major character in Cannibal is Liane, Packer’s beloved horse, who leaves him for another rider. The two-timing equine was named after Parker’s former fiancée. Some artistic license was taken here, as there’s no proof that the real Packer ever owned a horse named Liane—or that he ever wistfully sang about being on top of her.

3. AN AVANT-GARDE LEGEND WAS CAST IN A MINOR ROLE.

World-renowned for his experimental filmmaking, the late Stan Brakhage taught off and on at the University of Colorado, where he met Parker and Stone. The two convinced him to appear in Cannibal! as George Noon’s father, who gets about two minutes’ worth of screen time.

4. PARKER’S DAD WAS IN IT, TOO.

Just like Stan Marsh’s dad in South Park, Trey Parker’s father, Randy, is a geologist. In Cannibal! The Musical, he portrays the Breckenridge judge who sentences Packer (played by Trey) to death.

5. “SHPADOINKLE” WAS MEANT AS A FILLER WORD.

In addition to penning the Cannibal! script, Parker also wrote the film’s musical numbers. The first of these is “Shpadoinkle Day,” an offbeat tribute to “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning” from Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! Parker knew that the first verse had to include a positive, three-syllable word, but couldn’t think of any that fit. So he used the made-up term “Shpadoinkle” to plug the gap until he could come up with an alternative. However, the creative team liked “shpadoinkle” so much that it stayed put and became one of Cannibal’s running jokes.

6. THEY SHOT IN THE COURTROOM IN WHICH PACKER WAS ACTUALLY TRIED.

On April 6, 1883, Packer was put on trial at the Hinsdale County Courthouse in Lake City, Colorado. Over the next few days, he admitted to dining on two of his dead travel companions—one of whom he supposedly killed in self-defense (the other died of natural causes). Packer was found guilty of murder, but avoided the hangman’s noose by fighting for a second trial, which took place 30 miles away in Gunnison. This time, he was charged with five counts of voluntary manslaughter and sentenced to 40 years in prison. However, while Packer languished behind bars, public opinion slowly turned in the cannibal’s favor. Under near-constant pressure from The Denver Post, Governor Charles S. Thomas pardoned Packer in 1901.

More than 90 years later, Parker filmed the trial scenes of Cannibal! The Musical at the still-standing Hinsdale County Courthouse. About halfway through the movie, the judge delivers a big speech in which he sentences Packer to death. His on-screen monologue was copied word-for-word from the court transcript of that 1883 Lake City trial.

7. AS THE MINERS SING “THAT’S ALL I’M ASKING FOR,” YOU CAN SEE PARKER MOUTH THE WORD “CUT.”

It goes by fast, but you can see Parker call "cut" to end the shot at the 3:06 mark in the clip above.

8. PARKER USED A PSEUDONYM FOR THE OPENING CREDITS.

Parker billed himself as "Juan Schwartz" in the cast of Cannibal because, according to the movie's website, "Trey doesn't like seeing one person's name plastered all over a movie's credits." Since he is properly credited as writer and director, he likely felt the additional acting credit was a bit too much. Incidentally, Packer called himself “John Shwartze” while evading the law before his arrest.

9. A FEW SONGS WERE DELETED.

The original cut of Cannibal! The Musical ran for two and a half hours, but thanks to some major-league editing, the runtime was reduced to a breezy 93 minutes. “There were fights about that from the get-go, but I give credit to Trey for being the toughest critic,” producer Jason McHugh told MovieMaker Magazine. “He had the maturity to know that a musical comedy about cannibals can’t be two and a half hours long.”

In the streamlining process, two musical numbers got the axe. The first was a quick little dirge called “Don’t Be Stupid,” wherein some nameless miners tell Packer’s group to postpone their journey until springtime. The other was “I’m Shatterproof,” a rap/funk song that Packer, hardened by his recent ordeals, delivers during a bar fight. Also deleted was a reprise of “When I Was On Top of You.”

10. COMEDY CENTRAL WOULDN’T BROADCAST IT.

Cannibal! was distributed by Troma Entertainment, an independent production company best known for creating The Toxic Avenger series. When South Park began to emerge as a major player on cable TV, Troma’s co-founder, Lloyd Kaufman, assumed that Comedy Central would jump at the chance to air some of Parker and Stone’s earlier work. Instead, the channel flatly refused to air Cannibal.

Kaufman was sent a rejection letter from Comedy Central, which read: “Thank you for submitting and re-submitting Cannibal! The Musical, but it is simply not up to our standards for broadcasting.” Troma forwarded a copy of this dispatch to Parker. Today, it’s prominently displayed in his office—at Comedy Central!

11. IT HAS BEEN TURNED INTO A STAGE MUSICAL ON MANY OCCASIONS.

Can’t get tickets to The Book of Mormon? Perhaps you can catch a live reenactment of Cannibal! The Musical instead. Since 1998, the movie has been seen more than 60 stage adaptations. There’s no “official” version of the theatrical show. As such, acting troupes that might be interested in performing Cannibal! have to write their own scripts based on the original movie. 

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