If you’re wondering why Dana Carvey is hosting Saturday Night Live this week, it may be because he’s the best ambassador to great comedy that the show has ever had.
Nope, this isn’t because he’s doing SNL this weekend in a Love of the Game sort of situation. (Even though he is—he has nothing specifically to plug.) It’s because his forgotten-about self-titled show in 1996 may have been a better breeding ground for today’s most influential comedians than Saturday Night Live was in that entire decade.
And The Dana Carvey Show didn’t even last a whole season.
It was, at the time, critically panned. That’s probably a mild way to put it. It was critically devastated. It was ridden off television for, mostly, being in the wrong timeslot.
Yes, in an era of TGIF and Full House in primetime, The Dana Carvey show was premiered at 9:30 p.m. on ABC right after Home Improvement, and it opened with a skit in which President Clinton had milkable udders that could breastfeed babies, puppies and kitties. The President also had implanted a ducktail onto his lower-back for the purpose of nesting eggs to help save money for school lunch programs.
This didn’t go over well. ABC had ordered ten episodes. They cancelled it after seven.
But Dana Carvey helped launch four of the most pivotal comedy careers for today’s culture in those seven episodes.
The idea of the opening sketch came to the show’s head writer, a then-absurdist comedian and recent SNL reject, on the way to work one morning. He thought it would be funny to see “Bill Clinton breastfeeding a baby on national TV.” Then it aired. He got letters about how this deeply offended some viewers. He said it helped him grow into the comedian he is today.
That writer was Louis C.K., one of today’s best and most famous standups.
You can hear more about his time at the doomed show at the 11:00 mark of the WTF Podcast with comedian Marc Maron, which aired on KCRW.
But Louis C.K. didn’t even wind up being the most distinguished writer involved with the show. Robert Smigel was just one of the faceless writers at SNL and Conan before he got a chance to whip out The Ambiguously Gay Duo on The Dana Carvey Show.
This eventually spawned TV Funhouse, some comic shorts that aired on SNL for years after the Dana Carvey Show and eventually won itself its own timeslot on NBC for a year. And a year after becoming a castmember on Dana Carvey’s experiment, he invented a dog puppet that smoked a cigar and made fun of humans: Triumph the Insult Comic Dog.
Oh, and if Ace and Gary from The Ambiguously Gay Duo sound familiar, it’s because they’re two of the best, most famous comic actors alive. Gary was Steve Carell. Ace was Stephen Colbert. They were both castmembers on The Dana Carvey Show.
Here they are attempting not to throw up on television, before Carell dresses up as Fabio and shaves his chest. Yep, this kind of thing happened all the time on this show.
In the last three episodes, Carvey’s writers had written some sketches for a young Stephen Colbert to deliver some satirical news as a deadpan pundit.
Thank God they cancelled the show before that. That sort of thing would’ve been a real disaster.