A perfect storm of comedy festivals, Moontower Just for Laughs Austin kicked off April 13 and continues in full force this week. CultureMap had the opportunity to speak with two of the festival’s headliners, Dana Carvey and David Spade, about the first live recording of their Fly on the Wall podcast, which they will perform at the Long Center on Tuesday, April 19.
In each episode, the Saturday Night Live legends speak with other alumni and hosts of the show, ranging from Bill Hader to Tina Fey and Tom Hanks. Their guest this week will be current SNL star James Austin Johnson.
Speaking with these two isn’t much different than listening to their own show — a conversation fueled by frequent riffs off each other. The exchange gave a pretty accurate preview for what the live audience can expect in Austin on Tuesday, bookended by Carvey’s impression of his local UPS man and his impersonation of President Joe Biden. He says the latter will surface in the Austin performance, which is sure to include more than a few surprises.
Dana Carvey: I'm about to mail something to my wife, and I’ve got to convince the UPS guy that I will pay extra for overnight. He says, “Oh, you don’t want it to go overnight. You go three days. You save eight dollars.” I say, that’s okay, I’m a millionaire.
And I went to the pharmacy, which is usually like a bank heist to get medications. “You want to do WHAT?” And then they won't do it. They give you a 15 instead of a 30 and they go, “Well, insurance wouldn't pay for it.” What's the cost? “$1.69.” And I say, “I'll do it. I'm going to f**king do it.”
David Spade: I got a little Church Lady money left, and I'm going to do it.
DC: I’m f**king Garth, man. That shit plays all over the world. Get it, b*tch?
DS: Yeah, Dana, I know the interview's almost over, but I went there for some stupid medication and asked if I could get it for two months because I’m always traveling, and he goes “Yeah, but insurance doesn't cover it.” I go, “I’ll do it.” It was 570 bucks.
DC: And that’s why we’re working on our podcast: We're trying to pay off our mortgages.
DS: Alright, question one.
CultureMap: What was the inspiration to start the podcast?
DC: I would say it was lobster shrimp rolls.
DS: Dana and I overlapped on the show, and he’s a great guy to hang out with. So we would do dinner about once every week and crack up. And I was trying to think of podcast stuff, and we said we should do something like this, two guys from SNL and all our friends. So it kind of fell together, and it started working right away.
DC: Yeah, we knew each other before SNL and kept intersecting on and off for the last 30 years. And when I moved back to LA, we started going to this restaurant that was very cool and quiet, and they had lobster shrimp rolls. So that's where we really started hanging out and talking. And I had this podcast, which I will bring back, called Fantastic!, which David was a guest on. Our manager went crazy, so we said we'll try one.
DS: Yeah, that was like an accidental audition tape because that one was fun and did well. We both like to chat, but bringing someone in, it's just sort of a discussion, not really an interview.
CM: I've listened to a lot of it, and it sounds a lot like this conversation, with y'all just chatting.
DS: And you not getting to talk.
DC: We like to focus on ourselves. We have narcissistic tendencies, which might be a deficit for a host, but you know, we do the best we can.
CM: Have you guys performed in Austin before?
DS: I did pretty recently, but it wasn’t really on my touring schedule because I didn’t really know where to play. But now it’s the Paramount I’ve played. It’s great. And Dana does theaters all over.
DC: I played the Paramount, but I had a rough set because I made a rookie mistake: I thought of a bit about all the former presidents staying at this hotel. I came out with it cold because I was so excited, but it was too disorganized so I got off to a rough start. But it was an incredible audience and an incredible theater, so I always wanted to play Austin again.
CM: What's your favorite part about the city?
DC: Normally when you're in and out, you don't get a chance to have a day in the city because I just store up my energy for the show, but Austin's all the rage, as you know. Over the last 10 years, people are moving to Austin. It's a very good place. It has zero state tax, and Joe Rogan's there, so it's really on the radar for Californians.
DS: Yeah. And it looks like Rogan's going to do a comedy club there, which is great. I ate at Potbelly’s, and I also went to this unreal steak restaurant with Tom Segura last time. So I did get to do dinner and that's about it, but I love it.
DC: Hey, I heard that Joe Rogan has a new sponsor, Rogaine. Rogan for Rogaine. And it's such a natural, I can't believe it took this long for him to hook up with those people.
CM: What would be your obvious, natural sponsors?
DC: Well, we’re really into Manscaped. Trojan condoms, lube gels. No, we have great sponsors: HelloFresh is awesome.
DS: If we had one that we made up for me, it would be Spading your dog, that's my easy one.
DC: Yeah, mine would be a device for if you can't find your car keys, it would be Dana Car Keys or Car Key Finder. That would be my dream sponsor.
CM: That’s a good one. So who in the festival lineup are you excited about?
DC: Sarah Silverman, of course. I think she’s terrific. And actually, James Austin Johnson is our guest, and I’m really excited to talk to him because he came out of nowhere. Saturday Night Live does this. He was huge online doing a brilliant Trump. And he’s doing the cold open in his first show as Biden, really showing a lot of poise. His life has turned around so quickly. He’s a uniquely entertaining person for us to interview. I really want to break down his Trump. I think he has like 50 hooks or something. He just took it to another level. I find it like jazz. I think it’s absolutely brilliant.
CM: Have you guys done this show for a live audience before, and what should Austin expect from the show?
DS: Expect very little. No, the exciting thing is we haven’t done it, it's going to be different in person, but we will try to be amusing and funny. Podcasts are talking, so it's that fine line between being whorish for laughs but also just having a conversation. This new guy from SNL has probably got lots to tell us.
DC: We'll definitely come out either together or separately in the front, for a bit of entertaining. I love podcasting on stage. I love the concept because we get to discover things in real time. You're improvising. It's an awesome new artform because doing standup is about redundancy and getting excited about something you’ve done a lot, but the improvisation on stage with David and James brings up all these possibilities. So I like the form of it. It’s new. It’s our first time doing it, so it’s great. Or it’ll suck.
DS: Maybe a Q&A at the end.
DC: I've always enjoyed those. I’ve done those before in standup. And that's usually the best part, because the audience knows it's completely real. No parlor tricks here, just whatever they ask us. They can let ‘er rip. What happened to you, Church Lady? Whatever they want to ask.
CM: What sort of prep do you normally do for the show?
DS: Dana is sort of the brains of the outfit: he’s good at research. We know a lot about some of these people, but there’s a lot we don’t know, so we dig a little deeper. We find out what they've done over their whole career span, and then we delve into SNL. So we will chat beforehand to see what we should cover, and we try to get to it all.
And we do a lot of tangents because some people just have so much going on for them. Tom Hanks went off on SNL for about 25 straight minutes, he was so excited about it. And then you have to mention a movie that affected us growing up, or a movie Tom loved or a movie I loved that Tom was in. And you have questions about that. If you get Tom Hanks cornered, there are a couple of things you just got to run by him.
DC: I think they're all different, but everyone's got a story. James has a very different story than the ones we've talked to so far. So I'm always fascinated by questions like what is he feeling? How does he deal with the pressure? How does anyone become what he became? Did you do voices as a kid in his room? Who influenced him? All of that stuff is fascinating to me. I try to make it fun for myself. And interesting for myself, because then I hope the audience will not be sleeping.
CM: Where did you each get your inspiration?
DS: I draw from Dana. I was doing standup in Arizona — half to get attention, half because I saw a standup that was so funny in real life. I'd only seen him on TV, and then I saw him in real life, and it really just hit me.
CM: Who was it?
DS: It was Barry Sobel, actually. Dana is good friends with him. He was just one touring comedian that is great, and I just had to see him, and it just hit me so viscerally. What if I could do this? I never thought of it before that. I just liked it so much, I wanted to be part of it and you go along and then I see guys like Dana, who are great. He's so funny, but he also does these impressions and he's got such a command of the stage. You see Dennis Miller, Kevin Nealon, all those guys growing up; of course, Steve Martin. And then you get into it, and I didn't look back.
DC: Yeah. It spoke to me at an early age. By the time I was 8 or 9, I got hold of a little recorder, and I started recording Jonathan Winters and other people off the television and would practice in my room. But I thought it was a fantasy: ridiculous, impossible. And I would see Rich Little or Don Rickles or people on variety shows in the ‘60s, Carol Burnett. I just thought it was a crazy standard. Like wanting to be the president of the United States, or the first man on the moon. It seemed unreachable.
So maybe I’ll interview David for the first part of the show.
DS: We don't want everyone bawling in the front row. They’re like, “Stop the show!” And then, I’ll continue, "My dad didn’t push me in the swing."
DC: Yes, do Barbara Walters. We need Cheri Oteri.
CM: You’ve both had long comedy careers. How has comedy changed over the years, and how have you adapted to that?
DS: That's a tough one. The problem for me is just doing standup, you used to always want to offend a little bit or keep it on the edge because that's how you're pushing it as a comedian.
DC: Because that’s funny.
DS: And now you can't, and I don't want to use the same seven jokes that everyone deems appropriate, and no one's laughing, but you think, that was a good, safe act.
DC: Yeah. We're in a different place. As far as me doing Biden, there's this sensitivity to it for unnamed reasons, but I still find his rhythms fascinating and really, really funny.
(As Biden): “We know how to do this. We will. Come on, ‘cause we do in fact. We did it. And it's just, it’s just Pirates of the Caribbean.”
I’ll be doing my Biden at the theater. I still think funny is funny. We're in a much more careful time, but I never wanted people in the back crying in the darkness because of what I was doing. It wasn't my goal.
CM: Each of you has done more voice acting for animation work. What have been some of your favorite roles there? And what about that is appealing or different from your normal work?
DC: The Secret Life of Pets. They wanted me to do Grumpy Old Man, a character I did on SNL, as a dog. So I did that. And then I just did a Tina Fey series during the pandemic called Mulligan. I kind of like all of it. I just like doing stuff.
This podcast is its own kind of challenge. It's fun. It's interesting as a creative challenge and with all these other things we are able to do, we're just really lucky that we get to make money doing this. I'll never lose touch with that. It’s insane how lucky we are.
DS: I loved doing Emperor’s New Groove and the Hotel Transylvania movies. And, yeah, once we decided to do the podcast, we decided to do it the best we can and not walk through it. I think there are 2.7 million podcasts, and Dana and I are just glad we're up there on the charts getting listened to.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. Fly on the Wall with Dana Carvey and David Spade performs at the Long Center at 8 pm Tuesday, April 19, with guest James Austin Johnson. Tickets and badges for the show, as well as all other Moontower Just for Laughs Austin events are available here.