The Dana Carvey Show is one of those short-lived TV series whose reputation has only grown since it was unceremoniously shit-canned by ABC back in 1996. Centered on Saturday Night Live vet and world champion mugger Carvey, the series is now best known for the collection of writers and performers around him, most of whom have become comedy legends in their own right—including one Stephen Colbert. (Unless it’s remembered for its very first sketch, in which Carvey’s Bill Clinton graphically breast-feeds live puppies, the spectacle of which served to turn off most of its massive Home Improvement lead-in audience.) Then a fresh-faced sketch comedian and writer who “couldn’t get arrested,” Colbert welcomed his onetime boss Carvey on Wednesday into his swanky current digs as host of The Late Show.
Paying homage to Carvey’s longtime love of broadly hyperactive political impressions, Colbert first welcomed new National Security Advisor John Bolton, who, in Carvey’s riffing, bombastic impression, came off as thoroughly insane and dangerous as advertised. Carvey loves nothing more than digging into a wildly gesticulating groove, so war-happy Bolton’s love of martial onomatopoeia gave the comic plenty to work with. That and Bolton’s increasingly enormous mustache, named, as we are told, “General Snowball.”
In their chummy sit-down afterward, Colbert and Carvey reminisced about their long-ago comedic partnership, which Carvey called, accurately, “a noble failure.” Counting among their colleagues people who’d go on to be instrumental in projects as disparate and impressive as Louie, Adaptation, 30 Rock, The Office, Community, Mr. Show, and more might tip that equation more into the “noble” column, although, sure, the show itself went down in flames after only seven episodes. They also showed clips from a pair of never-aired sketches that gave Colbert’s audience a taste of the often brilliant material 1996 America had absolutely no taste for. One featuring Carvey’s Tom Brokaw practicing ever-more baroque potential scenarios surrounding Gerald Ford’s death eventually turned up on SNL. But the other, with an episode of This Week With David Brinkley being filmed on an actual moving roller coaster, saw Carvey’s George Will freaking out on the downslope, while Colbert’s prosthetic-covered Brinkley manages to remain suitably stoic, nodding sagely at Will’s shrieking panic.
All of The Dana Carvey Show—including the unaired material, according to Colbert—is available on Hulu. The same goes for Too Funny To Fail, Josh Greenbaum’s documentary about The Dana Carvey Show, which did, indeed, fail.