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Drew Carey on Johnny Carson, Troll 2 and the banality of bedroom sets

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Over his many years as a public (and bespectacled) face, 54-year-old funny man Drew Carey has paid his dues as a Marine, a stand-up comic, a sitcom star, an improv guru and, in his most recent incarnation, the on-air host of The Price Is Right. And on his current tour, Carey will not only offer some of his familiar stand-up comedy but also venture into a completely new world: sketch comedy. With his friends in the Midnight Show, Carey will let the laughs loose Comedy Works South this Friday and Saturday.

But before he does, Westword chatted with Carey about his idol, Johnny Carson; his idea of a funny film and how he manages to make himself excited about yet another bedroom-set prize on The Price Is Right.

Westword: Tell me a little bit about "Drew Carey Presents the Best of the Midnight Show." What inspired the return to stand-up? Drew Carey: It's an all-sketch show. I'm not doing improv this time at all. One of the women I participate in improv with, Heather Campbell, is a great comedian and friend of mine, and her work in the Midnight Show is always great. I wanted to start doing stand-up again, and I wanted a low-key, no-stress way of doing it because I honestly don't have an hour of stand-up to do. So the show came together, and it's them doing sketch comedy, and I'm in some of the sketches with them, and I do stand-up for as long as I can go, about a half-hour to 35 minutes. I will tell you this about the Midnight Show: They're about as edgy as they can get without getting us kicked out of the building. We went with kind of an uncensored SNL. Don't bring your kids. Two club owners have already asked us not to show certain slides.

How did you prepare for your return to touring?

To me, I always thought that with doing stand-up, no matter what else I did, I just had a different job than other people had. There are stand-up comics that make more money than me, and it's hard to do and hard to do well. It's an art form. I'm always trying to get better at my stand-up and my improv, and that means just a lot of practicing, a lot of writing, a lot of trying material out.

It's so subjective: What's good art? What's a good song? Do you judge it based on how many people like it? You can't judge things based on popularity, or McDonald's would be the best restaurant in the world. Or maybe Applebee's. It's so subjective, all what individual people like. I've always had this theory about pie: I just need a little bit of the pie, just the people who like me, and I don't need to eat the entire pie to be successful. I don't worry about pleasing the whole world. I know it's odd to hear that from someone who's had a sitcom and a game show, two things where you have to be generally appealing, but it's true. With TV right now, you can name any show today that's considered top ten and do the math, and if the show gets a certain percent of the people in the country, it's a huge hit. Even if more than 90 percent don't want to watch it, it's a hit show?

I'd like to see the numbers for all the people who are out eating or bowling or skating or at a football game or at the theater. Obviously people are doing other than things than seeing that fucking show on the front page of the calendar section of the LA Times. But I'm not in charge of the calendar section at the LA Times. Even on The Price is Right, it's enough to make the show stay popular and earn us money and earn me money and stay on the air, and that's fine.

What attracts you to sketch comedy?

I like the muscle behind it, how the sketches are structured. I took a sketch-writing class from one of the guys in the group, and you start talking about styles of sketches and archetypes and you start comparing them to Monty Python or Kids in the Hall. There are really only so many types of sketches out there, and they repeat in different ways. It's amazing how you can break it down to structure like a history textbook.

Which is your favorite archetype? For the ones I appear in, I think I'm better at the center-versus-eccentric, where you're the sane one and everyone else is crazy, which happens a lot in sketches. I'm good at those. The ones I like to watch are the seemingly impossible simple task, like the Monty Python one where he's trying to buy some cheese at a cheese shop. It just becomes impossible to get done and it becomes ridiculous. Another good one is the argument clinic sketch in Monty Python. That's what the people at the Midnight Show think is the best sketch of all time.

I had dinner with (Monty Python's) Eric Idle -- he's a neighbor of mine -- and he said his favorite sketch of all time is called "One Lake Too Few" with Dudley Moore. It's hilarious, about a guy auditioning for a show. They're so damn funny.

Recently, you appeared on the American Masters episode dedicated to Johnny Carson, who helped to launch your career. Do you think it's possible for another show to create that kind of influence in 2012? No. It's so spread apart right now. One thing people bring up when they're talking about that is that there were only so many channels back then. There was no YouTube, no video games, and now the video games make more money than the movies do. There's just so much on all the time, so many directions to look. It can't happen again in the same way. Do you ever find yourself channeling Carson or other famous hosts in your spot on The Price Is Right? Not that I know of. I'm sure I do, from anything I've seen or watched, but it's not intentional. Every time you see something, you're like, "Here's a standard I want to achieve' or, 'Dear god, here's something I'd like to avoid." I do that on a subconscious level, but I don't just walk onstage and say, "I'm going to pull a Carson tonight."

On The Price Is Right, there are certain things I like to do and don't like to do, though. I want to always remind myself to be as excited as the contestant is. I'll catch myself, if it's a prize I've seen a lot, thinking "Oh, it's that," and I have to remind myself that the audience actually really cares and is excited. So I'm like, "Let's play for this thing I've seen a million times!"

Click through for the rest of the interview. What is the one prize you're most sick of?

Bedroom sets. I even make fun of it in my act. But people like the bedroom sets, or it depends on the set, at least. It's hard on The Price Is Right. There's no way we're going to match up someone with the prize they most want. They might have gone to Hawaii a million times and they don't really care about that travel deal, or they could be hoping for a bigger car than the one they won. It's a toss-up.

Which prize would you hold out for, if you were a contestant?

Some of our travel packages are great. It's hard to pick one, but we have some really good places. Sometimes I think, 'Shit, I wish they would take me with them.'"

Right now, you maintain not one but two Twitter accounts: a personal one and one for The Price Is Right. Have you developed a formula for being funny in 140 characters or fewer?

I'm actually getting rid of the Price Is Right account. I'm not running it anymore. I think the very first day I had it I Tweeted a joke about that senator who was having an affair and he said he was hiking the Appalachian Trail (Mark Sanford), and I said my new name for sex was "hiking the Appalachian Trail." Then they contacted me and were like, "If you're going to make jokes like that, you can't do it with the Price Is Right name." So I was like, "Oh screw it, if they want official Price Is Right news, they can just use their own account." I don't always Tweet to make a joke. It's just a thing that's fun for me to use when I feel like using it.

Who are your favorite current comedians? Oh man, that's an easy one. Louis CK, Chris Rock, Greg Proops, Kevin Hart.

And your favorite comedy film? None. It's hard for me to go to movies because I like a lot of old movies. Recently, I went to my friend Sam's house and sat in all night with a bunch of comics with drinks and watched Troll 2. That's hilarious to me. Also, The Apple is also really horrible in a hilarious way.

What's the best joke you've heard recently? There are two cavalry scouts riding through the Old West, and they're in Indian country. They hear war drums in the background, thump-thump, thump-thump, thump-thump, thump-thump. One says, "Wow that doesn't sound good." And then an Indian pops up behind him and says, "That's not our regular drummer." Carey and company will hit Comedy Works South, 5345 Landmark Place, on Friday and Saturday, June 15 and 16, at 7:15 and 9:45 p.m. each evening. Tickets are $26. For more information, call 720-274-6800 or visit comedyworks.com.

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