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Dispatches From The New Yorker Festival

“That’s What She Said”: A Conversation with Steve Carell
Moderated by Tad Friend

Steve Carell was never known as the class clown, “I was probably laughing the hardest at him,” he says. Tad Friend quoted Judd Apatow as saying that most comedians have a wound and are scarred and bitter about things, as in the case of Richard Pryor, who grew up in a whorehouse. Apatow is on record saying he can’t figure out what Carell’s damage is, “what’s your wound?” asked Friend. “I grew up in a whorehouse. It just started, actually. My mom is 85,” and then guiltily startled by his own mom joke says, “Oh, I’m so glad this isn’t being broadcasted anywhere!”  His parents had sent Carell to an expensive prep school and to do them right, he’d planned on going to law school, “then I would have been scarred and bitter, for sure.”

“You have to check your morals at the door,” he says of working for The Daily Show, whose segments often feature the brutal unveiling of some people whose mental stability you question. He talked about his first segment for The Daily Show, about an Elvis impersonator who also lived in a venom research facility, “He dressed like Elvis and lived in a trailer full of snakes. My favorite thing about him was that he’d been bitten so many times the ambulance wouldn’t come pick him up anymore. If he got bit he had to drive himself to a rest stop and meet them halfway.” “I don’t think I’ve had more fun, ever, when making a film,” Carell says of his part in Anchorman. “We want to make an Anchorman 2, but we want it to be a Broadway musical, the same way the Marx brothers had their musical revues.”

One of the things that he’s most proud of is that his children, ages six and nine, already understand irony. He plays this game with his daughter where she’ll ask if he loves her and he’ll say, “Yes! I mean, eh, I don’t know,” and feigns ambivalence. “She loves that moment where I pretend that I’m not sure. It makes me feel so great that she’s so secure in my love for her that we can play such a game.” As much as he wants his daughters to be “normal” human beings, they live next door to Miley Cyrus. “My daughter set out a lemonade stand one day. Her first customer is Billy Ray Cyrus who pays for a twenty-five cent lemonade with a $20 and tells her to keep the change. Then the paparazzi come by and they all leave big tips. And then the police who chased the paparazzi away stop by. She comes in with $60 and honestly thinks she can make a living selling lemonade! I’m like, ‘No! You can’t!'”

There are lots of kind words for Stephen Colbert, one of Carell’s closest friends. “He’s the smartest, most talented person I know,” but Colbert isn’t always the sweetest of friends. A Daily Show skit that had Carell getting drunk, in order to show the hazards of being drunk, led Carell to have six or so drinks in rapid succession. “I’m not a big drinker, so I was really wasted. Stephen kept trying to get me to say bad things about Jon Stewart. Then, when he drove me home he kept telling me that I had a bag to throw up in, not to open the window and try to vomit outside. Before I knew it I’d turned my head to vomit out the window but the window hadn’t been open. He eventually had to sell the car because it had seeped down inside of the door. It was actually Stephen’s wife’s car.”

“”I want to play a mean guy, I think that would be fun, having to find the redeeming qualities in a guy that doesn’t seem like he has any,” Carell says. And it is time for Carell to think about what he’s going to do next, as he’s just announced that he will leave the hit show, The Office, after this season. “I think Michael Scott is growing. He’s realizing that what he has isn’t what he needs, that he wants a real family and that the people at the office aren’t it.” Carell thinks it’s best for the show to be able to grow around a fresh character as Scott moves on. An audience questioner asked Carell to settle a bet about why Michael Scott, Carell’s character on The Office, hates another character, Toby, so much. “I honestly don’t know. Sometimes you just hate people. Sometimes you see their face and just hate their face.” Carell talks a mean game but you never feel that he means it.

>>>NEXT: Neil Gaiman, Author, Comic Book Writer, and Keeper of the Secrets of Dr. Who

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