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Dana Carvey and Freddie Prinze, Jr. – Making Good First Impressions

Updated: Mar 27, 2020

FIRST IMPRESSIONS -- Season:1 -- Pictured: (l-r) Freddie Prinze Jr, Dana Carvey -- (Photo by: Joseph Viles/USA Network)

FIRST IMPRESSIONS — Season:1 — Pictured: (l-r) Freddie Prinze Jr, Dana Carvey — (Photo by: Joseph Viles/USA Network)

Dana Carvey and Freddie Prinze, Jr.

Making Good First Impressions

by Jay S. Jacobs

Everyone has one. An impression, that is. The ability to change your voice and mannerisms to portray another person – usually a celebrity – for a good-natured laugh. While impressions play a huge role in comedy television, it’s rather surprising that there has never been a reality show contest specializing in the very distinct art form.

That is, until now. The USA Network has put together First Impressions, a limited series in which impressionists compete with each other for fun and exposure, and hopefully stardom. They will take the stage at a comedy club, in front of a celebrity judge and host, celebrity guests, and a real live audience.

When going for the celebrity judge, USA went to one of the most acclaimed voice-men in the biz. Dana Carvey had been laying low in recent years, but his Saturday Night Live impersonations and characters were legendary – The Church Lady, George H.W. Bush, Hans and Franz, Johnny Carson, Garth (from Wayne’s World), George Michael, Casey Kasem, the owner of “Toonces the Driving Cat,” and many more.

For the show host, they pulled in Freddie Prinze, Jr. Though better known as a movie actor (She’s All That, Scooby-Doo!, I Know What You Did Last Summer), Prinze grew up in comedy clubs. His father was a young stand-up comedy legend in the 70s who became a TV star in the series Chico & the Man before his tragically young suicide. Like Carvey, Prinze Jr. has also been keeping a low profile as far as show business was concerned, but he decided he could not pass up this opportunity.

A few days before First Impressions made its premiere, we were one of a group of media outlets who got to speak with Carvey and Prinze about the show.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS -- Season:1 -- Pictured: Dana Carvey -- (Photo by: Joseph Viles/USA Network)

FIRST IMPRESSIONS — Season:1 — Pictured: Dana Carvey — (Photo by: Joseph Viles/USA Network)

What about this show made it the right opportunity to come back to television?

Dana Carvey: First of all, it was unique because for a few years people have said, “They should do an impression as a competition show.” I said yes, okay but I didn’t think it could be like a six month long thing, like a singing show. Then USA and Jeff Gaspin and David Garfinkle – it was actually Art Garfunkel who approached me initially (laughs) – they came up with this idea.  USA said, “Here, six on the air, half hour, shoot it over three days.” It seemed like a fun project to work on. I love watching people do impressions and we had some amazing talent. I got to be an audience a lot of the time too. Freddie?

Freddie Prinze Jr: (laughs) Dana you’re ridiculous. For me this came out of left field. I’m actively trying to be retired. When this came up it was like, hey you’re going to basically be in a comedy club with Dana Carvey hanging out with comedians and impressionists who are seeing who the funniest one is that night. As a little boy Budd Friedman used to parade me around The Improv. When I was eleven years old, past midnight. I would get to watch like all these old school comedians do their thing. I clearly have a soft spot for comedians. This was very much: hey, do you want to be 12-years-old again? That was an easy yes. That’s literally why I’m doing it.

Dana Carvey: (in a John Lennon accent) On behalf of Freddie and I, hope we pass the audition.

Dana, was there an impression that you ever had trouble mastering?

Dana Carvey: Yes, most of them. (laughs) I’d say George Bush Sr. was really difficult. I was assigned that when I was on Saturday Night Live. When everyone was like: Oh, man, what are we going to do with him? I was just going, hey, if you can’t do an impression, which we joke about on the show, you just say the name. “This is George Bush, Sr.” Basically that one took a year to make something interesting and funny. Obama was also especially difficult, because he has a deceptively deep voice, (imitates Obama) very much down here. (imitates George W. Bush) The ones that are kind of cut up, like W or Clinton, the ones that are kind of caught up in your throat are just easier to do. It took me a while to get Freddie Prinze Jr.

Freddie Prinze Jr: (pretending to be Dana Carvey imitating Freddie) But now my Freddie Prinze Jr. sounds amazing, I can just do him whenever I need to do him. It’s like Freddie’s not even here. (Back to being himself) That was amazing Dana, how did you just do that?

FIRST IMPRESSIONS -- Season:1 -- Pictured: Freddie Prinze Jr -- (Photo by: Joseph Viles/USA Network)

FIRST IMPRESSIONS — Season:1 — Pictured: Freddie Prinze Jr — (Photo by: Joseph Viles/USA Network)

What are you looking for in the contestants? How did you select them?

Freddie Prinze Jr: I had nothing to do with the selection process.

Dana Carvey: Basically it was our first impression… There were six shows. We’re doing three each show, so there’s 18 contestants. There are thousands of different types of impressionists. From a ten-year-old in his room doing stuff on YouTube all here, there, and everywhere. So I think availability and what we had in LA – we just had a nice collage of different styles. We tried to mix it up. We got some really, really talented people.

As you were the mentor for the contestants, what skills did you find they needed coaching on the most?

Dana Carvey: There are different kinds of impressions. Freddie and I have talked about it. Some impressions are just so eerily accurate, and Freddie is the one that said he gets kind of frightened by them. I mean there are scary ones, like I’ve definitely gotten frightened by Frank Caliendo a couple of times doing Morgan Freeman. Is this sorcery? This should not exist in nature. My style is to abstract it a little bit, have fun with it, take it places with the detail. A lot of it is just confidence. It was sweet, because the people on our show were not internationally known. Some of them had different levels of experience. That would be the main thing, to enjoy it and just have fun with it and extrapolate it. Find little things and commit. Generally we were all jaw-dropped at times, just by some of the writing and also the impression itself. Freddie?

Freddie Prinze Jr: I’m sure they’ll cut to angles where you see me in the background with my mouth wide open or I’m on the floor laughing. I mean there’s some of these, I say kids because some of them were literally 19-years-old who came on the show and were so… I don’t like to throw the word phenom around, when you recognize greatness at an early age you go: That kid’s got it! That sounds corny, but you’ll see a couple of kids on the show where you’re like: Oh my God, that kid has got it and I can’t wait to see what happens next for him. Like Dana said, there are jaw-dropping moments. I genuinely got uncomfortable quite a few times, because it felt like the person was in the room, only it no longer looks like this. I had nothing to do with the coaching of them. All I got to do was sit back and enjoy it.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS -- Episode 105 -- Pictured:  (l-r) Steve Carrell, Dana Carvey -- (Photo by: Joseph Viles/USA Network)

FIRST IMPRESSIONS — Episode 105 — Pictured: (l-r) Steve Carell, Dana Carvey — (Photo by: Joseph Viles/USA Network)

This show reminds me a lot of a show that I watched growing up called the Copy Cats on ABC. Do you remember that?

Dana Carvey: Oh God, yes, absolutely. I mean in the 60’s between Frank Gorshin and Rich Little and others, yes, I was glued to those guys. And I remember that show. That was taking like four or five well-known famous impressionists and having them do a variety show. Was it a half hour or an hour?

I think it was an hour. You always reminded me of Fred Travalena in many ways, I mean that as the highest possible compliment.

Dana Carvey: I knew Fred. I knew him, yes. I remember seeing Fred Travalena on television, yes, and Rich Little as far as just pure impressionists. Then a lot of what you would call generic voices, I probably got from Jonathan Winters like a lot of people, then later on Carlin and Pryor and Freddie’s dad. I saw them all. I love impressionists. I’m not really an elitist about it. I love magicians, too. I love a pure brilliant comedian, as well. I love watching someone do an impression, especially when I can’t do [it]. It does seem like a magic trick to me. It’s very entertaining. I don’t know, did I meander around enough there? Freddie?

Freddie Prinze Jr: I was negative five years old when that show was on and it was fucking great. (They both laugh.)

Dana Carvey: Negative five.

Freddie Prinze Jr: (imitates Johnny Carson) That joke was just for me. That was wild.

Dana Carvey: That was the heyday of variety, man. There were so many variety shows on the ’60s, all the way through most the ’70s and pretty much that was it. I mean prime time network variety. Now we have the competition shows like The Voice and stuff, those are kind of the new variety I think. I don’t know, it’s all in my book.

Freddie Prinze Jr: That’s new school variety.

Dana Carvey: Yes, new school.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS -- "Jon Lovitz" Episode 102 -- Pictured:  (l-r) Amy Phillips, Ryan Goldsher, Frank Garcia-Hejl, Freddie Prinze Jr. -- (Photo by: Joseph Viles/USA Network)

FIRST IMPRESSIONS — “Jon Lovitz” Episode 102 — Pictured: (l-r) Amy Phillips, Ryan Goldsher, Frank Garcia-Hejl, Freddie Prinze Jr. — (Photo by: Joseph Viles/USA Network)

Dana, were there any impressions that you’re most looking forward to fans seeing featured on the show?

Dana Carvey: I feel like if you’re asking me right now who everyone’s doing and it’s just very interesting is Trump. I have been working on a Hillary. I couldn’t really do a Hillary, but now I do her, because her voice got kind of hoarse so I was able to just find an angle on Hillary. My angle is she has an ear piece and Bill’s behind the scene, (imitates Bill Clinton) “Big Dog to Little Hill. Big Dog to Little Hill. Come in, Little Hill. Little Hill, you’ve got to slow down, baby. You’ve got to slow down. You can’t empathize everywhere baby; you cannot come on peaches n cream, baby, peaches n cream.” That makes real sense and makes me happy. A lot of the younger impressionists, they’re doing Seth Rogen and Katt Williams. They’re doing Sofia Vergara. They’re doing people that aren’t from my age group, basically. Some good Mark Wahlbergs were in there. There’s the usual suspects, but then occasionally someone would do somebody that you don’t really expect. We had a guy do Sharon Osbourne and did it in a way that was sort of surreal. So I’ll leave that as a tease.

Freddie Prinze Jr: To piggy back on that, anytime one of the impressionists was literally able to switch sexes… and it happened quite a few times, we had girls doing Owen Wilson, we had guys doing Sharon Osbourne… and every time that happens it’s unbelievable, it’s magic.

Dana Carvey: I can only do men because of my oversize masculinity. So it’s hard for me to do women. (does the Church Lady) Well isn’t that special?

Did anyone try to impress you with their impressions of yours, like the Church Lady and Hans and Franz,