Star of stage and screen, both big and little, Steve Carell is becoming something of our generation’s funniest comedians. Whether you know him from shows such as “The Daily Show,” “The Office” or as mentally retarded Brick Tamland in “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy,” Steve Carell’s dead pan delivery and knack for awkward sayings makes his every word into a one liner. If Steve Carell has not hit Jim Carrey or Chris Rock status yet, but you can bet the farm that he has got a few more laughs worth waiting for up his sleeve. Artsweek was lucky enough to have an interview with “The 40 Year Old Virgin” in a college press conference call. Totally unknown to Artsweek, a college press conference call is a phone interview with the star and a dozen or so other college publications from around the country. As each paper asks questions one by one all the reporters listen. With a comedian, the problem arises, do you ask serious questions or complete non sequiturs, to which you will undoubtedly get a hilarious response. These questions are not all Artsweek’s own, but rather a compilation of the best questions by all the papers. So here is the interview, question by question in all of its hilarious glory. Enjoy.
How much of your show “The Office” is improvised?
Steve Carell: It’s about equal. We have really great writers who we work with. They give us a lot of leeway on the scripts. There is a lot of faith and respect for the scripts, which are so strong that often times we don’t need to improvise.
How did you get into comedy and who are your inspirations?
SC: Well comedy was always a hobby, never a vocation. I honestly thought I was going to be a lawyer. With my families blessing, I decided to act. I just wanted to make money and support a family; I never had any great ambition. I have always enjoyed Peter Sellers, Billy Wilder’s work, Monty Python, Allen Arkin, Steve Martin and the Marx Brothers.
Given a hatchet and a piece of flint paper do you think that you and the cast of “The Office” could survive in the wilderness?
SC: (Completely serious) I believe that actually the thrust of the show is to teach survival. That’s what we set out to do from the very beginning. Actually our main goal is to just make people laugh.
Are there any upcoming projects that you would like to work on, after working on “The 40 Year Old Virgin”?
SC: I have had a few ideas and a few offers. It would be so much fun to write for a show.
With so many new projects, are you worried about becoming over-exposed?
SC: My goal in acting is to be overexposed. I am trying a new approach. No of course I never had some greater master plan. I never planned to play any news-related characters. I don’t really choose my projects yet, I just have done everything that has been handed to me.
Do you have any advice for any real 40- year-old virgins?
SC: Keep on trucking? I don’t know really. I didn’t expect the movie to bring middle-aged virginity to the forefront. When we were writing the script we never had any political agenda or ulterior motives for our subject.
If you could go back to college, what would you do over again?
SC: Nothing really, I really liked college. I took advantage of everything. I have no regrets. I had my fun before leaving off into the netherworld of the real world. I remember one thing about college vividly. One time I went to a party and I didn’t know what grain alcohol was. It’s a drink where you simply cannot taste the alcohol. Well I just said to myself “Hell, I am going to have to drink a lot of this if I want to feel anything.” The next memory I had was of me rolling back to my dorm and getting in bed. The next morning I woke up in my clothes under my sheets with a lot of leaves. The night basically consisted of a lot of rolling in leaves and vomiting.
What was your first job which that made you feel like you had finally made it in show business?
SC: It was a national commercial for McDonald’s for the triple cheeseburger. I played a guy who was trying to eat the cheeseburger but it was so big that I couldn’t lift it. So I ended up growing a third arm, which allowed me to eat the burger. That day I ate about 12 triple cheeseburgers and I have not eaten McDonald’s since.
What was Steve Carell like as a child?
SC: I was quiet. I wasn’t the class clown at all. I was actually shy. I remember once falling down in the sandbox. I ended up getting a boo-boo on my private parts and I had to go to the nurse. I was embarrassed and very shy. I started to become more outgoing in high school and college when I started appearing on stage.
How different is Steve Carell from the characters you play?
SC: I hope I am very different. If anything, I am closest to Brick Tamland. There is a little bit of yourself in everything you play. I’m generous and a good father. Basically, I am pretty much perfect. I’m very down to earth. I don’t know; this fame thing is all actually pretty weird.
How was hosting SNL?
SC: It was a different feeling to be in the belly of the beast. It’s interesting to see how much of it changes the night of the show. Lines change and scenes change constantly. There was also a real sense of calm. There was no fear or dread of desperation. There was no way anything could really go wrong, or that’s how you felt. As Lauren Micheals says, “The show starts at 11:30 p.m. and ends an hour and a half later.”
Do you miss the good ol’ days, before your new-found stardom?
SC: You know, the money wasn’t great in the good ol’ days. The journey is what you enjoy. I have been enjoying this whole thing of success. It has been really surreal. I am at the crest of the roller coaster ride. I am just thankful that the journey has been a lot of fun no matter how long it lasts.
What do you feel you bring to the profession of comedy?
SC: I have no way to answer that. I just want to have fun. You have stumped me on this question. I go by what might be funny. I bounce things off other people who I think are funny as well. I have no idea what I bring to acting or comedy.
There is a class on “The Daily Show” at UC Berkeley, what do you think you can learn from watching the show?
SC: You can really get credit for that? There was a class on Jim Morrison when I was at college. It was basically a bunch of guys getting high and getting credit in there dorm room. I don’t like to decipher what makes something funny. Nothing will make everyone laugh. “The Daily Show” has value in its influence on the public. Now the show has evolved and politicians and pundits appear on the show.
If you could remake a film or show, what would it be and why?
SC: Actually I am already doing a remake of “Get Smart.” Remakes are tricky, there is a downside to remakes. You run the risk of offending fans of the original. At the same time you want to add something of your own so it feels more personal. But you always have to pay homage to the original.
If Brick Tamland were a mythical creature what would he be?
SC: That’s easy. Brick would certainly be a Minotaur. You know half man half beast. Minotaur, definitely Minotaur.