Jimmy Carrane first made a name for himself 28 years ago when he premiered his solo “intimate evening,” I’m 27, I Still Live at Home, and I Sell Office Supplies at the Annoyance. Now in his 50s, Carrane is still doing solo shows. His latest, World’s Greatest Dad(?), premiered this past June at Judy’s Beat Lounge at Piper’s Alley. Beginning this weekend, it’s being revived Saturday nights in the same location. We spent a few minutes talking to Carrane about his life and career—and his new show.
I am wondering, your last solo show, Living in a Dwarf’s House, was 18 years ago. What made you decide to do a one-person show now, after all these years? I went through a lot of changes since Living in a Dwarf’s House. I got into therapy, and that was huge. And that led to meeting Lauren, getting married, and getting a condo, and becoming a father at 52. I thought I would never be happy because I would never be famous. And then I met Lauren. And I still had an obsession with fame. And one day Lauren said to me, “You have a great relationship with me, and all you care about is being famous. Don’t I matter for you?” I said, “I guess so.”
Fame. It’s hard. A lot of the people we knew in the 90s are very famous people now.
Yes, the comedy scene in the 90s—it seemed like one in four people was becoming famous, or became famous.
And you knew a lot of them.
Dave Koechner [who later was in the Anchorman films and The Office] was a roommate of mine. Rachel Dratch was in Jazz Freddy [a long-running hit improv show] with me, and she was also in a show called Grambinus with me. I was in a show called Ayn Rand Gives Me a Boner with Andy Richter, and he was also in [the improv group] the Comedy Underground [with me]. Chris Farley and I took classes at the ImprovOlympic [now called iO]. Mike Myers would sit in on our Harold team at iO, Stephen Colbert and I did an industrial together, where we played Siskel and Ebert. Guess which one of us played Ebert?
You felt like a failure.
Compared to them, yes. I was in Chicago. They were moving to New York and LA. Some of them were going to write for Conan and Saturday Night Live. They were becoming famous; what was I doing wrong? I did feel abandoned. I felt like that guy in college who was still at the party when everyone had gone. I felt like every year I was held back a year.
Your first solo show, I’m 27, I Still Live at Home, and I Sell Office Supplies, was a big hit.
The early 90s. It was so magical, at that time, being at the Annoyance. It was like lightning striking again and again.
My major influence was Del Close. He believed in truth in comedy. I was fascinated by that. I had this idea of doing a one-man show. Just go out onstage and tell the truth about my life.
That you still lived at home in your late 20s and had a job you hated.
I didn’t know it at the time, but moving back home was part of a trend. And audiences really loved it. And critics. I didn’t think I got one bad review. I thought it was all happening for me. The show was Friday and Saturday nights. And it was such a fun show. It ran for a year and a half—and I closed the show.
Why did you close the show?
My therapist told me he thought it was because I couldn’t take in the joy and success. It was hard after the show closed. I mean, I closed that show and at the same time Jazz Freddy closed on the same frigging night.
You didn’t go on to Second City?
I wasn’t in the Second City Touring Company. I was not part of Lois Kaz (a long-form improv show Second City created that featured many of the performers from Jazz Freddy).
The saddest thing that ever happened to me happened around that time. They asked me to audition for Saturday Night Live. I was supposed to go out to New York; I was supposed to do three characters, and three impressions—and I was scared—and I told my agent I don’t do sketch comedy. And I didn’t do it.
Like the character in the movie Don’t Think Twice. [In the movie someone is invited to audition for an SNL-like show, but then flakes out.]
So when did the change come?
I hit this period where I was stuck in my life. I was around 40. I hadn’t been in a relationship in 14 years. I didn’t have a life to talk about. I was getting more and more unhappy. I decided, I am going to try group therapy. And it turned out my improv background really helped with group. Improv gives you the tools to play along and think on your feet. And improv teaches you that you can’t control what people will say.
Then you met someone, and married, and had your daughter.
Yes, having Betsy was huge. And then I came to this place where when I asked myself, “Let’s see if I can repeat what I did in I’m 27.” I had all this stuff happen the year that my dad died. Crazy stuff that happened at the funeral. [In the show Carrane recounts how an encounter with his siblings escalated into an encounter with the police.] There was crazy stuff on the plane. [Carrane was accused of being a terrorist.] And my reaction when Betsy came out. [Carrane was with his wife at Betsy’s birth.] I thought, “I have something to say now.” I wanted to see if I could relive some of the magic of I’m 27.
I mean, I am not trying to re-create that show. This show is different. I am different. I mean, there is a little bit of me being shlubby, and a little bit of me being a loser. I don’t want to disappoint my fans. But this show is about where I am now. v