Dana Carvey joined Jimmy Kimmel Live! yesterday evening, and the program’s recent guest host brought with him a bag of tricks that dazzled Kimmel and his audience during the promotion of Carvey’s newest podcast, The Weird Place, a Twilight Zone-inspired sci-fi comedy series developed by Carvey and his two sons.

The lauded impressionist was once the defining impersonator for president George H.W. Bush, and for last night’s Kimmel interview, Carvey prepared a kind of presidential parody sampler where he showcased his impressions of the three most recent commanders-in-chief in chronological order. Though the SNL alumnus’ appearance was welcomed warmly by the live studio audience and was similarly well-received online, it left us with the lasting impression that the last three presidents all sound an awful lot like Carvey.

Carvey became a superstar in the post-Eddie Murphy era of SNL because of the popularity of characters like his legendary Church Lady, but Carvey’s time on the show is probably best remembered for the vast number of celebrity impressions he was asked to do – over 73 in total. Carvey did everything from Paul McCartney to Johnny Carson to Adolf Hitler over a seven year reign that netted Carvey five Emmy nominations and one win. During that time, Carvey impersonated every U.S. president since Richard Nixon besides Gerald Ford, who spent every Saturday night crying on Betty’s shoulder over being left out.

When hearing Carvey do impressions of multiple different celebrities back-to-back, we started to pick up on the familiar tone that each one of them had – Carvey’s impressions all maintain a pretty sizeable chunk of Carvey’s own voice, almost as if the Master of Disguise writer and star is doing an impression of himself doing the impression. The similarities between them are even more clear when he’s doing them rapid-fire, like in this appearance on The Howard Stern Show.

It’s not that the impressions aren’t funny, it’s that they aren’t nearly as accurate as they are entertaining. His Norm Macdonald and his Jon Lovitz voices don’t differ much at all, except in how Carvey uses them to express the full emotional experience of his former SNL castmates. At the end of the day, a spot-on impression is more of a party trick than a comedic performance, and Carvey is a seriously top-talent performer. 

There’s a reason impressionists like Carvey have careers that span four decades and get invited to guest host Jimmy Kimmel Live! while more spot-on impersonators like Frank Caliendo are thought of as novelties – a good impression is the foundation for a good joke, but the ability to execute a solid punchline will always trump truthful representations. It’s not about being accurate, it’s about being funny.

Someone tell that to Jim Breuer – he forgot to write a joke for his cockatoo impression.

 

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