Michael McKean Disputes Dana Carvey’s Claim That Carvey Was Almost ‘Spinal Tap’s Drummer

Carvey might have been up for a very different role
Michael McKean Disputes Dana Carvey’s Claim That Carvey Was Almost ‘Spinal Tap’s Drummer

Between cast interviews, band reunionsdeleted scenes, DVD commentaries, and trivia compilations, you’d think there was nothing left to learn about the seminal 1982 mockumentary This is Spinal Tap. But Dana Carvey pulled out a new story this week on the Fly on the Wall podcast he co-hosts with David Spade. Talking to Spinal Tap star and former Saturday Night Live cast member Michael McKean, Carvey, who has a brief part in the film as a mime waiter, revealed that he originally auditioned for McKean and friends to play the heavy metal group’s drummer.

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Or did he? Let’s start with Carvey’s startling revelation, a tidbit of comedy gold that the chatty comic has somehow kept to himself up until now. In the early 1980s, Carvey says, he shared an agent with Billy Crystal. As Crystal appeared in the film and was friends with most of its stars, Carvey was able to wrangle an audition “to play the drummer in Spinal Tap.”

(To refresh Carvey’s memory, there was famously more than a single drummer in the group. If he had landed a role as “the drummer,” it wouldn’t have taken long to memorize his lines as he would have spontaneously combusted or died in a bizarre gardening accident not long after appearing on screen.)

Back to Carvey’s recollection of events. He remembers arriving to meet with McKean, Rob Reiner, Harry Shearer, and Christopher Guest to discuss the drummer role. “I was nervous obviously and you guys were so comfortable with each other,” he says. “I’m coming here as the lone wolf and you guys are all friends.” Carvey felt awkward, understandably, but then it got worse. He remembers that it was “maybe” McKean who said, “Okay, let's go,” leading the stars out of the room and abandoning Carvey. 

“I sat in there for like a minute and then you guys came back in,” says Carvey, remembering it as a gag that the more established comics played on him. “You couldn’t remember it, but that happened.”

Oh yeah? McKean did recall the audition — but his memory differs significantly from Carvey’s. “I remember the meeting,” McKean says. “I remembered that you came in to be this Tap fan who follows us around the country. That was a part that we were casting.”

For better or worse, McKean and the guys gave Carvey the thumbs down as the Spinal Tap superfan. “We thought you came across as a little intelligent, a little sophisticated and not goony enough.” 

“Thank you!” said Carvey.

Reiner instead cast Eddie Deezen, probably the most iconic movie nerd of the ‘70s and ‘80s. Remember him from Grease? “When he found out that we didn't have a script,” says McKean, “and that he would have to improvise, he said ‘Pass’ so we cut the character.” 


Despite Carvey failing the goony test, “you were very, very impressive,” McKean says. “We said, this guy's really funny and when we were putting together Billy's mime thing, (we said) he'd be great and so that's what we did.” 

“Your character didn't exist until we saw you,” McKean told Carvey. “That's a good thing.”

Another thing that likely didn’t exist, given McKean’s very specific memories of what happened? The idea of Carvey playing Spinal Tap’s drummer.


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