It’s 3:30 on a Friday afternoon and while we’re waiting to enjoy the subtle transition into a long-awaited weekend, the voice on the other end of our phone is of a man doing his best to zip in and out of mid-day Hollywood traffic. It’s pure chaos to be sure and we don’t envy him for this. What we do covet, however, is this man’s sheer wit, creativity and, yes, even his signature black-rimmed glasses reminiscent of the late Buddy Holly. After all, all three were pivotal in launching this Cleveland native into comedic stardom.
Best known for his roles on The Drew Carey Show and Whose Line Is It Anyway?, Carey’s career highlights and interests dip into producing, writing (he penned a collection of dirty jokes, short fiction and autobiographical tidbits in the book Dirty Jokes and Beer: Stories of the Unrefined) and even photography. In fact, you might just see him on the sidelines of a professional sporting event, half hidden behind a camera lens. Now, he’s adding not one, but two, game show hosting duties to his list of accomplishments. The first, Power of 10, is a high-stakes game show where contestants compete for the chance to win $10 million by guessing how America thinks; the second is filling the well-known vacancy on The Price Is Right. Most people wouldn’t even consider trying to fill Big B’s shoes, especially while they were working on other ventures. But Carey’s a different sort of cat; spookin’ him ain’t easy.
Even with this chunky resume, built by one of the greatest improvisational minds in the comedic world, it’s Carey’s “everyday guy” persona that keeps the masses, and us, interested. He’s rich and successful, yet he’s still the type of dude you could expect to grab a beer with at the local pub. We didn’t get a chance to grab that beer, but the ease of our conversation still confirms the fact that Carey holds fast to his approachable Midwestern roots that seem to make him impervious to the pitfalls of The Biz’s pinball game of glitz, glamour, fame and fortune.
How did your hosting duties on Power of 10 initially come about?
Well, my manager called me and I was waiting on lunch and he knew I didn’t want to do TV anymore, so he said, “I know this was in the past, but Michael Davies called about you doing some kind of new game show,” and I went, “Ahh well, since it’s Michael Davies I think I’ll give him a call.” Michael Davies…was instrumental in getting Whose Line Is It Anyway? on the air and I also worked with him on Pepsi’s Play for a Billion television special. I was kinda skeptical, so I flew out to New York and I really liked the people involved, so I went ahead with it.
What are the basics of Power of 10 in terms of what it is trying to achieve? What kinds of qualities do the winners generally possess?
I would say you have to have a general feeling for what America thinks about things. To be good at this game you have to let go of all of your preconceptions. Everyone reinforces their own biases with the lives they choose, the cars they drive, the people they hang out with, the magazines and newspapers they read and the websites they go to. Most people who do that reinforce their view of the world and you kind of have to let that go and realize that in order to play this game successfully, other points of view must be considered. I am saying all this after only doing the pilot. Maybe after a year from now, I will have a better idea and I will give you a different answer. You have to get out of the sense that “all of my friends do this.” Our poll covers a cross section of America, so you have to think a little more broadly to do well.
It will be interesting if you guys put on a sociologist or a shrink and see how well they do.
We will have people like that on, but some of the questions you just never know. One of the questions was, “What percent of women go without underwear at least one day a week?” I mean… I had no idea. I didn’t know what the real answer would be. It doesn’t matter how many open-minded magazines you read; you will never be able to figure that one out. There are all kinds of tricky questions that throw you off. We are offering a $10 million prize, but believe me, with CBS, it will be easier to give it away.
Do you write any of the questions?
There are rumors you may host The Price is Right. Is this true or false?
I am in talks with CBS about doing the show, but that is about all that I know. (Editor’s Note: A few days after our interview, Carey was offered the hosting job and will take over Bob Barker’s coveted role this fall.)
When you take over hosting The Price is Right, what would you like to see change, if anything?
I would change nothing. Maybe spiff up the logos a little bit, but you know people watch that show for a reason. They expect a certain kind of thing when they tune in. I don’t think you should mess with that too much except for a few minor cosmetic changes. You know, have the same games and give people the same experience. I wanted to change the name of the show to the Magic Golden Wheel.
One of the game shows you’ve previously competed on was Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? Is there anything you experienced that you didn’t anticipate?
Well, on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? like with our show, contestants win money in increasing increments. On Power of 10, it starts at $1,000, then $10,000, then $100,000, then $1 million and then $10 million. I gamble with my own money in Vegas all the time, so I’m used to high-stakes gambling. But when I was playing on Millionaire, I was going to win $500,000 and was not going to risk the $1 million because it was for charity. On Power of 10, I want the contestants to win $1 million and I want them to get $10 million, but I don’t want them to lose it, too. There was a woman who was going to $1 million. She had $100,000, and if she had lost, she would only get $10,000 and that is a lot of money for people. That is like 4 years worth of livin’. When I am hosting, I have to realize that this is life changing and I have to be careful not to let them blow it.
What are the best or worst ideas for game shows you’ve ever heard?
[Best is] (laughs) I also want to host a game show called Ticktock, Mother#@%*. It’s gonna be a game show where people have a limited time to make a decision, and then we say, “Ticktock, mother#@%*. I don’t have all day.” That will be the catch phase. I’m just kidding. When I was a kid, I loved I to watch Beat The Clock and Supermarket Sweep. There were a lot of crazy shows they don’t even have on anymore.
You always hear about the celebrities who appear on the Dating Game. If you had been on, what is the one question you would ask your possible date?
Does it turn you off, if during our date, I yelled out, “Ticktock, Mother#@%*?” [Another question would be] “If you and I were part of a sandwich, what kind of meat would I be?”
Sloppy Joe? Bone-in ribeye?
Prime rib, baby.
How much of your life is improvised?
A lot of it is made up. I live day-to-day; today is all you got.
Many people know you started out as a comedian, but when exactly did you know that you made it?
When I got The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson; everything else has been gravy since then. All my relatives finally had proof that I was legit. Once I got on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, they couldn’t keep asking, “Well, what if comedy doesn’t work out?” or, “What are you going to fall back on?” or, “Sure, you’re a comic now.” They couldn’t do that once I was on Johnny Carson.
Is it true you’re a computer junkie and own several computer systems and game systems?
I ONLY USE MACS! I’ve only used Macs since I was a little kid, since I first started using a computer.
That was the next question. Mac or PC?
The only non-Mac computer I ever had was a Commodore-PET that my brother gave me. I paid someone to stand in line for me to get an iPhone.
Since you do freelance photography for sports, you probably live on a Macintosh.
Yes, all the guys use Mac. It is overwhelmingly Mac and overwhelmingly Canon. These guys are complaining now because the NFL is making them wear red vests that say Canon on them and some guys work for Getty or have Nikon and the NFL says you have to wear Canon vests. My joke was I wanted to do sports photography because I wanted to respect everyone again. You have these groups of men and women being treated so badly, you know… don’t go there, don’t do that, stay out of the way of the TV guys.
You love to people watch. What would someone see if they spotted you walking through the mall?
Oh, they would just see a fat guy wandering aimlessly, drinking an Orange Julius and dropping GAP bags.
Will American soccer ever graduate from being kickball?
It already has, man. You know who asks me that? White people, usually older white people. The Galaxy will play next weekend and they are expecting 70,000 people. In places where there is a large Latin American population, soccer is huge. Here is the news, soccer is already doing well and it is going to do well whether you like it or not.
Do you consider yourself a self-made man?
No, there is no such thing as a self-made man; everybody gets help from somebody. With The Drew Carey Show, if it weren’t for Bruce Helford, The Drew Carey Show would have never gotten off the ground. If it weren’t for Sam Simon, The Drew Carey Show would have been off the air five years earlier, and if it weren’t for all the other writers of the show, there wouldn’t be anything anyway. All these writers and producers who worked so hard on that show and on Whose Line Is It Anyway, too. I would never say, “It was all me, baby.” The truth is I was just the face on the can. Ah man, I’m stuck in an intersection.
What car do you drive?
A Lexus 450h Hybrid. I bought it because I thought I could use the carpool lane. It didn’t have anything to do with saving trees or fighting pollution. I just thought, “Oh, I could use the carpool lane if I get a hybrid.” They said that it gets 40 mpg, but it only gets 30 mpg, so it doesn’t even qualify for the carpool lane.
Given several episodes of The Drew Carey Show were improv and Whose Line being the same, what was the most outrageous outcome you had on either show?
I had to kiss Colin Mochrie on the lips one time… I didn’t have to, but I did on The Drew Carey Show. There was some group called the Parents Television Counsel and they used a picture of Colin and me kissing as an example of what’s wrong with television. We used to keep that on the bulletin board as a source of pride on The Drew Carey Show.
You are known for being outspoken on your political views. What are your views on the current presidential race?
I have none.
Would you ever run for Mayor of Cleveland?
What does it take to impress you?
Kindness impresses me. If they are really kind, I pay attention to them.
Yeah, kindness is so hard to come by, especially in this town [Hollywood]. As far as clothes and cars and that, I am a rich man, but what doesn’t impress me is when someone uses their family as their calling card. “Yeah, I am Joe Blow’s son” or “I am the daughter of whatever family.” What have you done? Let me hear about you, good or bad.
Yes, but a lot of guys don’t have a story to tell, so they sit there and read you someone else’s.
Yeah, and that is a shame, because they are missing out on a big part of life-- making their own thing happen.
I read that you got $750K per episode for the Drew Carey Show. Did you think your life could ever inspire such a fortune?
No, I used to have daydreams of making $20,000 a year and leaving $5 tips. I used to think, "Man, the day is going to come when I can just put $5 down on the counter and walk away saying, 'Thanks for the coffee, baby.'"
Besides your home, what three things did you spend the most money on?
A private jet… Well, not a jet, but a trip on a jet. My car, I guess... And, well, any number of gambling debts in Vegas.
When the producers of The Drew Carey Show gave you a new Porsche when the series hit it big, you gave the keys to your Miata to the one guy on the set who didn’t have a car. Tell us some of the best presents you have given.
Bruce Helford shared the cost of a cruise once, and we didn’t tell anyone where we were going. He doesn’t fly, so I got him a luxury bus to meet us in Cancun, but he never made it because he was hit up for bribes so much in Mexico. But, the cruise was great; it that was like a present for me and everybody. We had the whole cruise ship to ourselves.
What degree did you earn at Kent?
How much herb did you smoke at Kent?
Man, I was so high I didn’t keep count.
You are a military vet, were you ever stuck with latrine duty?
Yes, I was in the Marine Corps. Everybody did, it is an honor.
Who is your best friend and who is your nemesis?
I have lots of friends and I could not pick a "best." I have no nemesis, nobody can hurt me.
Your father passed away when you were young. What part of you today is a direct product of that life lesson?
He was very sick when I was younger and I didn’t really realize what was going on. Even though I had a lot of male role models in my life, it forced me to find other role models through friends, authors, different public figures, and some that I have not even met. I have a lot of father figures in my life now and a few very strong ones.
What pisses you off?
What is the gem of all your stuff?
I could lose everything tomorrow and I wouldn’t care. But, other than that… my iPhone.
Power of 10, premieres on CBS Tuesday, August 7 at 8 p.m. before moving to its regular slot on Wednesdays at 8 p.m.