30 Years Ago: Dana Carvey Leaves ‘SNL’ as a Royal Tampon
Dana Carvey stayed on Saturday Night Live longer than he wanted to. After starting alongside Phil Hartman, Jan Hooks, Kevin Nealon and Victoria Jackson with one of the strongest individual debuts in SNL history, Carvey quickly made himself indispensable, his facility with impressions soon latching onto several political figures so valuable to Saturday Night Live election seasons. His George H.W. Bush may have been a one-termer (just like the real George H.W. Bush), but the 1992 presidential election saw him introducing a gabbling, hyperactive third-party candidate in Ross Perot, culminating in a cleverly edited sketch where Phil Hartman’s Bill Clinton debated both Carvey’s Bush and Perot simultaneously.
But Carvey’s time on the show had begun to wear on the seven-year veteran, and, with Hartman’s deliciously hammy Clinton securely installed as SNL’s primary political impression (via Hartman and then Darrell Hammond), and the now nearly 40-year-old Carvey hearing the footsteps of younger stars Adam Sandler, Chris Farley and David Spade behind him, Carvey decided to leave Saturday Night Live midway through the show’s 18th season.
Says Carvey in the SNL oral history Live From New York, “By ’93 I’d done seven years, George Bush had run its course, ‘Wayne’s World,’ Church Lady had all been done — basically I thought I’d done as much as I could do.” Staying on to help Lorne Michaels close out the Bush/Clinton election cycle meant hanging on beyond Carvey’s initial plans, but the comic notes, “I know that Lorne didn’t want me to leave, so it was bittersweet in that way,” adding, “I definitely felt a sense of loyalty in that sense. I didn’t want to leave him in the lurch.”
In the few months before what would become Carvey’s final show on Feb. 6, 1993, he and Michaels worked to wean SNL viewers from his presence, the once-ubiquitous performer appearing less and less frequently. When Carvey’s last night came on the Luke Perry-hosted episode, he appeared in only two sketches, one in a supporting capacity, and one in one of the most riotously, elaborately inappropriate sketches in the show’s history. The supporting role sees Carvey essentially doing a riff on his grumpy old man character as an elderly resident of a fishing village debating how to cope with the declining stocks of wish-granting fish in their waters.
It’s a cleverly deadpan sketch, with Carvey just one of a town hall filled with lavishly dressed, golden-crowned townsfolk, Carvey’s oldster bemoaning the fact that the last magic fish he caught didn’t even speak English, and, when unsatisfied with the municipal overhaul suggested by Phil Hartman’s mayor, using his last wish to explode Hartman’s head. (A truly nifty and shocking practical effect for the time.)
Before that final sketch, however, Carvey’s big goodbye drew inspiration from one of the most embarrassing British royal scandals of all time, a certain intercepted phone call between then-married Prince Charles and his also-married mistress, Camilla Parker-Bowles. Quickly dubbed “Tampongate” by the very British tabloids that illegally intercepted and publicized the call, the phone communication indeed revealed the Prince of Wales erotically musing about being a tampon inside of Mrs. Parker-Bowles, a devastatingly awkward scandal later and duly dramatized in Season 5 of Netflix’s The Crown.
In this sketch, a heavily made-up Carvey, with a clipped and posh accent as the heir apparent, made the public announcement that, in light of the revelations and the attendant backlash to his outed adultery, he has decided to renounce the throne and “live as a tampon in the trousers of the woman I love.” The entire sketch that follows is an exercise in straight-faced lunacy, with Carvey, Mike Myers (as Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth), Hartman (a royal scientist) and Julia Sweeney (as Parker-Bowles) all earning hazard pay for somehow not breaking character while the premise is played out in deadpan absurdity.
Watch Dana Carvey's Prince Charles Impression on 'SNL'
Charles' plan is a literal one, involving an elaborate, steam-spewing two-cylinder transmogrifying contraption (a la The Fly), some heavy green-screen work post-transformation and even a funny appearance by musical guest Mick Jagger as Parker-Bowles’ lisping butler, dutifully bringing Charles surprise delivery (of himself in a “TAMPX” box) to the understandably surprised royal mistress. (Myers' queen is initially bereft at the sight of Charles’ body with a tampon string emanating from where the royal head should be before Hartman points her to the tiny, tampon-bodied Charles in the other pod.)
The joke is in questionable taste — as amusing as it is to see the stuffy monarchy’s dirty laundry exposed in such a public fashion, the methods by which the press got hold of a private communication constituted a serious breach of personal privacy. And snickering over feminine hygiene products is the sort of juvenile stuff that would plague Saturday Night Live’s comedy in the often crude Sandler/Farley years.
And yet, Carvey’s complete dedication to sustaining the gag through a commitment to his pinched and proper characterization of the prince is undeniably hilarious, the miniaturized Charles maintaining his stiff upper lip even as that lip — and the head it is attached to — sit atop a tiny white tampon.
“I’m supposed to just walk away,” Carvey’s tampon-ized Charles muses upon Parker-Bowles’ understandable decision not to graphically follow through on what she imagined was just some weird royal dirty talk. Finally losing his composure, Carvey’s exclamation - “Well, I can’t walk away, I’m a tamponnnn!!” - gets one of the most explosive laughs in the episode, the sheer silliness of the conception finally erupting.
Over the years, it’s become a tradition for Saturday Night Live to reference a major star’s final episode, to a greater or lesser degree. Here, however, Carvey’s last show passes without any indication that, in the next, Alec Baldwin-hosted show, Carvey’s name wouldn’t appear in the opening credits for the first time since 1986. Phil Hartman, echoing Carvey’s sentiments concerning the younger-skewing direction in the show’s humor, would leave at the end of the following season, getting the legendarily touching musical send-off Carvey was denied, and ending the reign of one of the finest, most versatile casts in Saturday Night Live history.