NORFOLK, Neb. — Drew Carey can pinpoint the exact moment his career trajectory shifted to an upward climb.
It was in 1991 when Carey got called over to the couch by Johnny Carson on “The Tonight Show.”
After stand-up comedians performed on the show, Carson would sometimes invite them over to sit by him and chat following their routine — if he was impressed.
“That was the biggest thing that could ever happen to you if you were a brand new comic on ‘The Tonight Show.’ ... And I’ve never really in my whole career had another moment like that, where I thought ‘This is it’ — my whole life is changing now,’” Carey said.
“Literally, my whole life changed that instant when I walked over to the couch and sat down after I did that set. That’s why I’m in show business, that’s why I have my house I live in, that’s why everything. It’s because I got seven minutes on ‘The Tonight Show’ and a couple of minutes after that.”
Carey will perform as host of the 2013 Viaero Great American Comedy Festival gala on Saturday. The 2013 comedy festival began Wednesday and runs until Sunday.
Carey said he remembers “just about everything” from that special night on Johnny Carson’s show, and the experience felt like he was in a dream.
Carey said he stole glances at Carson during his set to see if the host was enjoying the routine.
“I remember looking over at one point, and (Carson) was wiping tears because he was laughing so hard, and he was holding onto the desk because he was trying not to fall over, he was laughing so hard. And I just couldn’t believe it,” Carey said.
Since that career-changing performance, Carey has done everything from appearing in films to starring in his own sitcom to writing a book. Currently, Carey is the host of long-running game show “The Price Is Right.”
He hasn’t forgotten his stand-up roots though. In fact, that’s the reason Carey will perform as host of Saturday’s festival gala. Carey said he’s recently started performing his comedy routine on stage, and he’ll play “wherever they’ll have me.”
“I missed (stand-up). I missed hanging out with the other comics, I missed working on an act. ... I like everything about (being a comic). ... I love sitting in the green room with the other comics, cracking jokes and getting ready to go on stage. I love the feeling of it; it’s amazing.
“I never want to give this up again. I was stupid to walk away from it — I don’t know what I was thinking,” Carey said.
He will perform as the headliner and host of Saturday’s comedy festival professional stand-up finals at the Johnny Carson Theatre. Carey said he’s looking forward to playing the Norfolk venue, and he’s been working hard on his new comedy routine for the past year.
“That’s all I do now — I do ‘Price Is Right’ and stand-up. I play small towns, big towns ... although I do like playing working-class places best,” he said.