This is the best conversation between two comedy icons talking about dogs that you’ll read today.
Louis C.K. and Dana Carvey have no shortage of history riffing on New York City before, but Illumination and Universal offered them a new lens for lampooning in The Secret Life of Pets, which finds both comedians voicing two dogs on the opposite end of the Manhattan mutt spectrum.
C.K. voices Max, a spoiled pup whose cyclical life with his doting owner (Ellie Kemper) is uprooted after his new adopted sibling Duke (Eric Stonestreet) causes them to go missing in Manhattan. Carvey plays Pops, an old-timer who’s seen it all and has the New York know-how to help a gang of misfit pets track them down.
Before you see C.K. and Carvey in animated action on Friday, EW brought the two old friends (C.K. was a writer on The Dana Carvey Show 20 years ago) back together solely for the purpose of taking them off the leash and letting them run wild with animal wisdom.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Childhood dogs — what are your memories?
CARVEY: I have a story but it’s too dark. Louis, go ahead.
C.K.: Mine is, too. Go ahead, Dana.
CARVEY: Well, we had a cute little white poodle. The poodle took a nap in the sun on the carport and it decided to cozy up behind the rear left wheel of the Hillman, which is some used car my father had. So then my oldest brother, who was a little…eccentric, shall we say? He was always clumsy — chipped his tooth, lost part of his finger. Anyway, he backed out to go to work when he was 16 or 17 and just….
C.K.: Oh my God.
CARVEY: Lights out. So, we had a willow tree in the backyard where me and my brother, Scott, would always bury the animals, so we put Peppy there. And then Boots, later on. Boots, we found in the garage, and ants were in his mouth and he was all rigid. We had to bury it, and we both to this day are traumatized because right as we put it in the hole under the willow tree, both of us swear we heard [dog bark].
C.K.: Oh my God.
CARVEY: And we just piled the dirt on more and more until we wiped out any sound from that thing. No, I’m just kidding, that’s a joke. Premature burial is something that worries me a lot.
C.K.: A dog has to half-expect that in its life, I think?
CARVEY: I think being dead is underrated. I envy the dead. It’s very peaceful towards the end.
C.K.: I think so, too. Well, my dog…when I was a kid, my mom told me that I had to keep my room clean for one month in order to earn the dog, which I never did. I couldn’t do it. But she got me a dog anyway, and the dog hated me very much. Every time I would try to let the dog off leash, like I would take it to the park and click off its leash, it would just take off like a shot and maybe show up a week later in dog jail somewhere. Yeah, that dog hated me. And then he got a big tumor on his face, and we had to take him to the vet and have him murdered.
C.K.: I don’t think this is going to help sell this movie.
CARVEY: It’s called a soft sell. But those are just true stories! I can tell a happy one. We had a cat and a dog at one point. This was right during the moon landing with Neil Armstrong, I remember it, and they were chasing each other around in circles. They were the greatest friends, this kitten and this pup. It was the cutest thing I’d ever seen.
C.K.: Did the moon landing have anything to do with it? The animals? Or are you just placing this?
CARVEY: No, I’m just placing it. [Laughs] I remember watching the moon landing and thinking, “Wow, look at that, that’s amazing.” And then I would look over on the carpet and the dog and cat were running in circles for like an hour and I thought, “That’s pretty cool, too.”
C.K.: [Laughs] I’m sure Neil Armstrong would appreciate that his achievement was about as important as a cat chasing a dog.
NEXT: “A dog loves you, but if you stop feeding him, he’ll eat you. If you die, he’ll eat half the body. It’s always half.”[pagebreak]
C.K.: I have a dog now. And she’s very cute, she’s a white dog with a black spot over one eye…the whole thing, it’s pretty ridiculous. And she’s not that easy to deal with. She’s a puppy. And this is different…like, I had a dog before we had kids, my ex-wife and I, and we raised her and trained her and you go through a whole thing of getting a puppy to be a reasonable dog. But this dog, we just gave her Prozac. That’s how we trained her. We just went right to it. My dog is on Prozac.
CARVEY: Do you cut the pill in half?
C.K.: She gets a dog dosage of Prozac. And I took her to vet and she was like, “Well, you could give her Prozac,” and I was like, “Yep! We’re giving her Prozac.” It took no convincing. I was like, “Yep, sounds good, let’s get right to it,” and now she’s a very sleepy and sweet dog.
CARVEY: Well, that sounds good for a cat because of the constant cleaning. Some sort of OCD medication because a cat is a little over-the-top with the constant licking and cleaning.
C.K.: It is a little weird when you’re trying to pay attention to your pet and it just starts licking itself and you’re like, “Hello! I’m here. Give me a little communication.”
CARVEY: Human lives matter.
EW: Which elements of dog lifestyle would suit you, and which would you not excel at?
C.K.: I think that the pros and cons of being a dog are pretty clear. The pros are that you don’t have any responsibilities, and the cons are that you can’t control your own life. Other people tell you where to go and what to do. I think if I could be a human dog…like, if I could be a dog with a bank account, like a dog who an old lady left her mansion to and now I have a butler — I could enjoy being that kind of a dog.
CARVEY: I think there’s a big price to pay for consciousness, knowing that it’s all going to end and we’re mortal. I envy dogs. They don’t know they’re getting old! And they don’t know it’s towards the end. I mean, they never think, “I used to get by on 16 hours of sleep a day. Now if I don’t get 19, I’m a wreck.” And they have a god in their life, which is their master. It’s very sweet.
C.K.: But I don’t know that it’s a god-like thing. If God died, we wouldn’t, like, eat his face. Do you know what I mean? A dog loves you, but if you stop feeding him, he’ll eat you. If you die, he’ll eat half the body. It’s always half. The story is always that the guy was “half-eaten” because the animal eats half and then goes, “Oh, I feel really bad” and then stops.
CARVEY: A cat would immediately eat your face — if you had a heart attack in the kitchen, within six hours. But a dog might wait a couple days. Wasn’t there a dog where the master died and didn’t come back on the train and the dog goes to the train station every day for years? In like, Germany or something? We can’t really know.
C.K.: What is interesting about dogs and cats is that it’s a 100 percent mystery what’s going on inside that brain. We’ll never really, really know. I think that’s one of the reasons people are fascinated by their animals. It’s all guesswork. And they sit there in the room with you and they look from one person to the other. You know when a dog is like in the room with you? And he’s just looking at everyone, and you just have no idea what he’s thinking. He’s a total silent participant. It’s a strange thing.
CARVEY: Human beings want to make their animals human. I run on this trail and there was this dog, he was just looking at me aggressively, so I just pointed at it and yelled, “Stop!” which I was taught to do, and then the owner, this woman, just came at me with fists flying. “You motherf—er!” But I didn’t touch the dog! I have nothing against the dog!
C.K.: She was angry because you didn’t enable her dog to bite you on the leg or something.
CARVEY: Right. “He just wants to play.” One dog attacked me. I was wearing a hoodie hiking up Marin County and the dog came, like, really aggressively, just [bite sounds] and she goes, “He doesn’t like your hood.” So I have to wear different clothing to make this dog comfortable?
C.K.: Yeah, because it’s your problem. It’s not the dog’s problem.
NEXT: “It’s a dog just sitting there praying for this human to come back, and watching them cry as they eat yogurt at night. I think it’s a very special thing.” [pagebreak]
EW: What was recording your first animated film like? Did you have to channel “dog” in the booth?
C.K.: I asked them to give me the other animals’ pictures and put them in front of me. I never tried to feel like a dog. It’s more in trying to feel what I felt about the other animals, you know what I mean?
CARVEY: Basically I was doing the Grumpy Old Man from Saturday Night Live, let’s be honest. I could tell you I invented this whole tale, I looked at the picture, I had a dream and the voice came to me like Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln, but nope, it was just that voice.
C.K.: And you had to be addressed as that dog…nobody called you Dana during the three years you worked on the movie.
C.K.: I think it was fun. That was the first time I did an animated movie, and I thought it was fun that you are in this weird antiseptic booth and that you had to paint this picture around you of where you are and what’s going on and what you’re supposed to feel about it. It’s weird. There’s definitely a lot of running in place, trying to sound like you’re running.
CARVEY: I would always break into a sweat. Always. By the end of a session, I would be really sweating, and I don’t sweat that easily.
C.K.: Well, you’re so much more dedicated to your work than I am.
EW: What did this movie shift in your mind about pets?
C.K.: What I like about it is that it’s New York City dogs, and I’ve lived in the city for a lot of my life and I’ve never really considered that there’s a New York City state of mind for dogs. They go to the dog run and have to deal with each other. They see each other on the sidewalk. They have rivalries. And they hear each other through the walls. And also, they have this particular relationship with their master. These are just two people living alone. A lonely person living in a little place with a dog. That’s a very special relationship. It’s not a dog in a backyard chasing a squirrel. It’s a dog just sitting there praying for this human to come back, and watching them cry as they eat yogurt at night. I think it’s a very special thing.
CARVEY: I love the stylized retro New York where it’s kind of old-fashioned — that perfect beautiful New York that’s just glowing. And two other things: One, when I tell my friends, “I’m doing this animated movie,” I always have to say, “It’s Louis C.K. and Kevin Hart,” and they’re always like, “Wow!” And the other thing is just everyone casually going, “Well, how’s it going to do?” Because the standard of a success for these things, I guess, is you’ve got to hit a billion globally, which is kind of mind-boggling. And they’re like, “Well, it’s trending above Minions! Because guess what, people love their pets!” So it’s more about human beings loving animals. That’s what I took away from it. They love pets. I think it was very clever. And I hope I didn’t ruin it, basically!
C.K.: Yeah, that’s what I always think. You can’t doubt the filmmakers with what they’ve made, so if this movie stinks, it’s squarely my fault. This isn’t a good thing to say in this interview, but there’s a really good chance this movie’s going to stink because I’m in it [laughs]. But go see it and find out!
EW: Any final wisdom on doghood?
C.K.: People should neuter or spay their dogs. If you have a kid and the kid doesn’t take care of the dog, you take the dog away from the kid for the dog’s sake. Also, which shouldn’t be said in this interview, but people shouldn’t have pets! [Laughs] The fact that there’s so many homeless pets tells me that we should all have the dogs taken away from us. We should make another planet. If we had like, an Australia for dogs, where we just send all the dogs to a great place. Land of the dogs.
CARVEY: That’s the next movie, man. The Secret Life of Pets in Australia. That’s the sequel, baby [laughs]. I like the idea that my dog in the movie was paralyzed. I was a little surprised. It seemed slightly edgy.
C.K.: I did like that about that character. He’s handi-capable. That’s a little bit of a groundbreaker, I like it.
CARVEY: But yeah, no one should ever own a pet.
CARVEY: It was fun to be part of something this big. And you see these cartoons over the years and for me, it was a first, so it was cool just to be in one of these giant things.
C.K.: I definitely did have fun making this. It was really fun.
CARVEY: And it just seemed like a real quality movie. I’ve done some pretty silly stuff in my career, and this one seemed like quality. This is designed to be a heat-seeking box office success, and it operates on all cylinders. And secretly, the back-end that I was able to negotiate shocked me. The gross points I got at this point in my career are ridiculous.
The Secret Life of Pets opens in theaters on Friday.
A version of this story appeared in Entertainment Weekly issue #1417/1418, available here.