I have had David Carl's one-man show David Carl's Celebrity One-Man Hamlet (formally titled Gary Busey's One-Man Hamlet as Performed by David Carl) on my radar for quite some time. The fact that David performs Shakespeare's Hamlet as Gary Busey peaked my interest, but since interviewing Gary himself this past November, I have an even greater curiosity about this show.
Following this summer’s critically acclaimed run at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, and in the footsteps of Gary Busey’s recent Off-Broadway Perfect Crime debut, David Carl's Celebrity One-Man Hamlet will be returning to The PIT Loft (154 West 29th Street) for two performances only on January 9 & 10. Click here for tickets: January 9 & January 10
1. This January you are returning to the New York Stage with your one-man show David Carl's Celebrity One-Man Hamlet (formally titled Gary Busey's One-Man Hamlet as Performed by David Carl). What prompted the title change? How do you feel this new title better reflects the show? We've done the show now in Chicago and Birmingham, AL with the new title and it works very well. While I love that old title Gary Busey's One-Man Hamlet as Performed by David Carl, it definitely hits you right off the gate with "Gary Busey." And while it's true that I play Gary Busey doing Hamlet by himself, it's not really about Gary exclusively.
He's the vehicle for a parody of Hamlet, Shakespeare, theatre itself, certain aspects of theatre scholarship, solo shows, and definitely this idea of celebrity. One question the show asks is "Why do we need celebrities to tell our best stories?" Perhaps the answer is as simple as "butts in seats." The next question is then "Why do celebrities put 'butts in seats?' What makes us want to see them do things?" Another is "Where does the celebrity end, and their character or even the story begin?" Lately it seems like it's always Pacino's Merchant or Langella's Lear. And perhaps it's always been that way to an extent. Certainly Booth and Burbage were just as famous as Bruce Willis and P Diddy, but did people go to see Burbage do Hamlet in the same way people went to see P Diddy do A Raisin in the Sun? Maybe they did.
So in a way the new title represents some of the essential questions of the play a little better.
2. Why are you looking forward to bringing this show back? While I love traveling with the show, I also love doing the show in New York, at the PIT, where it was born. It's priceless to have an artistic home and the PIT is mine, so doing the show at home always feels relaxed and fun.
I also just really love doing this show. Playing Gary Busey is extremely fun on its own, so when you add Hamlet into the mix it's more than I can handle. To me playing Gary Busey is about being present, positive, and impulsive to a very extreme level that reminds me of what it felt like to be a child at play. I find a certain freedom when I become Busey that I haven't found in other characters, so it's a well from which I always enjoy a drink.
And it's been a dream since I was 15 to play "Hamlet." I never imagined that I would do it as Gary Busey in Comedy Clubs AND Shakespeare Theaters. This show basically represents everything I've always wanted to do as a performer.
3. How did you initially decide you wanted to create a show impersonating Gary Busey? When did you first come to be fascinated with Gary Busey? What is it about him that made you go, "I want to create a show impersonating him?" I first got hooked by Gary Busey in Under Siege which is the first Rated R movie I saw in the theater with my dad (he covered my eyes for the cake scene). I always felt like he stole the scene in whatever he did and had a knack for making B movies worth watching. I was much older when I saw him in really great films like Buddy Holly Story, Straight Time, or Big Wednesday.
Three and a half years ago I was cast in Jaime Keeling's Point Break LIVE! in NYC as the Gary Busey role. Rehearsals were a blast and I started thinking it would be fun to create my own solo show as Gary Busey. I was riding the subway to rehearsal when I saw that poster for Alan Cumming's solo Macbeth, and it hit me like a ton of bricks (I grew up on Warner Bros and Roger Rabbit). I love Alan Cumming and I love Macbeth and I heard that show was amazing, but for some reason the idea of Gary Busey doing Hamlet by himself made me laugh uncontrollably on the subway. I couldn't stop laughing. Any time I thought about the poster or moments from the show I would just start laughing.
Cut to opening night of Point Break LIVE! and the house is packed with insane and wonderful fans of the film Point Break. Ten seconds before my entrance the crowd starts chanting "Busey, Busey, Busey!!!" and the rest of the show I was held up by 320 people who loved Gary Busey. I had always loved his work, but had no idea what a room full of Busey fans would be like. As I lay there on the floor in my own stage blood listening to the end of the show, I decided I would be a fool not to follow through on my idea.
At the next Point Break LIVE! show my old friend and collaborator Michole Biancosino came for her anniversary, and after the show at a bar near Webster Hall I pitched the idea and she said yes to direct and co-create. We spent the next two months creating the show to debut at the first Solocom at the PIT curated by Toby Knops and Peter Michael Marino. Peter is now a co-producer who has played and now plays an enormous part in our weird little family.
4. Have you met Gary before and has Gary come see this show? If so, what was meeting him like/his take on the show? I actually got to meet Gary Busey in the lobby after I saw him do Perfect Crime, and it was one of the trippiest experiences of my life. I know you got to meet him as well when you interviewed him for the show, so I'd love to pick your brain as well!
Seeing him in the show was it's own amazing experience. In our Hamlet the conceit is that he has not done a play since college, and that was case for Perfect Crime. He was just as playful and spontaneous as I imagined if not more, and there is something about his presence that is childlike and terrifying all at the same time. When he wields a very realistic prop gun around a small black box theater you feel a very specific chill go down your spine.
Meeting him after the show was it's own mind-melt. I exited the theater quickly and Gary was already sitting on a bench in the lobby holding court with the audience. He really seemed to love connecting with people and making them laugh. I asked him for an autograph and sat next to him while he worked the crowd for a bit. He's as tall as I imagined and definitely more energetic. At 72 his level of energy really is amazing. I didn't mention the show because I didn't want to interrupt him. He was definitely leading all the conversations, and I didn't want to break his flow. He hasn't seen the show, but I would love to meet him properly and for him to see the show.
Many impressionists have said that it can be weird or bad to meet people who they play and I think I understand why. I'm glad that I met him and would actually love to met him again.
5. As you were creating the show, did you have any reservations about impersonating someone so famous? Were you nervous about being compared to him? I've never been nervous about being compared to Gary Busey, partly because I do over 100 impressions so I never feel like I'm stuck with just one character or personality. There is such a long history of impressionists playing famous people that I felt pretty comfortable doing this show. It's actually exciting to do an impression for longer than the usual 5-10 minutes maximum that you might see at most comedy clubs. I felt like I stumbled onto something that I hadn't seen happen much, and that still gets me very excited.
6. Out of all of Shakespeare's shows, why did you choose Hamlet? Hamlet seemed like the first and most obvious choice for Gary. Gary is "impulsive" and "Hamlet" is "indecisive." Gary is an action star and "Hamlet" is contemplative. Hamlet/Shakespeare is VERY British and Gary is VERY American. It just felt like the perfect set of opposites, and the most well-know play with the most well-known quotes.
So of course I continued to brainstorm other Shakespeare plays. I got as far out as Winter's Tale (for the bear) before Michole pulled me back in and said Hamlet. It's gotta be Hamlet. And she was right.
7. This show has received rave reviews. You won the Outstanding Solo Performance Award at the New York International Fringe Festival in 2014 and received 5-star reviews at the 2015 Edinburgh Festival Fringe + this summer you had a critically acclaimed run at Chicago Shakespeare Theater. As the creator of the show, what's it like to get so much attention? Well it definitely feels very good to get positive reviews and to be recognized for your work in any way. Having performed for audiences of three people many times, it feels really nice to watch the seats start to fill as positive reviews come in. As much as I enjoy playing for smaller houses and doing my best to make that show feel special, comedy is usually easier with a fuller house. So the day I start complaining about attention will be a strange one.
I love doing the show, so it makes me very happy that audiences of all stripes seem to love it too. At our last show in Alabama recently we had a 10 year old and a 93 year old. We had people who hate Shakespeare and people who love Shakespeare, and we had people who love Busey and some who never heard of him. They all seemed to have a nice time. As long as people keep wanting to see it, I'll keep doing it.
8. Who or what inspired you to become a performer? I loved Danny Kaye as a child. It always felt like he was doing a little more than you needed him to at any moment. I've always been attracted to performers like that since then: Mark Rylance, Chris Farley, Steven Wright, Merly Streep, John Turturro...performers who go above and beyond.
I remember seeing A Scarlet Letter at Lake Highlands High School and thinking how good these teenagers were at parts that were much older than they were. I was in an acting class with Nancy Poynter and she would also say that "Actors have to be very smart and very professional. It's a very serious profession, and it's a lot of hard work." I got the bug watching that show and never really looked back.
9. What have you learned about yourself from performing? I have learned that life is infinitely more interesting and healthy when I am being as present as I can be. Being open and present and honest is fundamental to live performance, and about four years ago it finally clicked that it would be smart to fully embrace these ideas in my life. As a result the past four years have felt more full than the previous 32 by far. When I am closed off in my life, pain sticks around too long and happiness is muted. When I am open pain can happen fully and move through faster, and happiness is as happy as it can be.
10. If you were to interview Gary Busey himself, what is one question you would be dying to ask him? I would love for him to talk about this life growing up in Texas and Oklahoma and his years as a young actor and musician prior to The Buddy Holly Story. There are a lot of gaps there in his various interviews and I'm very curious about this period of time.
David Carl is an actor, comedian, and impressionist working in New York City. David was born in Richmond, VA and raised in Dallas, TX, where he first learned about two of his idols: William Shakespeare and Gary Busey.
David Carl is currently playing Gary Busey in two separate productions, Point Break LIVE! (touring throughout the United States) and David Carl's Celebrity One-Man Hamlet (formally titled Gary Busey’s One-Man Hamlet As Performed by David Carl). This show, co-created with director, Michole Biancosino, was the breakout hit of the 2014 New York International Fringe Festival, receiving an extended run at Baruch Performing Arts Center and an award for "Overall Excellence in Solo Performance." Since then Michole, David, and co-producers Peter Michael Marino and Richard Jordan have taken the show to Edinburgh Fringe, Colorado, Alabama, and Florida.
You may have seen him in the long-running NYC hit, Awesome 80s Prom, on the soaps in Guiding Light and All My Children, in plays with Project Y and Slant Theatre, or heard his voice on the radio, TV or the internet. He has recorded dozens of voice-overs from depressed refrigerators to talking Chicken McNuggets. David likes to play music, do impressions and play characters in his stand-up, and has performed them in almost every basement in the five boroughs where people pay for drinks. He even has a show called 100 Impressions in 30 Minutes with David Carl. In 2009 he won a contest at Stand-Up NY called "Music is a Joke" as his alter-ego Frank Pfefferkorn.
David regularly does sketch comedy and character pieces at the People’s Improv Theater in NYC with the improv teams "Skycopter" and "Cannonball." Last year he wrote and performed a run of David and Katie Get Remarried with Katie Hartman at the PIT. He has performed his original comedy characters and impressions at Upright Citizens Brigade, Caroline’s, The PIT, The Stand, The Delancey, and Union Hall.
David has a BFA from the University of Evansville in Performance and a MFA in Acting from Rutgers University, Mason Gross School of the Arts. He has completed training at UCB, the Magnet and The PIT.