Brother of Invention
OF THE MANY DOPEY GAGS LITTERED THROUGHOUT WAYNE’S World 2, one was actually no joke: the Video Toaster T-shirt worn by dweeby Garth, played by Dana Carvey. Yes, there really is a Video Toaster. It’s a computer that thousands of ordinary techno-nerds use to create professional-quality special effects on home video—though the production crew of NBC’s seaQuest DSV, for one, uses it.
“If Garth existed, he would have one,” says electronic engineer Brad Carvey, 42, Dana’s older brother.
Brad would know. He was part of the team that created the $4,500 Toaster in the late ’80s. The group earned a technical-achievement Emmy for it and, thanks to royalties, Carvey now lives in semiretirement in Albuquerque with his wife, Andrea, 40, who is studying for her doctorate in archaeology, and daughter Emily, 13. (“Dana told me to call him when I joined the millionaire’s club,” says Brad. “I called a couple of years ago.”) And Brad can certainly speak for Garth because, in a sense, he is Garth. He was the inspiration for the character who first surfaced in Saturday Night Live skits in 1990.
Carvey, who has Garth’s shy smile and soft, occasionally squeaky voice, ticks off other similarities: “We both eat red licorice, and we both like video, and we both play the drums.” His five-bedroom house has a soundproof room where he and his wife practice their percussive skills. A Ping-Pong table dominates the living room. “Dana always thinks it’s funny that I’ve carried more of my childlike behavior into adult life,” Brad says. His wife of 21 years is sometimes less delighted. “More than once I’ve had to run into his room and yank something out of the wall because it was sparking and popping,” says Andrea, who met Brad on a camping trip in Yosemite National Park in 1971 and remembers that he was wearing lederhosen. “Major nerd city,” she says.
Before he was man-child, of course, he was just plain child. Brad grew up in San Carlos, Calif., the son of Bud, 69, and Billie Carvey, 67, both retired public school teachers. He was the second of five children in the still close-knit family, which also includes Mark, 44, an artist and Dana’s assistant; Scott, 40, a musician who works for an electronics firm; Dana, 38; and Lori, 35, a homemaker. Dana, early on, earned a reputation in the family for his mimicry. “I remember him doing Lyndon Johnson,” says Brad. “Mah heart is heavy and ah have a lot of indigestion.” Brad was always the Master Tinkerer. “I fixed everything,” he says. “We never had a repairman in the house.”
Brad graduated from Carlmont High in 1969, then spent five years in the Army doing top-secret communications work in Germany. After that he earned a degree in engineering at Sacramento State College and held a series of high-tech jobs. In 1983 he was part of a team that developed an ultrasound device that detects liver tumors. And, of course, there was the Video Toaster, which is owned by NewTek Inc. of Topeka, Kans. Carvey even inspired its peculiar name. When people would ask him what he was working on, he would say it was a “laser toaster” that could inscribe a logo on bread.
Sometimes, apparently, whimsy is the mother of invention. Carvey’s other ideas include a rotary hat brim that can be adjusted to different sizes and something called the butt muffler—a charcoal-filled undergarment that would absorb, as Mark Twain put it, nature’s fundamental sigh.
“I was trying to figure out why I was different from other engineers,” Brad says, “and it came down to creativity. Dana doesn’t tell jokes—he looks at things in a different way. And I try to do that as an engineer.”
MICHAEL HAEDERLE in Albuquerque