Its not every red-hot TV celebrity who actively solicits comparisons to Roseanne Barr. But beefy, bespectacled Drew Carey is not youre typical rising star. When his eponymous ABC sitcom was in its infancy, critics most often described it as a working-class variation on the tried and true Friends theme. Fearful that such pigeonholing would draw the wrong kind of audience to his show, Carey stridently decried the label, insistently identifying himself as "the male Roseanne." He neednt have worried. After just two seasons on the air, those very same critics were hailing Carey as a charming "everyschlub" – certainly not a tag youd expect to see applied to the likes of Matthew Perry or Courtney Cox – and he has become the subject of far more apropos comparisons to marginalized, cubicle-bound comic strip hero Dilbert. Careys best-selling blue collar memoir, Dirty Jokes and Beer: Stories of the Unrefined, released in 1997, helped cement his new identity and People magazine included him in its list of the years 25 Most Intriguing People.
Exactly in keeping with his small-screen persona, Carey born the youngest child of working class parents in glamourless Cleveland, Ohio. His father, a draftsman for General Motors, died of a brain tumor when Carey was eight years old, a tragic occurrence the actor now feels was most likely the cause of the periodic bouts of depression he would struggle with over the next twenty years. As a result of her husbands death, Careys mother had to work long hours to support the family; Drew was frequently left at home alone, where he spent a great deal of his time watching cartoons and listening to comedy albums. Much younger than either of his two brothers, Carey was the only child still living at home when he entered Clevelands Rhodes High, where he played in the school marching band.
Carey subsequently enrolled at Kent State, but was unable to decide what he wanted to study and switched majors several times. A religiously committed frat brother of Delta Tau Delta, he couldnt focus his energies on any other aspect of university life than the social one, and he was kicked out of school twice to dropping out with no degree to show for his five years of classes. The lowest moment of his career came at a frat party, when despairing and directionless, he swallowed half a bottle of sleeping pills. Fortunately, he alerted his friend, who rushed him to a hospital.
After leaving Kent State for good, Drew drifted across the country and worked variously as a bank teller and a waiter at Dennys before his continuing struggle with depression led to a second attempt, again using sleeping pills. Convinced that he needed a new direction in life, Carey returned home to Cleveland, where he immersed himself in self-help books, including Og Mandinos University of Success and Dr. Wayne Dyers Your Erroneous Zones; he would later state that "self-help books literally changed his life."
On a 1980 trip to San Diego to visit his brother Neal, Carey happened across a recruiting station for the Marine Corps Reserve, and signed up on impulse, hoping that the experience would teach him a bit of self-discipline. He served for the next six years, working more odd jobs during the week and sweating it out with the Corps on the weekends. By 1986, Carey once again living in Cleveland and once again waiting tables to pay the bills. A friend who worked as a disc jockey paid him a minimal fee to write comedy material for a local station, and the experience prompted Carey to try his hand at stand-up comedy. Though his initial attempts got him booed off the stage, the newly positivist Carey was determined to succeed, and by April of 1986, he had secured a position as a paid performer at the Cleveland Comedy Club.
Two appearances on Star Search followed, in 1987, and Carey spent the next four years working clubs and honing his schtick. He got his big break on the Tonight show in 1991, host Johnny Carson was so impressed with Careys act that he invited the journeyman comic to sit in the couch, an honor rarely accorded performers of such limited national exposure. Two years later, Carey wrote and starred in his own cable special for Showtime, Drew Carey: Human Cartoon; the show won him a CableAce Award. He followed up that achievement by appearing in a small role in his first feature film, Coneheads.
When the 1994 fall season rolled around, Carey had landed his first major sitcom role, as a series regular in the quickly canceled and little lamented NBC dud "The Good Life." Though his first foray into series television met with an abrupt demise, it did unite Carey with producer Bruce Helford, who liked the Cleveland comics blue-collar humor and helped him create and pitch his own sitcom, "The Drew Carey Show." ABC picked up the series for its 1995 fall schedule, but initial reviews were only guardedly optimistic, and the show ended the season with middle-of-the-pack ratings and only narrowly escaped cancellation. Carey convinced ACB execs to give the show time to find its audience, by the following year, "The Drew Carey Show" had jumped from 48 to 18 in Nielsens end-of-season rankings.
Fame hasnt much changes Carey, who sees himself as a regular guy – he insists that his favorite restaurant is Dennys. Though he now call Los Angeles home, Drew remains accessible to his hometown public: during a 1996 visit to Cleveland for an interview with TV Guide, the comic patiently talked with fans and signed hundreds of autographs. Though briefly engaged to Jacquelyn Tough during his years on the club circuit, Carey has never married and frequently tells interviewers that he enjoys his freewheeling bachelorhood. Though he has no plans to ape the movie-starring aspirations of fellow sitcom champs Tim Allen and Paul Reiser, Carey did follow them into the publishing industry, accepting a seven-figure advance from Hyperion for his Dirty Jokes and Beer. Also in 1997, he made his second cable television appearance, this time on HBO, as host of "The Mr. Vegas All Night Party." Permanent celebrity, however, doesnt seem to be on Careys agenda; as he told one interviewer, "I see (myself) fulfilling my five year contract and disappearing. I want to grow a beard, have money and retire. Meanwhile Im goona have fun."
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