Drew Carey’s The Drew Carey Show put his native Cleveland in living rooms across the nation during the sitcom’s nine-season run on ABC. He’s said that his character — a bachelor employed as assistant director of personnel at a fictional department store set in the historic Halle Building — was what he might have been if he hadn’t become a successful comedian, writer and actor. The 63-year-old Carey, now in his 15th year hosting CBS's The Price Is Right — a game show that, like Cleveland Magazine, is celebrating its 50th anniversary — talked to us about his comedic roots, setting the sitcom in the city, and why he can’t move back home.
Fighting Fire: Carey grew up in a modest Old Brooklyn household and came of age in the 1970s, when the city was a favorite punchline in comedic routines like Tonight Show host Johnny Carson’s opening monologue. “The way people deal with that kind of stuff is to use humor and jokes,” he says. “I developed this specifically Cleveland-ish sense of humor, where it’s self-depreciating and you don’t take anything too seriously.”
So Cleveland: The city’s us-against-the-world attitude put a chip on Carey’s shoulder that years of success haven’t knocked off. Viewers of The Price Is Right got a glimpse of it recently after a contestant won a car. “I was making jokes about taking CBS’s money,” he recalls. “And I said to the audience, ‘It just feels great to stick it to The Man!’” He thinks of those occasional bursts as “the Cleveland in me coming out.”
Always Us: Carey never considered setting The Drew Carey Show in any city other than Cleveland. “Pittsburgh kicks our ass in football, Chicago’s a bigger city — it gets more of everything, you know what I mean? Detroit has Motown,” he says in a singsong tone. “You just get sick of hearing about all these other cities. That’s kind of what Drew, in the show, was fighting against all the time. It was, like, him thinking, Oh, you think you’re better than me? and trying and failing and always keeping a good attitude about it anyway.”
No Going Back — Yet: “If you guys legalized weed, I would be back,” Carey half-jokes. He professes a love for his hometown and its people. But his work schedule limits the time he can spend in the childhood home he owns to visit friends and relatives, maybe taking in a Guardians game. “I just like walking down the street because that’s the street I walked down,” he says, thinking of his childhood. Retirement, he adds, isn’t in his immediate future. “I might do The Price Is Right until I croak.”