Even in times like this, a chat with Jim Carrey can be just a bit surreal.
Carrey: "Look how big my fists are, geez! You could hurt somebody with that thing!'
Tracy Smith: "So much of the b—"
Carrey: "My eye! Right there, yeah."
Smith: "I should just be quiet and just let you go."
And it seems like he's just as quirky as an author. Carrey's "Memoirs and Misinformation" is out this week – a memoir/novel that he's worked on for eight years with co-writer Dana Vachon.
Smith asked Vachon, "What's the process been like?"
"It's been different phases," he replied. "But I would say, the last two years was deeply intense. The two of us in a room, really getting it right, getting it perfect."
"Sweating, sweating," Carrey interjected. "Sweating every line."
Carrey's "memoir' doesn't fit into a neat category, but it does share a few themes with some of his movies. He casts himself as a flawed leading man (like the one in "Bruce Almighty"), and in the book he lives in a "Truman Show"-like world where it's often hard to tell where the fantasy ends and reality begins.
"Even though this is fiction, do you think we emerge with a clear idea of who Jim Carrey is?" Smith asked.
"I think it's the best way to get to know me, is to get to know my mind," he said.
And what a strange place his mind seems to be:
Long before Jim Carrey became a big-name comedian, he'd make his family howl at their home north of Toronto, often as a sidekick to his father, Percy.
A part of "Memoirs and Misinformation" that is more memoir talks about his childhood and parents. "You talk a lot about your dad," Smith said. "Was he your hero?"
"My dad, I wish the whole world could know my dad," Carrey said. "But maybe they know him a little bit through me. He was there for me. My absolute champion."
Percy Carrey was the one who helped young Jim write his first jokes, and drove him to his first club gigs.
Smith asked, "You said he basically saved you. Because he brought you to this comedy club and –"
"You're not gonna be happy 'til I'm sobbing!" Carrey said.
"That's not the plan. I swear!"
Carrey's dad's helped him put together a stage act, and found him a place to let it fly: "And he said, 'You know, there's these places called comedy clubs. You know, maybe we should go check it out.'"
Early on, Carrey's career was a mixed bag. He killed in the clubs, but failed an audition for "Saturday Night Live."
"It didn't crush you?" asked Smith.
"I've always had a nonsensical belief in myself and the universe," he said. "I didn't make it on 'Saturday Night Live.' Basically what happens to me is, there's an automatic reset that my brain goes into, where I say, 'I might not be able to make it through the front door, like everybody else. But I'll make it through the basement window. I'll make it through the back door. I'll find a way to parachute in on the roof and climb down into a window.'
"I have faith. And I think faith is better than hope, you know? Hope walks into fire, and faith leaps over it."
And talk about a leap of faith: In 1990, he was cast on the Wayans family's groundbreaking sketch comedy show, "In Living Color."
Carrey said, "I'm here because of 'In Living Color' and the incredible talents in the African American community that supported me and allowed me to grow in their world that they created. The Wayanses gave me my big break. You know, I can't ever thank them enough."
Carrey writes about another big influence in his life: legendary comedian Rodney Dangerfield, who was both a mentor and friend.
"He just loved me," Carrey said. "He loved me, and he encouraged me. I'd get off stage and he'd say, 'Tryin' some new stuff, huh, kid?' Then I'd say, 'Yeah. You know, looking for things. You know?' And he said, 'Good stuff. Good stuff. That's great. Keep it up.' He was completely encouraging to me."
And when Dangerfield lay dying in a hospital in 2004, Carrey was with him. "There's a moment we talk about in the book where I saw him just before he passed, and I joke with him and I laugh with him. And suddenly, the machines lit up in the room, and all the doctors and nurses ran into the room and said, 'What happened? What happened? What are you doing?' I said, 'I don't know, it seemed like he's trying to speak to me.' And they said, 'It hasn't happened in a while. There's been no activity at all.' And I just knew, he knew I was there."
For a while now, Carrey's been trying out other media, like painting and political cartoons. And for advice, he says he listens to his daughter, Jane. "My daughter is one of the most brilliant counsels of my life," he said. "Honestly, she is so wise and so loving … she brought me back from the brink a couple of times."
"What do you mean?" asked Smith.
"Well, she just has chimed in with a few words that have really, like, opened my heart and settled me down and made me feel like everything's all right. She's just wonderful."
And she's also made him a grandfather. "Hold on, I wanna take my teeth out," he said. "It's always when we go swimming and stuff like that on a beach and, you know, he'll be screaming, 'Grandpa, grandpa!' So I'm like, 'Hey, cool it, kid. Just chill.' 'Grandpa!' …"
And maybe he had his grandson in mind for his latest movie.
Smith asked, "You poke fun at big studio family films in this book. And yet, you just made 'Sonic the Hedgehog'?"
"Yeah. I'm fully aware of the hypocrisy that I am living in! And I mean to celebrate it. But there's occasional times when I go, 'You know, there's nothing wrong with doing something family-friendly? As long as I'm not in a complete sellout mode when I do it.'"
In a way, Jim Carrey the actor is no different than Jim Carrey the comedian, or even Jim Carrey the author: often ridiculously funny, and completely unpredictable.
"I've challenged my audience all the way along. I've been rather brutal about it," he said. "And I've asked them for a lot. And they've given me a lot. And now I'm a political cartoonist and an author now. And maybe because I know how beautiful a gift that is, and I'm very grateful for it, I seem to be gaining acceptance in those places, which is just incredible. What a life I'm having!"
READ AN EXCERPT: "Memoirs and Misinformation"
For more info:
- "Memoirs and Misinformation: A Novel" by Jim Carrey and Dana Vachon (Knopf), in Hardcover, eBook and Audio formats, available July 7 via Amazon
- Follow @JimCarrey on Twitter
- Follow @DanaVachon on Twitter
Story produced by John D'Amelio. Editor: Ed Givnish.