Carville, the oldest of eight children, was born on October 25, 1944, in Carville, Louisiana, the son of Lucille (née Normand), a former school Teacher who sold World Book Encyclopedia door-to-door, and Chester James Carville, a postmaster as well as owner of a general store. The town of Carville was named after his paternal grandfather, Louis Arthur Carville, the postmaster. Carville attended Ascension Catholic High School in Donaldsonville, Louisiana. Louis Arthur's mother, Octavia Dehon was of Belgian parentage and had married John Madison Carville, described in a biography as "Irish-born" and a "carpetbagger", both of whom established the general store operated by the family in Carville in 1882. He was born in Ireland in 1847 and his father, Alexander Carville, in 1810.
Carville was trained in consulting by Gus Weill, who in 1958 had opened the first advertising firm which specialized in political campaigns in the state capital in Baton Rouge.
Carville spent two years serving in the United States Marine Corps, achieving the rank of Corporal, and later worked as a high school Teacher. Before entering politics, Carville worked as a litigator at a Baton Rouge law firm from 1973 to 1979.
Prior to the Clinton campaign, Carville and consulting partner Paul Begala gained other well-known political victories, including the gubernatorial triumphs of Robert Casey of Pennsylvania in 1986, and Zell Miller of Georgia in 1990, and Brereton Jones of Kentucky in 1991. But it was in 1991 when Carville and Begala rose to national attention, leading appointed incumbent Senator Harris Wofford of Pennsylvania back from a 40-point poll deficit over White House hand-picked candidate Dick Thornburgh. It was during Wofford's campaign that the "it's the economy, stupid" strategy used by Bill Clinton in 1992 was first implemented.
Carville is married to Republican-turned-Libertarian political consultant Mary Matalin, who had worked for George H. W. Bush on his 1992 presidential reelection campaign. Carville and Matalin were married in New Orleans in October 1993. They have two daughters: Matalin Mary "Matty" Carville and Emerson Normand "Emma" Carville.
In 2004, he was brought in for last-minute consulting on John Kerry's presidential campaign, but he did not play a major role.
In 2005, Carville taught a semester of the course "Topics in American Politics" at Northern Virginia Community College. Among the guests he had come speak to the class were Al Hunt, Mark Halperin, Senator George Allen, George Stephanopoulos, Karl Strubel, Stan Greenberg, Tony Blankley, representatives from the Motion Picture Association of America, and James Fallows.
Afghan presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani hired Carville as a campaign advisor in July 2009. Carville said that the 2009 Afghan presidential election is "probably the most important election held in the world in a long time," and he called his new job "probably the most interesting project I have ever worked in my life." Carville, who works for Ghani pro bono, when asked about similarities between politics in Afghanistan and politics in Louisiana, responded: "Yeah, I felt a little bit at home, to be honest with you."
In 2010, Carville worked as senior advisor for the campaign of Colombian presidential candidate Juan Manuel Santos.
In 2014, Carville joined Fox News Channel as a contributor.