Not every actor can be as lucky as Jason Schwartzman and have their first film be Wes Anderson’s Rushmore (and first TV appearance, Freaks and Geeks). Below are 10 extremely famous, extremely wealthy, extremely talented comedians whose film (whether full-length or made-for-TV) debuts were anything but memorable.
Rubberface, starring Jim Carrey
Thirteen years before Ace Ventura: Pet Detective made him a household name, Jim Carrey played dishwasher Tony Maroni in a made-for-TV Canadian film, working alongside an actress, Adah Glassbourg, who never had another on-screen role. It was an inauspicious start for someone who’d eventually become one of the world’s most popular comedians and a two-time Golden Globe winner.
Rubberface is one of those near-forgotten films that you discover while flipping through the discount bin at your local video store (assuming you still have one), only giving it notice because you see Jim Carrey’s mug on the VHS box cover (there hasn’t been an official DVD release, and considering its distributor, Trimark Pictures, went defunct in 2000, I’m guessing there won’t be one). And the fact that it’s Jim Carrey’s Movie Debut is the only reason the film hasn’t been completely lost to time; in fact, it was originally titled Introducing…Janet, but the name was eventually changed to Rubberface to highlight the film’s only strong suit: the physical comedy stylings of Jim Carrey.
Carrey’s his usual loose-limbed, reckless self, legs flapping all over the place, his face stretching out as far as it can go. He’s gawky, tall, thin, constantly smiling, prone to impressions (including Groucho Marx), and never takes anything seriously, all traits that would serve him well in 1994, when Ace Ventura, The Mask, and Dumb and Dumber were all released. (Wow.) There’s not much in terms of the plot — there’s a vague story about Tony Maroni wanting to become a comedian; it’s essentially an hour of Carrey and Glassbourg acting goofy, with no real action to follow.
Rubberface pales in comparison to the 1994 sort-of trilogy, but I’d still take it over Fun with Dick and Jane or Yes Man or A Christmas Carol or Mr. Popper’s Penguins (when I’m about to die, I’m going to think of Carrey and those penguins dancing to “Ice Ice Baby,” and know that I’m going to a better place); because at least Rubberface has Jim Carrey acting like himself, not trying desperately to reclaim his past successes.
Going Overboard, starring Adam Sandler
According to IMDb, Going Overboard, with a 1.9 rating, is the 46th worst movie of all-time, between The Blade Master and The Barbaric Beast of Boggy Creek, Part II. I’ve seen Going Overboard, and let me tell you: I’d rather watch a film with a plot like, “Muscle-bound Ator and his mute Asian sidekick travel from the ends of the Earth to save his aged mentor from the evil mustachioed Zor” (Blade Master) than sit through Adam Sandler’s film debut again.
Like Rubberface, Going Overboard, released in May 1989, is about a comedian looking for a big break. The action takes aboard a cruise ship, where Schecky Moskowitz (Sandler) is hoping to be the resident comedian. But the position’s already been filled by Dickie Diamond (Scott LaRose), so he becomes a waiter, knowing his time will come to prove he’s funny. Then some shit with terrorists happens. And a bird poops into a glass, which is the first joke in the trailer and really says everything you need to know about Going Overboard. There’s also a ska song, not by Goldfinger.
The cast isn’t bad — there’s Sandler, but also Billy Zane (as King Neptune, obviously), Milton Berle as himself, Peter Berg (the creative mind behind Friday Night Lights), and Billy Bob Thornton, in one of his first roles, too — but all of Sandler’s worst tendencies, such as his oddly dismissive line reading, like he’s better than the script but can’t think of anything funny to say instead, are what make up the entire film. Just look at the film’s poster. Can’t just hear Sandler screaming “ARIPADEEDO” at you?
(And this is all coming from someone who actually likes Adam Sandler.)
Going Overboard was made for all of $200,000 (by comparison, Billy Madison, which basically only had two sets, the school and Billy’s house, cost $20 million to film), and the whole thing was shot on an actual cruise going from New Orleans to Cancun.
A Bucket of Blood/Criminal Hearts, starring Will Ferrell
To be honest, it’s tough to tell which film was actually Will Ferrell’s first on-screen appearance: either the made-for-TV A Bucket of Blood or the full-length Criminal Hearts, starring Kevin Dillon and Morgan Fairchild. They were both released in 1995, right around the time Ferrell began on Saturday Night Live, but only one, Bucket of Blood, is a remake of a Roger Corman film from 1959 that stars Anthony Michael Hall and Justine Bateman and has appearances from Jennifer Coolidge, as “Stupid Girl,” and David Cross, who smokes pot with Ferrell’s character, “Young Man.” (For reference: Cross’s first film, Amelia Earhart: The Final Flight, was also made-for-TV and he played “Reporter at Dock 2.”) In other words: I hope it’s A Bucket of Blood.
As for Criminal Hearts, it stars the lesser Dillon, who gets a ride from Amy Locane — the ride of his life. It’s a pun-based action flick, where characters are described as “seductive strangers” and the whole thing’s trying to capitalize on the recent success of Pulp Fiction. Ferrell plays an uncredited newscaster, which certainly prepared him for the daunting role that would be Ron Burgundy nine years later.
Virgin High, starring Leslie Mann
Virgin High shouldn’t exist. It should be a made-up film in a sitcom mocking the slew of subpar raunchy teen sex romps that came out between Animal House and American Pie. Like Boner Academy from The Simpsons — that’s what Virgin High should be. But a lot of things should be — like Emma Caulfield from Buffy the Vampire Slayer should be a huge star — and yet, quite often they’re not. Virgin High, which came out in 1991 with the tagline of “At Virgin High, school is in, rules are out, and everybody gets to make it,” is about an out-of-control all-girl Catholic school led by Kathleen, played by acclaimed B-movie actress Linnea Quigley, she of Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama and Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers fame. Leslie’s screen time consists of her answering what was drawn on a classroom blackboard, “a squiggle,” leading to her credited role as “Squiggle Girl.”
The King and Me, starring Zach Galifianakis
Two years after Boston Common was cancelled by NBC after two seasons and MTV’s Apt. 2F (whose official website can still be accessed thanks to the Way Back Machine; remember a time when a TV show had an @AOL.com address?) after only one, Zach Galifianakis made his film debut as a pizza boy in The King and Me, with Ed Shifres as Elvis Presley. Very little information on this film still exists, and its biggest non-Galifianakis star is Cheryl Dent, who hosted Style Network’s The Big Party Plan-Off.
With the exception of his two-week stint writing for Saturday Night Live in 2000 (which he mentions in this GQ interview with Paul Rudd and Tracy Morgan, the same interview that he professes his love of Morgan’s character, Woodrow, the homeless man who lives in the sewers), it was rough going in the late 1990s-early 2000s for Galifianakis. He did a lot of less-than-memorable roles in even-less-than-memorable films, like “Pathetic Guy” in Flushed (which actually has urinals on its poster), “Bus Stop Man” in Bubble Boy, and “Dexter, Computer Hacker” in Corky Romano. Luckily, Galifianakis was working on his standup act at the same time, and now he’s the star of a $400 million grossing movie, ensuring that he’ll never play “Pizza Boy” in a film about Elvis again.
Curly Sue, starring Steve Carell
Tesio, a waiter, is beckoned. He appears and gives a slight nod to the customer. And then he walks away. That was Steve (then, Steven) Carell’s film debut in Curly Sue, and it wouldn’t be until 2002’s Bruce Almighty, when he memorably played Evan Baxter, that he’d get an actual, substantial role. (Between the two, cinematically speaking, he appeared in Louis C.K.’s still-unreleased Tomorrow Night, as “Mail Room Guy with Glasses,” Homegrown, as “Party Extra with Funny Pants,” and various other roles that he can look back on and laugh because he’s a huge star now.)
For those who Eternal Sunshine’d Curly Sue, the 1991 film stars Jim Belushi…really, do you want me to keep going? OK: Curly Sue stars Jim Belushi and a precocious little girl (who’s now the voice of Starfire on Teen Titans)…and they’re homeless…and they have hearts of gold…and Belushi falls in love with a beautiful, kind lawyer played by Kelly Lynch. It snapped John Hughes’ streak of directing quality films (from 1984’s Sixteen Candles to 1989’s Uncle Buck), and it would also be the last film he directed. (It was also around this time that Hughes began slipping creatively. Home Alone, which came out in 1990, is, of course, brilliant, but of the dozen-or-so films he wrote or provided the story for between then and his untimely passing in 2009, only one, Beethoven, is any good. Sorry, Flubber.)
Curly Sue is maudlin, sentimental trash, but it wasn’t all Carell was doing in 1991: he was also studying at Chicago’s Second City, with Stephen Colbert as his understudy, and five years later, he would start writing for The Dana Carvey Show, along with Colbert, C.K., and Charlie Kaufman. Something tells me this Steven Carell guy is going to go far.
Mixed Nuts, starring Jon Stewart
By 1994, Jon Stewart had already written for Caroline’s Comedy Hour and The Sweet Life and hosted Short Attention Span Theater, You Wrote It, You Watch It, Where’s Elvis This Week?, and The Jon Stewart Show. But even with all that under his Worldwide Pants-endorsed belt, his first film role was as a rollerblader, nay “Rollerblader,” in Nora Ephron’s Mixed Nuts, starring Steve Martin and Madeline Kahn. (His fellow “Rollerblader”: Parker Posey.) His next acting gig wouldn’t be any more prestigious, because it was never seen: Stewart’s scenes from The First Wives Club were deleted in post-production. All was righted in the world when he starred in Half-Baked, though, and later, Big Daddy.
Hero, starring Martin Starr
To literally hundreds of people, Martin Starr is a huge star. He was the best character on two of TV’s greatest comedies (Freaks and Geeks and Party Down) and he’s also had notable roles in Superbad, Adventureland, and Knocked Up. But before he met Paul Feig and Judd Apatow, a decade before in fact, he was in Hero, a “dramedy” about a criminal (Dustin Hoffman) who rescues the survivors of a plane crash and the man (Andy Garcia) who takes credit for it when Hoffman runs away from the scene. Starr, who was only 10 years old at the time and still went by his real name, Martin Schienle, appears as “Allen in Coma.” In his only scene, Starr is told by Garcia to “come out of the darkness” and soon after, he does, giving that unmistakable Starr grin. There’s also something about pancakes in there. Oddly, in the end credits Starr is listed one spot above a “News Vendor” played by Curb Your Enthusiasm’s Jeff Garlin, in only his third film role.
The Night We Never Met/Mother Goose Rock ‘n’ Rhyme, starring Garry Shandling
If comedy could be statistically measured the same way baseball is, Garry Shandling would be batting about .823 (comedy cares not for OPS). His only real missteps: What Planet Are You From? and his first two film roles, the made-for-TV Mother Goose Rock ‘n’ Rhyme and The Night We Never Met, Matthew Broderick’s pre-Lion King full-length film, in which Shandling has an uncredited role as a dental patient. As for Mother Goose, which constantly aired on Disney Channel in the early 1990s…well, at least Shandling, who plays Jack of Jack and Jill fame, wasn’t the only big name to appear in the special. The Shelley Duvall-starring special also had appearances from Cyndi Lauper, Paul Simon (and Garfunkel!), Debbie Harry, ZZ Top, Woody Harrelson, and Katey Sagal. The full trippy and surprisingly endearing thing can be found on YouTube, with Shandling and Terri Garr’s moment of pail fetchin’ glory occurring at 3:50 in the video above.
Taxi Killer, starring Jane Lynch
Doesn’t it seem like Jane Lynch has been in everything good ever? Her resume is sprinkled with roles in quality entertainment like The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Arrested Development, Best in Show, Gilmore Girls, Glee, A Mighty Wind, Party Down, and dozens more — including some not good titles, too, like 1988’s Taxi Killer, about killer female cab drivers. In a 2009 interview with the A.V. Club, Lynch remembers, “that they didn’t finish paying me. They left town without paying anybody, and I had to go after them. I recall that they shot it in about four different languages, because they were gonna dub everybody. It was an Italian filmmaker, and I recall that the dialogue was written by a Russian guy. And my English dialogue was, ‘My comrades and I have been abused by the excesses of men,’ or something like that.” Her character was unnamed.
Josh Kurp can briefly be seen in a News Channel 13 report about sad filmgoers coming out of a midnight screening of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.