Before he was cast on In Living Color in 1990, Jim Carrey had been hitting the standup circuit pavement in Canada and the United States for thirteen years. His first time onstage was a not-so-successful appearance at Yuk Yuk’s in Toronto at only 15 years old, but thanks to his perseverance and growing repertoire of uncanny celebrity impersonations, Carrey would go on to evolve from Canadian standup to Hollywood funnyman to undisputed comedy/drama crossover superstar. Here’s a collection of Carrey’s standup work and television appearances from his early years to right before he hit it big with Ace Ventura: Pet Detective in 1994.
An Evening at the Improv
After moving to Los Angeles in 1979, Carrey was discovered by Rodney Dangerfield and brought on to open for him on tour. Following that, Carrey made his first American television appearance on the standup showcase An Evening at the Improv in 1982 when he was only 20 years old. (Carrey’s performance starts around 9:55.)
The Comedy Store
While in Los Angeles in the early 1980s, Carrey was a regular performer at The Comedy Store. Here he is presenting rapidfire impressions, from Clint Eastwood to “Michael Landon smiling” to “Charles Nelson Reilly the Extra Terrestrial.”
The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson
In 1983, Carrey had the honor of performing on The Tonight Show to promote the NBC series The Duck Factory, but he wasn’t asked over for a post-performance interview with Carson. Eight years later, after appearing in Peggy Sue Got Married and Earth Girls Are Easy, he made his second appearance and mentioned to Carson how he was “devastated” by the snub, but it clearly didn’t slow down his steadily increasing success in the comedy world.
The UKnow Awards
In 1984 Carrey hosted the UKnow Awards, a Canadian People’s Choice-style alt music awards show (renamed the CASBY Awards in 1986). In this clip, we get a peek into his hosting performance – including a Billie Holiday impersonation, which he also did on SNL last year – as well as a backstage interview revealing just how young, nervous, and green Carrey was to the idea of Hollywood-level stardom. (Carrey’s part starts at 1:43.)
Carrey also appeared on the Canadian show Rock Showdown in 1989. In this clip, he morphs into a gospel singer and Post-Nuclear Elvis.
The Byron Allen Show
Carrey was also a guest on The Byron Allen Show in 1989, where he talked about ouija boards, winning an Emmy for In Living Color, and doing “Bad Karate with Bob Jackson.”
The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, Take Two
Almost ten years after his Tonight Show debut, Carrey returned – this time as a couchside guest – to present more impressions, including Batman Kevin Bacon and the best take on Wile E. Coyote ever. Check out that sweet colorblock 90s jacket!
Jim Carrey: The Un-Natural Act
During his second season of In Living Color, Carrey’s first standup special The Un-Natural Act aired on Showtime. His mother passed away shortly before the special first aired, and Carrey dedicated it to her memory. Here’s his performance in its entirety.
The Comedy Store’s 20th Birthday
In 1992, Carrey returned to his early 80s roots and appeared on The Comedy Store’s 20th Birthday special. In this clip, Carrey spoofs the standup format and does his “Angry St. Bernard” impression.
A Tribute to Sam Kinison
Later that year, Carrey also appeared on A Tribute to Sam Kinison and delivered a thoughtfully funny (and very Bruce Almighty-like) set about comedy and spirituality: “Sam was a preacher who wanted to be a comic, and I’m a comic who’s always striving for spiritual perfection.” Ace Ventura: Pet Detective went into production the following year, and the rest is Jim Carrey history.