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FLASHBACK: Jim Carrey Takes ET to L.A.’s Legendary Comedy Club That Later Inspired ‘I’m Dying Up Here’

by Joe Bergren 7:40 AM PDT, June 02, 2017
Playing FLASHBACK: Jim Carrey Takes ET to L.A.’s Legendary Comedy Club That Later Inspired ‘I’m Dying Up Here’

Before Bruce Almighty, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective or even In Living Color, there was only one way to experience the comedy magic of Jim Carrey: onstage. Over countless late nights in the ‘70s and ‘80s, thousands of people watched stand-up comedians such as Carrey hone their craft at the Los Angeles club The Comedy Store. The beginning of his 10,000-mile journey from Ontario, Canada, to stardom in the U.S. began with a single step on stage at the legendary venue, which serves as the setting of his new Showtime drama, I’m Dying Up Here, exploring the lives and careers of up-and-coming comedians.

“I came here when I was 17, on a bus, basically, and got off at The Comedy Store,” Carrey told ET in 1992, which at the time was just two years into his run on the Fox sketch comedy series In Living Color. Run by co-founder Mitzi Shore (also mother to the actor Pauley), the club was one of the most prominent showcases for L.A. comics in need of an audience, but Carrey was still very green. “[I] kind of tripped over the microphone and stuff like that. I didn't even talk to Mitzi afterward, because I'm sure she hated me.”

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The fresh-faced Canadian, staying at a motel off Sunset Boulevard, immediately felt out of his element in L.A. To emphasize his teenage naiveté, Carrey recalled being asked by a group of women if he wanted a date and not realizing they were, in fact, prostitutes. His initial reaction? “I thought it was Sadie Hawkins Day,” he said.

Undeterred by his rocky debut, Carrey eventually returned to The Comedy Store. “I came back two years later, at 19, and I wowed them,” Carrey said, revealing that his second time onstage earned him Shore’s approval. “Mitzi said, ‘You're good. Come on back.’” And so he did.

Jim Carrey impersonating Henry Fonda and Mick Jagger during a 1992 portrait session.  Photo: Getty Images

By 1983, when Carrey was 21 and filming the NBC sitcom The Duck Factory, ET was on hand to witness (and film) the comedian during his self-described “singing comic impressionist” phase. In one performance at The Comedy Club, he made good on his triple-threat credentials. His act included impressions of Clint Eastwood, James Dean, Michael Landon and Jack Nicholson, as well as renditions of tunes from Elvis Presley and The Rocky Horror Picture Show soundtrack.

While making a full house laugh was always the goal, Carrey noted the importance of trying out new routines for a small audience in the middle of the night or perhaps going up onstage sans material. “Like, a Saturday night, you come and pull out your best stuff. But sometimes it's two in the morning on a Tuesday night and you just go, ‘You know, my act doesn't matter anymore.’ And that's when you really grow,” he explained.

And it’s those experiences from his time doing stand-up live onstage at The Comedy Store that serve as inspiration for the fictionalized accounts of the characters on I’m Dying Up Here. While Carrey doesn’t appear onscreen, his fingerprint is very much there as executive producer.

“There [are] all kinds of little pieces of my life in this thing, from living in a closet to waking up the first morning in my new house to a girl cooking bacon with no pants on,” Carrey revealed to ET at the premiere. “It's been an odyssey, and I'm all the way through it.”

The pilot, which premieres Sunday, June 4, is based on the nonfiction book of the same name by William Knoedelseder. The show follows Goldie (Melissa Leo), the legendary club’s owner and mentor to the up-and-comers played by RJ Cyler, Ari Graynor, Clark Duke and Stephen Guarino. “There [are] little pieces of me in each character, and it's really gratifying to see it,” Carrey added. “I'm very proud to be the one to kind of bring this era to light.”

Indeed, it certainly was a legendary time for the ‘70s comedy scene. “Nixon, Watergate, the impeachment, all that stuff was happening back then. There was a need to tell the truth and cut through the baloney, and so it created this phenomenon that populated the comedy cosmos," Carrey said on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, explaining the backdrop that paved the way for its momentum.

Later, in an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Carrey laid out what truly made his time spent at The Comedy Store unique: “Nowhere else could you go where you would see Richard Pryor and Robin Williams and Eddie Murphy and everybody who’s anybody showing up and baring their soul. It was phenomenal.”

I’m Dying Up Here airs Sundays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on Showtime. The premiere is available to watch now on Showtime’s YouTube channel. 

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