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
“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.”
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.
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 TheRocky 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.”
EXCLUSIVE: Jim Carrey Reflects on the 'Insane' Experience of Getting His Start in Stand-Up Comedy
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
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.