Quarter-Life Comedy: What 50 Stars Were Doing When They Were 25

Being old enough to legally drive, smoke, buy booze, and rent a car can certainly indicate adulthood, but if you’re anything like me, your 25th year on this planet was/is/is totally going to be as exciting as it is terrifying. In case you’re in the midst of your quarter-life crisis (or you just need some motivation to keep up with your 2013 resolutions), here’s a look at what 50 various comedy stars were up to at age 25. Though it turns out they were all at different points in their careers, they share one thing in common: whether it’s making a television debut, manning the door at a comedy club, or mindlessly toiling away at an office job, this group wasn’t afraid to work hard — often at unglamorous expenses — to reach their goals in the comedy world.

In no particular order:


1. George Carlin amicably split up with his performing partner Jack Burns in Los Angeles to pursue a solo stand-up career.

2. Rodney Dangerfield was a struggling New York stand-up known as Jack Roy; he worked as a singing waiter on the side.

3. Amy Poehler moved from Chicago to New York with her Upright Citizens Brigade cofounders.


4. Jerry Seinfeld was fired from his recurring role on the ABC sitcom Benson.

5. Will Ferrell was performing with The Groundlings after his first year in Los Angeles.

6. Robin Williams left Juilliard to star in a San Francisco production of Harold Pinter’s play The Lover.


7. Richard Pryor appeared on Merv Griffin and made his Ed Sullivan Show debut.

8. Joan Rivers was holding down a day job as an office assistant while climbing the ranks of the 1960s NYC stand-up scene.


9. Tina Fey played a frumpy, tapestry vest-wearing Mutual Savings Bank spokesperson in her first TV commercial.

10. Johnny Carson landed his first radio hosting gig at WOW in Omaha, Nebraska.


11. Marc Maron was working as the doorman at The Comedy Store in Los Angeles.

12. Ellen Degeneres was touring her stand-up act.


13. Tracy Morgan was married with three kids and a regular cast member on the Harlem sketch show Uptown Comedy Club.

14. Phil Hartman was studying graphic arts at California State University, Northridge.


15. Steve Martin appeared on an episode of The Dating Game and wrote for The Ray Stevens Show and Pat Paulsen’s Half a Comedy Hour.

16. Tig Notaro ran a one-woman band management company in Denver called Tignation Promotions.

17. Ben Stiller created, starred, and wrote The Ben Stiller Show on MTV.

18. Lily Tomlin was honing her stand-up act in Detroit coffee houses.


19. Louis C.K.’s short film Ice Cream screened at the Sundance Film Festival.


20. Patton Oswalt landed his first big onscreen role as a video store clerk on Seinfeld.

21. Chris Farley was newly accepted into Second City’s touring company.


22. Sarah Silverman was a featured performer on Mr. Show.


23. Mel Brooks was a junior staff writer on Sid Caesar’s Your Show of Shows.

24. Andy Kaufman made his TV debut on The Dean Martin Comedy World and The Joe Franklin Show.


25. Julia Louis-Dreyfus was a hustling bit actor who scored appearances in three films (Troll, Hannah and Her Sisters, Soul Man).

26. Bob Hope landed his first two Broadway walk-on roles in The Sidewalks of New York and Ups-a-Daisy.


27. Zach Galifianakis worked as a busboy in a New York strip club while taking acting classes on the side.

28. Redd Foxx was touring his “blue” stand-up act on the chitlin’ circuit with dancer/comic Slappy White.


29. Matt Stone appeared in the short film For Goodness Sake II, directed by his partner Trey Parker (South Park premiered the following year).

30. Trey Parker directed Cannibal! The Musical with Matt Stone.

31. Roseanne Barr was married with three children and trying out stand-up at various Colorado comedy clubs.


32. Bill Cosby was a running back for Temple University’s football team (after four years in the Navy).

33. Mitch Hedberg was a featured comic on the MTV show Comikaze.


34. John Belushi was performing on The National Lampoon Radio Hour in Chicago, which he also co-produced.

35. Betty White landed a gig announcing sponsor Parkay Margarine for radio show The Great Gildersleeve (it paid thirty seven dollars).


36. Chris Rock was a new Saturday Night Live cast member.

37. Judd Apatow appeared on HBO’s 15th Annual Young Comedians Special and executive produced The Ben Stiller Show.


38. Conan O’Brien starred with Bob Odenkirk in the Chicago summer improv revue Happy Happy Good Show and worked his first year as an SNL writer.

39. Lorne Michaels was a writer on Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In and Barris & Company.


40. Carol Burnett made several appearances on The Jack Paar Tonight Show.


41. Eddie Murphy starred in yet another comedy, The Golden Child.

42. Jim Carrey was a struggling comic in Los Angeles and wrote himself a now-famous check for $10 million dated Thanksgiving 1995.


43. Steve Carell took improv classes at Second City while working as a waiter.

44. Stephen Colbert toured with Second City as Steve Carell’s understudy.

45. Bob Newhart was honorably discharged from his job as a US Army personnel manager during the Korean War and got a job working as an unemployment office clerk.


46. Woody Allen wrote for Candid Camera and wrote the book for the Broadway revue From A to Z.


47. Bill Murray voiced The Human Torch in a Fantastic Four radio show and appeared in the short-lived Saturday Night Live with Howard Cosell.

48. Gilda Radner performed with the Toronto mime touring company Global Village.


49. Dave Chappelle got his own HBO comedy special and starred in Half Baked.

50. Jon Stewart worked as a driver for a catering service in New York City and did his first open mic at The Bitter End.

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