Tuesday, January 29th, 2013

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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  • http://twitter.com/MoFoley Mo Foley

    I feel slightly less useless after reading this.

  • Anonymous Joe

    As a 30 year old, I'd like to see a list of later bloomers

  • http://twitter.com/DanielDickey Daniel Dickey

    At 25 Steven Spielberg made Jaws by himself. I'm 26 and still can't make dinner by myself.

  • I'm Sure I'm Sorry

    1. Why is there a picture of Stephen Colbert next to Steve Carell?

    2. Lessee, Jim Carrey wrote himself that check in 1995? After Ace Ventura. After The Mask. Yes I realize that's probably a typo, but still.

    Sorry to be a dick, but that's some shit editing. Are there others I missed?

    • http://twitter.com/megh_wright Megh Wright

      1. There is a picture of Stephen Colbert next to Steve Carell because both of their items are right beneath the photo, and because Colbert was Carell's understudy.

      2. Jim Carrey wrote himself that check when he was 25 and dated it for Thanksgiving 1995. (Fun fact: Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls premiered on Nov 10 1995, so the check was awesomely prophetic!)

      I know, shit editing right? I'm sure there are plenty others you missed, but I trust that you'll find them for me. Thanks for reading!

      • I'm Sure I'm Sorry

        Ouch, OK I'm a dick about the first one. Somehow I skipped over the Colbert part right below? However, I hold my ground w/ the second. The wording is sorta ambiguous. But I get it.
        I'm sure I'm sorry.

        • Guest

          It was pretty obvious to the rest of us.

        • BonzoGal

          You are correct. You ARE sorry.

    • YouShouldBeSorry

      You, sir, are a dumbass.

  • MalPal

    Just look at those big intelligent, soulful eyes with a hint of boyishness… I have no doubt that I would have fallen in love with the young Bill Murray if ever I met him haha :-)

  • SBPDfan912

    Its a compulsion to look at people's careers that we admire and how they made it and all you will do is beat yourself up. I do it all the time and its toxic. There are plenty of things you can do to make it big. There is no age cap. No one heard of Morgan Freeman until STREET SMART or LEAN ON ME. Obviously he is not a comic but you get my point. I have seen people get on stage and absolutely kill and they are never heard from again. As far as Spielberg, he hopped a fence at a studio to get on the lot. You do that today and you get arrested and your life is over. Doesn't anyone else think its a little difficult to continue doing stand-up when you are practically paying to perform, pimping family and friends to buy two drinks. Its a bitch if you want to be a full-time comic and do not live in NYC or LA. I am in Jersey and before I get to the club I have already spent $50 (bus, travel) and how many times have we all had people not show up for a show and your time gets cut to the point that sometimes its ridiculous to even do a 2-minute set b/c you're being penalized for people that said they'd show up bailed. It just seems like in the 70's & 80's it was a lot easier to get legitimate stage time. Just my two cents on the current state of things. Its not where you start and if its at 25 or older, it matters where you finish. And usually the race is only with yourself.

    • Steve S

      It was just as illegal to hop a fence in Spielberg's time (Except he didn't. He snuck off a studio tour). Don't make excuses.

    • Dex-Star

      Carlin before getting big dealt with making 10$ a show, when married to a pregnant wife. I think he was even living in his car during this time.

  • selucius

    I enjoyed reading this. However, I would have found it more interesting to know what year these people were 25.

  • http://twitter.com/JustinCaffier Justin Caffier

    There's still hope for those of us in our mid-20s!

  • http://www.facebook.com/josepheh Joseph Ernest Homokay

    This is not inspiring at all. Most of these people were killing it at 25. BRB

  • Jo 'Mama' Besser

    I'd feel better about myself if this were a list about what they were doing when they were fifteen.