March 11, 2004

Take One

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Running between and beyond the aesthetic alpine meadows in the Canadian Rockies of British Columbia, the wheat fields of Manitoba, and the scenic gardens of Vancouver’s Stanley Park is a common thread that ties together people from all over Canada. No, not necessarily their ceaseless passion for ice hockey, but rather, their truly keen sense of humor. After all, in the entertainment world, a vast portion of famous comedic talent proudly calls our serene neighbor to the north “home.” Jim Carrey, Dan Akroyd, Tom Green, Phil Hartman, Norm Macdonald, and Martin Short are just a few of the many admired comedians and entertainers from Canada. As it turns out, though, for some of them, the road to stardom in the United States was a long, taxing journey, and just when they seemed “dohn and oot,” they were given a chance to go from the dirty, brick-wall-backdrops of Canadian comedy clubs to prominence and fame in television and film.

James Eugene Carrey was born January 17, 1962 in Newmarket, Ontario, into a childhood that would be characterized by economic misfortune, problems completing high school while juggling eight-hour shifts as a janitor, and struggling in comedy clubs all over Canada at the age of only 15. As if that wasn’t bad enough, he also had a pretty dorky name. Changing James to Jim, and dropping the Eugene, Carrey used his sense of humor to convey sanity and reason to a world that, for him, was all too serious and grave, a world against which he harbored some degree of resentment. When asked by Brant Publications in 1999 about his childhood, Carrey disclosed, “I spent most of my time sitting in my room staring at a mirror. I never knew I was supposed to socialize. I just spent hours making faces at myself.” A loner amidst severe financial family struggles and forced to quit school in tenth grade, Carrey decided that he wanted to be a professional comedian.

After perfecting impressions at the famous Toronto comedy club Yuk Yuks, he moved to Los Angeles, where his unique talents were given some notice, and certainly some respect, by comedian Rodney Dangerfield, who signed him as his opening act, finally putting him on the road to stardom and his family back on the road to economic stability. Always witty and with a supportive family consistently behind him, he has become one of the world’s most recognized and adored actors, popularizing wildly outrageous behavior both on screen and off. It is no coincidence that Carrey, who was never allowed to enjoy childhood, finally enjoyed the opportunity to have fun and laugh and play. His childhood came a little later than everyone else’s, and lately, he has explored roles with greater depth, in films like Man on the Moon, The Truman Show, and the upcoming Charlie Kaufman story The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

Martin Short also suffered setbacks as a teenager, as his brother and both parents died before he even turned twenty. As it did for Carrey, comedy became an outlet to express emotion and find something to actually be happy about. Stories such as these are remarkably common in the world of stand-up comedians. It’s as if they have to be at the right place at the right time, so that on just one lucky night, a writer for a major sitcom or a producer for a film will happen to see their performance and instantly recognize their talent as special. Luckily, in many cases, their humble beginnings keep them grounded. Though not Canadian, Ray Romano, the highest paid television actor and star of CBS’s Everybody Loves Raymond, had unexceptional origins that included working at gas stations, a futon delivery man, and not once, but twice, being robbed at gunpoint. Insisting he’s basically the same person he was back then, he told Luaine Lee of Scripps Howard News Service, “I think I’m just as neurotic as I was before. It’s just at different levels. Before I would think, ‘My cab driver hates me.’ Now I think, ‘My limo driver hates me.'” Meanwhile, canucks Norm Macdonald and Tom Green are certainly a little neurotic and strange. But one still gets the sense that they’re very humble and modest. As Macdonald told the Winnipeg Sun, “I wasn’t the class clown, because my parents couldn’t afford those big shoes.”

Maybe these comedians actually found stand-up as their life’s initial calling because they failed to grow mullets and join the hockey teams like all the other Canadian kids. Nevertheless, they reached stardom and, ironically, their somber struggles along the way only made them that much funnier in the end. No doot aboot it.

Archived article by Avash Kalra