Comedian Jim Carrey is famous for a lot of things. Being a Canadian. His sketches on In Living Color. And that memorable string of movies he did in the early-to-mid 90s, including Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, The Mask and Dumb and Dumber.
Because the Golden Globe-winning actor has seen such incredible success over the years, it’s easy to assume that he’s always been at the top of his game. But thanks to a new series hitting up TV screens this weekend, we’re all about to learn some of Carrey’s lesser-known struggles during his claim to fame.
I’m Dying Up Here (Sunday, 10 p.m. ET on The Movie Network) is a new series that takes place in the ’70s, when stand-up comedy was just beginning to morph into a storytelling venue with rich characters and complex back-stories. Carrey produced the project after he optioned the rights to a book of the same name, and plenty of his early day anecdotes have made it into the show – despite the fact that the actor never appears onscreen.
Here are just a few tidbits we learned about the actor from before he was famous.
He was once homeless
Carrey has always described his father as an artist who was forced to work a regular job in order to support his family. His mother suffered from mental illness and was unable to work, which left his father with the sole responsibility of financially providing for his four children and wife. That’s why, when Carrey was 12 years old and his father lost his job, the family was forced to live in a car.
“It was a traumatic kick in the guts,” Carrey revealed during a segment for Inside the Actors Studio.
He was booed off stage during his first gig
Carrey always knew he was destined to be a performer; that’s probably why his teachers allowed him a few minutes of “standup” after class in exchange for his agreeing to be good for the rest of the lesson. But when he was an early teen Carrey actually landed a real gig at Yuk Yuk’s in Toronto. His father helped him prepare material that completely bombed, and Carrey was “hooked” off the stage.
Once upon a time he was a janitor
In 1978 Carrey was forced to quit school and work as a janitor in order to help support his struggling family. Still, he never seemed to lose his sense of humour; if anything, the crappy gig seemed like even more motivation for the rising star to perfect his impersonations and comedic timing.
His first big break was with Rodney Dangerfield
The second time Carrey got a gig at Yuk Yuk’s he used his own material, and it paid off. And so Carrey began performing at every chance he got. Eventually he landed his first touring gig as the guy tasked with opening up Rodney Dangerfield’s act. Now that’s some serious respect.
His first L.A. residence was a closet
On the show, two of the struggling comics featured eventually find a place to live… in a closet. That moment was inspired by Carrey’s very first real-life abode after he came to L.A.
“I lived in a closet when I first came to L.A. I met somebody at the Improv who said they had a room, and it turned out to be a closet,” Carrey said during the Television Critics Association (TCA) Winter Press Tour. “So for the first year or so I was here, I lived in that closet. I woke up the very first morning that I lived in the house to walk out in the kitchen and find a beautiful young girl making bacon with no pants on. And I went, ‘Wow.’”
He got… and lost… The Tonight Show
As this series points out in the first episode, back in the day getting a gig on the Johnny Carson led iteration of The Tonight Show was everything. If Carson called you to the couch then you knew you had made it. So it was a really, really big deal to Carrey when he booked a spot on the late night series while doing his shtick in Toronto. So he went out to L.A. where he happened to do a set at a local comedy club that bombed. The next thing Carrey knew, he had lost the Tonight Show gig.
“It could have been the end of me, and I could have perceived it that way, but my brain has always had this fail-safe space that goes, ‘I don’t know how, but it’s going to happen a different way,’” Carrey explained at TCA. “And then I ended up on The Tonight Show maybe six months later because I got a television show to promote.”
Naturally, he slayed it, and he hasn’t looked back since.