25 Comedians Turned Silver Screen Legends

25 Comedians Turned Silver Screen Legends
Aug 22, 2023

Michael Keaton
Michael Keaton is widely recognized as a versatile actor, known for portraying a diverse range of characters on screen and earning critical acclaim for his performances. However, what many may not know is that Keaton began his career in comedy. In his early years, he supplemented his income by performing stand-up comedy.

Keaton’s big break came in 1988 when he landed the lead role in Tim Burton’s horror-comedy, “Beetlejuice.” The success of the film propelled Keaton to stardom, and he went on to star in numerous hit films, including “Batman,” “Multiplicity,” and “Birdman,” for which he earned an Academy Award nomination. Despite his success in film, Keaton has continued to showcase his comedic talents, occasionally returning to his roots in stand-up comedy and starring in comedy films like “The Other Guys.”

Larry David
Larry David is a comedy veteran and one of the masterminds behind the success of the hit TV series, “Seinfeld.” Despite dabbling in film and other roles, David has always remained true to his roots in comedy. He began his climb up the stand-up comedy ladder while working odd jobs such as a store clerk, limousine driver, and historian.

David’s career gained traction in 1980 when he landed a job as a writer and cast member for ABC’s “Fridays.” From there, he continued to build his career in comedy, eventually co-creating the hugely successful “Seinfeld” with Jerry Seinfeld. The show went on to become one of the most iconic sitcoms of all time and solidified David’s place in the comedy world.

Jim Carrey

The Canadian comedian Jim Carrey had to put in a lot of hard work before he could make it big in Hollywood. At the age of 16, Carrey dropped out of high school and began performing comedy in downtown Toronto while working at a factory to make ends meet.

After successfully building a reputation in Toronto, Carrey made the decision to move to Hollywood in early 1983. This move proved to be the turning point in his career as a comedian, leading to his breakthrough in the 90s with his iconic performance in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. From there, Carrey went on to establish himself as one of the most celebrated actors in the industry.

Adam Sandler
Some people may not remember that Adam Sandler was once one of the “Bad Boys” of SNL alongside Chris Rock. Although he is well-known for his roles in movies such as Click, Grown Ups, and Uncut Gems, Sandler’s background in stand-up comedy is equally impressive.

Although Sandler made his television debut in 1987 and his film debut in 1989, it wasn’t until the latter year that he decided to try his hand at stand-up comedy. At the age of 17, he took the stage at the urging of his brother and continued performing at comedy clubs until he was discovered by comedian Dennis Miller. Miller recommended him to Saturday Night Live producers, and Sandler began his acclaimed career on the show in 1990.

Bob Odenkirk

Bob Odenkirk is a familiar face on TV screens due to his memorable performances in Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul. However, he has an extensive background in comedy before becoming a full-time actor, and it took a lot of hard work for him to reach where he is today.

During his college years, Odenkirk began writing sketches and later started performing at comedy clubs, gradually gaining popularity. He eventually landed a job as a writer on Saturday Night Live in the late 1970s, which paved the way for his successful career in comedy and acting.

Ken Jeong

While still a medical student in North Carolina, Ken Jeong decided to pursue theater and improv. He regularly performed at open mic nights in the Raleigh-Durham circuit. While obtaining his M.D. and physician license, Jeong won the Big Easy Laff-Off in 1995 while still in residency.

After the judges advised him to move to Los Angeles, Jeong never looked back. He began building his career as a stand-up comedian there while still working in a hospital, and eventually made the transition to television and film. He gained recognition for his performances in Community and The Hangover.

Chris Rock

Chris Rock’s successful career was not built overnight. It started in 1984 when he began performing as a stand-up comedian at Catch a Rising Star in New York City. His performances started gaining popularity around the city, and he soon became a household name in the comedy circuit.

However, Rock’s life took a significant turn when Eddie Murphy attended one of his shows. Murphy was impressed by Rock’s talent and decided to become his mentor, providing him with guidance and support in his career. This decision changed the course of Rock’s career as Murphy opened the doors to the film industry for him, and he never looked back. With Murphy’s guidance and support, Rock’s career blossomed, and he became one of the most successful comedians of his generation.

Billy Crystal
Billy Crystal, a well-known actor and comedian, started his career as part of a comedy trio with two friends during his early college years in New York City. He later became a solo act, performing at popular comedy clubs such as The Improv and Catch a Rising Star. His talent and hard work paid off when he was invited to host Saturday Night Live, which launched his career in the film industry.

During the late 80s and 90s, Crystal made a full transition to film and became a household name with his performances in iconic movies such as “When Harry Met Sally,” “City Slickers,” and “Mr. Saturday Night,” among others. His humor and acting skills have earned him numerous accolades, including several Emmy Awards and a Tony Award. In addition to his successful acting career, Crystal is also a writer, producer, and director.

Richard Belzer

Few people in Hollywood can claim to have had a career as diverse as Richard Belzer. He has made appearances in radio, film, and television, where his character John Munch became a household name in Law & Order and Homicide: Life on the Street.

However, Belzer also had a stint in his career where he chose to do stand-up. After his first divorce, he moved to New York City in the ’70s and began working as a stand-up comic at Pips, The Improv, and Catch a Rising Star.

Steve Martin

Steve Martin’s career for the first 20 years was rooted in comedy. In the 1960s, he made a name for himself as a writer on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. He then transitioned to Saturday Night Live and became a prominent figure in the world of stand-up comedy, before retiring from it in the early 80s.

After that, Martin expanded his repertoire and ventured into the world of film, where he had a prolific career. However, in recent years, he has made space in his schedule to return to the world of stand-up comedy, performing tours with his colleague Martin Short.

Eric Bana

The Australian actor Eric Bana is widely recognized in Hollywood for his ability to play character roles across a wide range of genres, including science fiction, action thrillers, and true crime. However, few people know that Eric actually started his career as a comedian in Melbourne. He even headlined his own sketch show, but his acting career proved to be much more successful.

After a few years in the comedy scene, Eric transitioned to dramatic roles, which quickly gained him recognition and respect as an actor. His breakout role was in the 2000 film Chopper, where he portrayed real-life Australian criminal Chopper Read. Since then, he has gone on to star in several high-profile films, including Black Hawk Down, Munich, and Troy.

Eddie Murphy

Eddie Murphy began his career in comedy on July 9, 1976, when he performed at a talent show at the Roosevelt Youth Center. This performance helped him get gigs at other clubs and grow his career. Despite secretly skipping school, he persisted in his comedy pursuits, eventually landing a spot on the cast of Saturday Night Live in the 1980s. Murphy’s contributions to the show helped lead to its revival, and his career took off from there.

In 1982, Murphy began to transition to big-screen roles, which helped solidify his status as a movie star. His breakout role came in the form of Axel Foley in Beverly Hills Cop (1984), which cemented his place as a leading man in Hollywood. He went on to star in many other successful films, including Coming to America (1988), The Nutty Professor (1996), and Dreamgirls (2006), to name just a few.

Seth Rogen

Seth Rogen is known for his excellent performances in films such as Knocked Up, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, and The Interview. However, Rogen’s success as an entertainer dates back to his teenage years in Canada.

In Vancouver, Rogen began pursuing a comedy career, and his success in the city’s comedy clubs prompted him to move with his parents to Los Angeles when he was only 16 years old. As the main breadwinner, he had to work hard to pay the bills, but his efforts paid off as he became one of America’s most renowned comedians.

Jordan Peele

Jordan Peele, the American actor, comedian, and filmmaker, is known for pushing his creative boundaries. He has excelled in multiple fields, from horror filmmaking to comedy sketches with Keegan-Michael Key.

Peele began his career by performing regularly at Boom Chicago in Amsterdam and The Second City in Chicago. He started with sketch comedy and then transitioned into acting, comedy shows, and eventually filmmaking.

Bette Midler

Bette Midler, legend, is a multi-talented performer who has excelled in multiple professions. Midler first made a name for herself as a singer and actress, and in the late 1960s, she began seeking roles on Broadway.

When her search for Broadway roles proved challenging, Midler ventured into stand-up comedy during the 1970s. The rest is history: she quickly gained popularity in the entertainment industry due to her musical talents and went on to have a successful career in theater and television.

Lily Tomlin
Lily Tomlin has proven to be a multi-talented performer throughout her career. Her natural charm and comedic skills helped her rise to stardom in the entertainment industry.

Tomlin began her career in the 1960s as a stand-up comedian, performing in clubs and theaters across the country. She also appeared in off-Broadway productions during this time. However, it was her breakout role on the popular variety show Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In that propelled her into the spotlight. Her unique characters and hilarious skits made her a fan favorite, and she quickly became one of the most recognized comedians in the country.

Ron Perlman

The Hellboy star also had an attempt at stand-up comedy earlier in his career. However, Ron Perlman couldn’t manage to take off as a comedian.

He did have tons of success as an actor, though. With stellar performances in shows like Sons of Anarchy, Ron has been in the Hollywood world for many decades, excelling in acting and voice-acting.

Tiffany Haddish
Tiffany Haddish has emerged as one of the best actresses in American comedy after her breakout performance as the leading role in the 2017 comedy film Girls Trip. However, her journey in the entertainment industry began at the bottom of the ladder.

After spending a couple of years in foster care, Haddish enrolled in the Laugh Factory Comedy Camp at the age of 17. There, she received mentorship from renowned comedians who helped her develop her skills and build her career in comedy. Through her sheer talent and hard work, Haddish gradually climbed the ranks of the comedy world, performing at various comedy clubs and festivals across the country.

Robin Williams

Robin Williams’ improvisational skills and creative talent made him a standout performer in the world of movies. His background as a stand-up comedian gave him a unique approach to acting, which allowed him to bring a fresh perspective to every role he played.

Williams began his career in comedy during the mid-1970s, performing stand-up in San Francisco and Los Angeles. He quickly gained a following and released several successful comedy albums. In the 1980s, Williams shot to fame after his breakout role as Mork in the TV sitcom Mork & Mindy. From there, he transitioned into the film industry, where he enjoyed a successful career, showcasing his unique blend of humor, heart, and improvisation.

Jamie Foxx
One of the most versatile figures in the entertainment industry, Jamie Foxx has been involved in various fields for over thirty years. Whether it’s film, TV, or music, Jamie has never been afraid to push his limits. In fact, his career essentially began due to a “dare” from his girlfriend.

She challenged him to perform at an open mic night at a comedy club. Foxx not only accepted the challenge but made the most of it, and started pursuing comedy seriously as a career. He transitioned to film in 1992 and transformed himself into a superstar.

Amy Schumer

In 2004, when she was 23 years old, Amy Schumer began her comedy career when she first performed at Gotham Comedy Club. She later appeared on Last Comic Standing, where she finished in 4th place.

After her comedy breakthrough, came her acting breakthrough. In 2015, Schumer excelled in Trainwreck and had a major start to her film and TV career, which has been filled with major projects within her brand, without neglecting her stand-up specials.

Tim Allen
While studying for his Bachelor of Science degree in communications, Tim Allen began his career as a stand-up comedian in 1975. After gaining recognition in Detroit, he was arrested in 1978 and spent two years in prison. Following his release, he moved to Los Angeles and became a regular at The Comedy Store.

Allen later shifted gears and focused on acting. He broke out with his role on the sitcom Home Improvement in the early 1990s and became a household name. He would later star in one of the highest grossing films of that time, The Santa Clause, solidifying his status as a successful actor in both television and film.

Whoopi Goldberg
The renowned actress and co-host of The View morning show, Whoopi Goldberg, has had a diverse career in the entertainment industry. However, her first big break can arguably be traced back to her early days in stand-up comedy.

Goldberg made her debut on stage in 1983 with her one-woman show, “Spook Show.” The show caught the attention of Oscar-winning director Mike Nichols, who then helped transfer it to Broadway under the title “Whoopi Goldberg.” The show ran from 1984 to 1985 and marked the beginning of Goldberg’s career in the film and television industry.

Emma Thompson

Emma Thompson, one of Britain’s most celebrated actresses, initially seemed destined to obtain an English degree at Cambridge University and pursue a different path. However, Thompson’s interests gradually turned to the world of drama and comedy.

Inspired by the legendary Lily Tomlin, Thompson joined the Cambridge Footlights, a renowned sketch comedy group at the university. Following a few successful tours with various comedy troupes, Thompson shifted her focus to television, where her career gained momentum. Since then, Thompson has appeared in a range of critically acclaimed films and television series, earning numerous awards and accolades for her work.

Mel Brooks
Mel Brooks was given his first opportunity as a comedian at the age of 16 when he filled in for an ill MC. After serving in World War II, Brooks began working as a stand-up comedian and climbed the comedy ladder in New York.

Later, he was hired by his friend Sid Caesar to write jokes for The Admiral Broadway Revue in 1949. From there, Brooks built a successful career that included stand-up, TV shows, and several memorable film appearances.

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