Birthday special: Comedians who defined stand-up comedy

Apr 29, 2015, 08:20 IST | A Correspondent

On stand-up comedy legend Jerry Seinfeld's birthday, we look at other popular names in the field, who went on the cross-over to films after making significant contributions to the genre...

Jerry Seinfeld: Seinfeld is known for specializing in observational humour, often focusing on personal relationships and uncomfortable social obligations. In 1989 he co-created the TV sitcom, 'Seinfeld' with writer Larry David playing a semi-fictional version of himself. The show centered around the writers' real-life experiences re-interpreted for the characters' storyline. The show's format was unique in that the episode's plotline would be interspersed with Jerry Seinfeld's stand-up comedy performances.

Jerry Seinfeld
Jerry Seinfeld

Episodes such as, 'The Revenge', 'The Smelly Car', 'The Chinese Restaurant', 'The Contest', 'The Betrayal' among others are notable favourites of fans and critics alike. 'The Betrayal', which is also known as 'The Backwards' episode is notable for being presented entirely in reverse order.

Seinfeld's lead characters namely, Cosmo Kramer (Michael Richards), George Costanza (Jason Alexander), Elaine Benes (Julia Loius Dreyfuss) have since become pop culture icons. Actor Patrick Warburton, who essays Elaine's boyfriend David Puddy, a recurring character has a successful voice-acting career. He's the voice of 'Buzz Lightyear' in the 'Toy Story' spin-off TV series, 'Buzz Lightyear of Star Command' and Joe Swanson in 'Family Guy'. 'Seinfeld' has gone to garner several awards over the years until it's cancellation in 1998.

Apart from his stand-up performances and 'Seinfeld', Jerry Seinfeld has also provided his voice for the 2007 animated film, 'Bee Movie'.

Jim Carrey: One can't think comedy without thinking about Jim Carrey. The Canada born Hollywood superstar who has enthralled audiences with his groundbreaking performances in several Hollywood comedies since the 1990s started his career as a stand-up comedian at The Comedy Store. He appeared on the televised stand-up show 'An Evening at the Improv' in 1982 and debuted his act on The Tonight Show the following year. Carrey, a two-time Golden Globe Award winner is known for his highly energetic slapstick performances.

Jim Carrey. Pic/Santa Banta
Jim Carrey. Pic/Santa Banta

After courting success as a stand-up comedian, Jim-Carrey turned his attention to the film and television. He auditioned to be a cast member on 'Saturday Night Live' for its 1980-81 season but wasn't selected. Carrey, would host the show in May 1996, January 2011 and October 2014. Jim Carrey garnered fame as a cast member in the 1990s sketch comedy series, 'In Living Color'. His performances, which included a multitude of characters with quirky traits and celeb impersonations got him noticed by several Hollywood filmmakers.

He transformed into a bankable box-office star after appearing in the 1994 comedy, 'Ace Ventura: Pet Detective', which made him a part of the Hollywood elite. Other notable works like, 'The Mask' (1996), 'Liar Liar' (1997), 'The Truman Show' (1998) made him a household name.

Eddie Murphy: Murphy, who would go on to become a major Hollywood star, began writing and performing his own stand-up comedy routines since the age of 15. His early comedy was characterized by frequent bad language and sketches lampooning a diverse group of people, which included White Anglo-Saxon Protestants (WASPs), African Americans, Italian Americans, overweight and LGBT people.

Eddie Murphy
Eddie Murphy. Pic/AFP

Eddie Murphy released two stand-up comedy specials, the first under his own name in 1982 and 'Delirious in 1983, which was filmed in Washington, D.C. 'Delirious' became Murphy's greatest achievement in the genre, which would lead his concert film Eddie Murphy Raw (1987) receiving a wide theatrical release, grossing USD 50 million. Eddie Murphy was a regular cast member on Saturday Night Live from 1980 to 1984.

He has received Golden Globe Award nominations for his performances in '48 Hrs' (1982), the 'Beverly Hills Cop' series, 'Trading Places' (1983), and 'The Nutty Professor' (1996). In 2007, he won the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor and received a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of soul singer James "Thunder" Early in 'Dreamgirls' (2006).

Jamie Foxx: Actor Jamie Foxx's foray into the world of stand-up comedy began when he first told jokes at a comedy club's open mic night in 1989, after accepting a girlfriend's dare. Born Eric Marlon Bishop, he changed his name after finding that female comedians were often called first to perform. Jamie Foxx was a cast member in the popular 1990s sketch-comedy show, 'In Living Color' just like fellow stand-up comedian turned actor Jim Carrey. He went on to star in his own sitcom 'The Jamie Foxx Show', from 1996 to 2001.

Jamie Foxx. Pic/Santa Banta
Jamie Foxx. Pic/Santa Banta

Jamie Foxx's stand-up comedy specials, 'Jamie Foxx: Straight from the Foxxhole' (1993), 'Jamie Foxx: I Might Need Security' (2002) and 'Jamie Foxx Unleashed: Lost, Stolen and Leaked!' (2003) are noteworthy.

Apart from stand-up comedy, he has gone on to become a successful Hollywood actor. Beginning in acting career in the 1992 Robin Williams vehicle, 'Toys', he was cast as a hard-partying American football player in Oliver Stone's 1999 film, 'Any Given Sunday', which was his first dramatic role.

Jamie Foxx portrayed late music legend Ray Charles in the 2004 biopic, 'Ray', a performance which earned him the Academy Award and BAFTA Award for Best Actor as well as the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in a musical or comedy. The same year, he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role in the action film 'Collateral'. Jamie Foxx's other prominent roles include the title role in the film 'Django Unchained' (2012), the villain Electro in 'The Amazing Spider-Man 2' (2014) and William Stacks in the 2014 version of 'Annie'.

Robin Williams: The late, great Robin Williams, who has amassed a massive and diverse filmography started as a stand-up comedian in San Francisco and Los Angeles in the mid-1970s, and is credited with leading San Francisco's comedy renaissance. While performing at a club in Los Angeles in 1977, Williams caught the attention of TV producer George Schlatter, who asked him to appear in a revival of his 'Laugh-In' show, which would become the future actor's debut TV performance.

Robin Williams
Robin Williams

After that, Robin Williams continued to perform stand-up comedy at various clubs and sharpened his improvisational skills, which would later become his trademark. He drew influences from comedy legends Peter Sellers, Dudley Moore and Peter Cook. In an interview with Sir Michael Parkinson in 2002, Robin Williams said he was also influenced by Richard Pryor's fearless ability to talk about his personal life on stage, with subjects including his use of drugs and alcohol, and Williams added those kinds of topics during his own performances.

After rising to fame as Mork in the sitcom Mork & Mindy (1978–82), in which Williams played the alien Mork, he made his film debut in the musical comedy Popeye (1980). Robin Williams also starred or co-starred in widely acclaimed films, including, 'The World According to Garp' (1982), the war comedy 'Good Morning, Vietnam' (1987), the dramas 'Dead Poets Society' (1989) and 'Awakenings' (1990), the comedy-drama 'The Fisher King' (1991), a voice role in the animated musical fantasy 'Aladdin' (1992), the drama 'Good Will Hunting' (1997), and the psychological thriller 'One Hour Photo' (2002), as well as financial successes such as the fantasy adventure film 'Hook' (1991), the comedy 'Mrs. Doubtfire' (1993), the fantasy adventure 'Jumanji' (1995), the comedy 'The Birdcage' (1996), and the fantasy adventure-comedy 'Night at the Museum' (2006).

Go to top