Most people are probably not aware that Al Pacino performed stand up comedy shows early in his career? It is clear that stand up shows weren’t what gave him his big break. In fact, lots of people give stand up a try but it really doesn’t seem to be the easiest type of performing art. Imagine having to stand on a stage in front of a whole crowd that is just waiting to laugh at everything you say or do? This following list is about people who made their name as stand up comedians, and also led a successful career in TV, with the key point being longevity, as both comedians and television superstars.
10) Amy Schumer
Amy Schumer is currently one of the most talked about new comics, and not just in the female crowd. She got her start in the New York comedy scene and eventually went on to tape a special. After performing for about two years, she was on the fifth season of the reality show, Last Comic Standing. She made several television appearances on Girls, 30 Rock and Curb Your Enthusiasm. This girl undoubtedly made some serious connections. On August 18th, 2012 her comedy special, Mostly Sex Stuff, premiered on Comedy Central and much like her special, her new show, Inside Amy Schumer is guaranteed to entertain.
9) Wanda Sykes
It will probably come as a surprise to many people that before Wanda Sykes was doing stand up comedy, she worked for the National Security Agency. She was defending our nation and securing our future. In fact she was still working there while she began her career. Sykes was a writer on the critically successful, The Chris Rock Show, then made several appearances on HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm and was a character on The New Adventures of Old Christine. In 2007, she released her comedy special Sick and Tired and in 2009, she hosted The Wanda Sykes Show on Fox. Her most recent gig was on Real Husbands of Hollywood with someone that you’ll read about later.
8) Ray Romano
Ray Romano is truly a genius, not just because of his stand up or great sitcom but because he took ‘everyday arguing’ with his wife, and turned it into great comedy. He made appearances on Star Search and Comedy Central early in his career. His material was based mostly on his wife and kids which became the bases for his hit sitcom, Everybody Loves Raymond. Does everyone really love Raymond? Well, the series was a big hit and lasted from 1996-2005. So the answer does seem to be a clear yes! Additionally, there are speculations that Romano will have a role in the Grown Ups sequel, in Grown Ups 3: The Reckoning.
7) Kevin Hart
As mentioned earlier, it takes a lot of courage to be a stand up comic. However, it must take even more than courage to get back on stage after having a piece of chicken thrown at you. Well, that’s exactly what happened to Kevin Hart when he first started performing stand up. Eventually, he started to win contests and was cast in Undeclared by Judd Apatow. Hart has released several highly successful comedy albums such as, I’m a Grown Little Man (2009), Seriously Funny (2010), Laugh at My Pain (2011) and Let Me Explain (2013). Recently, he’s had great success with his television show, Real Husbands of Hollywood, where he plays a fictionalized version of himself. Even though he’s a grown little man, he’s seriously funny and allows everyone to laugh.
6) Roseanne Barr
In the 80’s, Roseanne was one of the most successful and controversial stand up comics. Her comedy represented the blue collar worker while at the same time, gave a more honest representation for women at the time. Instead of using the term housewife, Roseanne was known to use the phrase “domestic goddess” in her stand up. She was massively successful and it led to getting her own show on ABC. Roseanne was loosely based on her stand up, but tightly based on her views of what a real American family was. The show was a huge success, and after it ended in 1997, she returned to performing stand up.
5) Dave Chappelle
According to an appearance on Inside the Actors Studio, Dave Chappelle stated that he was still in high school when he started taking comedy seriously. His success was almost immediate and made several television appearances on the hit sitcom, Home Improvement. Additionally, Chappelle co-wrote the film, Half Baked with Neal Brennan. In 2000, he did his first comedy special, Killing Them Softly, and his second in 2004, Dave Chappelle: For What it’s Worth. One of his greatest successes came with, Chappelle’s Show, which aired from 2003 – 2005. The series was a massive hit and made Chappelle a house hold name. After a controversial end to the series over the direction the network was taking the show, Chappelle returned to his roots of stand up comedy and continues to perform.
4) Louis C.K.
Not only is Louis an awesome, stand up comedian, writer, actor and director, but he’s also an inspiration to us all. It was a major struggle for Louis to get the well deserved spot he is in now. He started in the 80’s and after a performance that bombed, he didn’t perform for a few years. He has a massively successful show on FX called, Louis and continues to perform stand up at comedy clubs. Much like his hero, George Carlin, Louis writes new material every year.
3) Ellen DeGeneres
Ellen’s major breakthrough came when she impressed Johnny Carson with her 1986 appearance on his show, The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. He was so impressed with her that he called her over to talk on screen. This was a huge deal for any comic, but bigger for Ellen because she was the first female. Her career took off and she made several television appearances. She had two sitcoms, the first being, Ellen, which became ground breaking after she came out of the closet on the set. Like many who start out in stand up, she returned to performing after the show’s end and eventually began to host her own successful talk show, The Ellen DeGeneres Show. She has also hosted the Emmy’s and the Academy Awards twice.
2) Jerry Seinfeld
Known for observational humor, Jerry Seinfeld began performing stand up in the late 70’s but didn’t get his big break until his highly praised performance on the, Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, in 1981. Jerry made several television appearances including, Late Night with David Lettermen. In the late 80’s, Jerry, along with Larry David created the Cosmo of all Kramers, Seinfeld. The early seasons featured Jerry performing stand up, but after the series ended in 1998, Jerry returned to stand up full force, and in 2002 released the documentary, Comedian, which about his return to stand up and creating new material. Now-a-days, he has a webtastic series called, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. Definitely worth a peak and a half if you’ve never seen it.
1) Bill Cosby
Without a doubt, Bill Cosby is one of the most successful comedians on the face of the planet. He’s hugely influential on an entire generation of comedians. Cosby began performing stand up in the 60’s and released his debut LP, Bill Cosby is a funny fellow…right?, in 1964. Since then, he’s released several highly praised comedy albums including, Bill Cosby: Himself. In 1972, Cosby created the animated kids show, Fat Albert and the Cosby kids. The cartoon was successful, but his greatest success came in 1984 with The Cosby show. It was one of the first shows to be based on the material of a stand up comedian. The show ran until 1992 and was an instant classic. Cosby played, Dr. Keith Huxtable and the show was known for its portrayal of an African-American family. Following the end of The Cosby Show, he returned to his first great love, stand up comedy. Amazingly, Bill Cosby still performs tours and even released a comedy special last year.