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Top 10 Actors You Didn't Know Started In Stand-Up

Top 10 Actors You Didn't Know Started In Stand-Up
VOICE OVER: Patrick Mealey WRITTEN BY: Mimi Kenny
You'll be shocked when you find out which celebs used to do stand-up. For this list, we'll be looking at actors whose previous careers as stand-up comedians you might not be aware of. Our countdown includes Simon Pegg, Eric Bana, Steve Buscemi, and more!

Top 10 Actors You Didn’t Know Started in Stand-Up


Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 Actors You Didn’t Know Started in Stand-Up

For this list, we’ll be looking at actors whose previous careers as stand-up comedians you might not be aware of.

Which of these actors would you want to see do stand-up the most? Let us know in the comments!

#10: Ed Helms

Ed Helms’s excellent comedic timing has been highlighted in popular shows like “The Office” and the “Hangover” movies, as well as in his time as a “Daily Show” correspondent. This was a skill he developed over time, doing stand-up comedy in New York City before getting the “Daily Show” gig. Helms also studied improv with the renowned Upright Citizens Brigade and wrote and performed in various sketch groups around the Big Apple. He’s even spoken about performing with another then-up-and-coming comic who later became a movie star. Does the name Kevin Hart ring any bells?

#9: Simon Pegg

Mention Simon Pegg around a comedy fan, and they’re sure to start quoting one of his movies. But before Pegg was making audiences around the world crack up in “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz,” he was developing his comedic chops on his home turf of England. Pegg studied theatre and wanted to become a dramatic actor. But he found he excelled in comedy, and soon built up an impressive résumé, eventually landing roles in multiple blockbuster franchises. Would this young comedian have ever imagined he would one day appear in both “Star Wars” and “Star Trek” movies?

#8: Billy Connolly

You might know Billy Connolly as an actor for his memorable work in films like “The Boondock Saints” and “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events.” But the Scottish actor is also considered one of the best stand-up comedians in the history of the UK, with public television network Channel 4 naming him as the greatest of all time. Connolly’s comedy pushes the boundaries of good taste, and his stage presence is impossible to imitate. While Connolly - known to fans as “The Big Yin” - retired from stand-up in 2018, his status as a legend of comedy was cemented long before then.

#7: Eric Bana

Eric Bana tends to bring dramatic intensity to already-serious movies like “Hulk,” “Troy,” and “Munich.” So it’s a little surprising to hear the Australian actor got his showbiz start as a stand-up comedian. Bana would do stand-up at pubs while getting by as a bartender and waiter. Eventually, he was cast in “Full Frontal,” a popular sketch show that led to his own short-lived series “The Eric Bana Show Live.” A major career shift happened when he was cast in the dramatic biopic “Chopper,” about a notorious convict. A few years later, he was playing one of Marvel’s most famous characters. Can we call him “Bruce Bana?”

#6: Bette Midler

Bette Midler is one of the rare performers to earn acclaim as both a singer and an actor. So, it’s not a surprise to learn she also excelled in stand-up. Although Midler had acted on stage for years, including a role in “Fiddler on the Roof” on Broadway, she found her career in a dry spot. So, she switched to stand-up, with dynamic performances that also highlighted her acting and singing abilities. In time, she was a best-selling musician and an Oscar-nominated actor, with dramas like “The Rose” and comedies like “Hocus Pocus” on her résumé. Talk about hitting all the right notes.

#5: Ron Perlman

On shows like “Sons of Anarchy” and in movies like “Drive,” Ron Perlman plays characters you don’t want to mess with. Even Hellboy, as lovable as he is, is super-tough as well as sensitive. Those traits might come naturally to the actor, or he might have honed them in his previous gig: stand-up comedian. Before being recognized as an actor, Perlman had a comedy act with a friend, which involved ripping off material from comedians like George Carlin. Plagiarism is a big no-no when it comes to comedy. So, it’s good that Perlman was able to find success as himself, not someone else.

#4: Emma Thompson

Emma Thompson’s involvement in a movie instantly makes it feel classier. That’s why it’s surprising to learn Thompson’s first ambition was to become a stand-up comedian, like her hero, Lily Tomlin. In college, she was a member of the Footlights comedy troupe, alongside Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie. And the comedy world was even more difficult for a woman to break into then. However, Thompson was able to book many gigs, with mixed results. While she continued doing comedy on television, she later found worldwide acclaim as a screenwriter and dramatic actor. We’re glad Thompson had the “sense and sensibility” to fully explore her talents.

#3: Steve Buscemi

Can you name anything that hasn’t been improved by Steve Buscemi’s presence? Before he was turning in amazing work in “Fargo” and “The Sopranos,” Buscemi tried to make it as a comedian in New York City. Though he had acting dreams, he decided to try stand-up as a route to acting jobs. Buscemi has described his stand-up style as “unique,” with a good dose of self-deprecating humor. While Buscemi might not have had the chops to make stand-up a full-time career, he’s shown incredible range as an actor, with excellent work in both comedies and dramas.

#2: Jamie Foxx

Jamie Foxx’s natural charisma made us believe he was actually Ray Charles and earned him an Oscar, among many other acting achievements. Foxx had a flair for performance early in his life, telling jokes to his school friends. He started doing stand-up sets in his 20s, and parlayed his success at open mics to joining the sketch comedy show “In Living Color” and eventually landing his own sitcom. This, of course, was followed by massive movie stardom. Fun fact: the man born Eric Marlon Bishop chose the name “Jamie Foxx” due to female comedians being given priority at stand-up shows.

#1: Michael Keaton

Michael Keaton may be famous for playing Batman, but before that, he was something of a joker. Before movie stardom, Keaton found work acting in theater and TV. He also did stand-up to help pay the bills. In a few years, Keaton went from making audiences laugh in comedy clubs to making them laugh in movie theaters, with roles in hits like “Night Shift” and “Mr. Mom.” His energy also got him cast as the title character in Tim Burton’s “Beetlejuice,” which, of course, led to him playing the Caped Crusader himself. Keaton might not speak that positively of his comedy career, but what we’ve seen of it captures that classic Keaton charisma we all know and love.
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