From the stage to the screen

Stand-up comedians who made it big in cinema

"You know, it wasn’t even that I’m a funny guy, I just loved stand-up comedy and I wanted to do it. It was one of the few things in my life that I knew I was going to be able to do, and I also felt as though I’d be able to do it the way I wanted to do it" – Bill Burr

Stand-up Comedy is perhaps the only art form where the performer is completely at the mercy of the audience. While a good set can make your career as a comic, a bad one can set you right at the end of the line. Over the years, the art form has amassed a huge fanbase, and has created stars out of several comedians. And with the fame, come funny movie roles, providing the perfect podium for the comedian to reach out to a larger audience. While many stand-up comedians condone this as movies restrict what they really want to say, others make most of the opportunity and are catapulted into stardom. Here are ten comedians, whom we have all seen in films and TV shows, but had rather humble beginnings as stand-up artists:

1. Johnny Lever

Indian cinema is yet to see a 
comedian of Johnny Lever’s stature. The comedy bug bit Lever at an early age, where due to financial problems, he sold pens on the streets of Mumbai while mimicking Bollywood actors. Later in his life, he started performing on-stage, and inculcated musical-comedy, which was unheard of until that point. In the ’80s, he finally got a break in films, and he released his album, ‘Hansee Ke Hungame’, following which he won prominent roles in movies like Baazigar, Khiladi, Ajnabee and many more. Johnny Lever has been nominated for thirteen Filmfare awards for his stellar performances as an actor in a comedy role, and continues to tickle our funny bones to this day.

2. Adam Sandler

comedy, and Adam Sandler is the first name that comes to mind. The comedian-turned-actor started performing in various comedy clubs at the age of seventeen, and landed a slot in the coveted Saturday Night Live cast with the likes of David Spade and Chris Farley. Thanks to his brilliant timing, Sandler won roles in films like Billy Madison, Happy Gilmore and The Wedding Singer. In 2009, Sandler played the role of as a seasoned comedian/actor in Funny People, where he portrayed the angst of a dying comic who wants to go back to his roots.

3. Richard Pryor

The late Richard Pryor is looked upon by most aspiring 
comedians and is best remembered for his unholstered (could also use uninhibited) commentary on racism and drug abuse. He found mainstream success in the ’70s and was later cast in movies such as Blazing Saddles, Superman III and Harlem Nights.

4. Will Ferrell

The legendary Will Ferrell has an illustrious resume, which boasts of movies such as Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, Step Brothers and Stranger Than Fiction. Though he had lesser success as a stand-up 
comedian, Ferrell continued to perform improvised comedy and excelled at impressions. He was then cast as a member of Saturday Night Live in the ’90s, and Will Ferrell’s comic timing took the show to a whole new level.

5. Hugh Laurie

Hugh Laurie is the modern-day renaissance man. He acts, he sings, he plays the piano, and so much more. But what’s most-notable about the man who played the titular character on the hit show House, is that he started-off as a stand-up 
comedian, often teaming up with Stephen Fry. The duo then got their own show, and Laurie explored other art forms, before becoming a household name.

6. Jim Carrey

The man with the flexible face will forever be remembered for his zany roles in The Mask, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and Dumb & Dumber, as well as for his heart-warming performances in The Truman Show, Man on the Moon and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. The actor initially found fame as a 
comedian in Toronto and grew in popularity in America as well. Never too shy to try new things, Carrey has revolutionized comedy both on and off screen.

7. Whoopi Goldberg

Whoopi Goldberg hit the 
comedy scene in the ’80s with her upbeat comedy styling, inspired from her life in New York. She is probably the most-iconic comediennes of all time. Later, Goldberg was cast in movies such as The Ghost and The Color Purple, but found mainstream success as Sister Mary Clarence in the two Sister Act movies.

8. Chris Rock

Much like Adam Sandler, Chris Rock started-off as a stand-up 
comedian before being cast in Saturday Night Live. Even though he has big films such as Madagascar, Down to Earth and Grown Ups to his credit, he still continues to perform live comedy and is one of the most-prominent practitioners of the art.

9. Louis C.K.

Louis C.K. is one of the most-recognized names in stand-up 
comedy and still continues to perform live all over the world. Along the way, he has written for hit shows and produced, acted, directed in two eponymous shows, Lucky Louie and Louie, both of which, have won numerous awards. The comedian has also won roles in movies like American Hustle and The Invention of Lying.

10. Robin Williams

Robin Williams epitomized 
comedy with his performances in films like Mrs. Doubtfire, Flubber and The Birdcage. The actor could also effortlessly slip into dramatic roles, which is evident in titles such as Good Will Hunting, Dead Poets Society and Insomnia. But in the early ’70s, Williams found success as a stand-up comedian at local clubs in San Francisco and would deliver an electrifying performance every time. Such is the impact of this man on the art of stand-up that even prominent comedians like Richard Pryor and David Letterman would laugh out loud when they saw him on-stage. His recent suicide, however, goes on to show that comedy too can have a tragic side.

These men and women, along with several others, have brought smiles to millions of faces. They are the unsung heroes in sitcoms and films and definitely need to be lauded for their gift of laughter to humankind.

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