The Comedy of Jim Carrey: Physical Improvisation
We could say Jim Carrey is the poster child of the American Dream. Except he’s Canadian. But, his story of living in a van with his family when the factory in town sold out really shows how far a person can come if he’s extraordinarily talented and ambitious.
Carrey was always trying for a laugh, and even sent his resume in the Carol Burnett Show when he was 10. He became so disruptive with his humor in junior high, that the school administrators finally gave him special time at the end of the day to tell jokes to the other kids so he wouldn’t do it in class. “If there'd been Ritalin when I was a kid, I wouldn't be here now,” he noted.
Carrey was a straight-A student in high school until he decided to drop out to pursue a comedy career. He did his first performance at Yuk Yuk’s, a Toronto comedy club, at which he began to hone his comedy talent before making the big step of moving to Los Angeles in 1979 at the tender age of 19. There, he became a regular opening act at The Comedy Store after impressing club owner Rodney Dangerfield. He soon became known as an “anything for a laugh” comic who would use wild facial contortions and movements when the verbal jokes weren’t working.
Carrey didn’t want to top his career by doing lounge acts, so he started looking for other opportunities and landed a few bit movie parts, including one in Once Bitten and Peggy Sue Got Married. He nabbed a larger part as an alien in Earth Girls Are Easy, and his alien co-star Damon Wayans got him in on the ground floor of the television sketch comedy show In Living Color in 1990. Carrey's success in this genre brought him the lead role in the loony Ace Ventura: Pet Detective in 1994, the role that made him a full-fledged movie star. Later films included Dumb and Dumber, The Truman Show, The Mask, The Cable Guy and Bruce Almighty (for which he was paid $25 million).
Carrey is probably best known for his quick improvisational quirkiness, seen in his In Living Color performances and his physical humor, which includes rubber-faced impressions, clumsy trips and his own unique way of (as he puts it) “talking out of his ass,” which he demonstrated in Ace Ventura. His unique talents were highlighted in The Mask, which included a double part for Carrey as meek bank employee, Stanley Ipkiss, and the dashing debonair yellow personification of the title role. The film’s special effects complemented animated exaggerations of Carrey’s facial expressions to create the perfect venue for him.
Now at the top of his game, Carrey tries to stay true to his humor and not become overwhelmed with his fame. “I've been dubbed the man most responsible for the dumbing of America, so obviously I don't put much stock into thoughts like (the theme of the 'dumbing down' of contemporary comedy),” he said. “People love to laugh, and most people can find humor in just about anything, which is great. Trying to label or categorize comedy is ridiculous. I mean, if you laugh at a fart joke, does that make you a moron? I don't think so!”