17 Movie Stars Who Started Out as Stand-Up Comedians (PHOTOS)

Laura Anastasia | Mar 5, 2016 Movies
17 Movie Stars Who Started Out as Stand-Up Comedians (PHOTOS)

Emma Thompson isn't just an Academy Award-winning actress. She's also really funny. The Sense and Sensibility actress started her career as a stand-up comedienne. Thompson isn't the only big-name actor who rocked open mic night before switching to the silver screen. 

Some of Hollywood's biggest names got their start as stand-up comics. Check out which of your favorite stars went the stand-up route before making blockbusters.




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  • Jamie Foxx


    Image via Jenna Blake/Corbis

    Friends pushed Foxx to do an open mic night at a comedy club during college. He was a hit, and ended up on laugh-out-loud show In Living Color soon after. The triple threat (he can sing too!) nabbed an Academy Award in 2004 for his performance in Ray, and has wowed in other films including Django Unchained, Jarhead, and Dreamgirls. 

  • Eric Bana


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    Bana has acted in dramatic thrillers such as Munich and Troy, but he wasn't always focused on showing off his serious side. In fact, the Aussie got his start doing stand-up comedy in his native Australia and even headlined his own sketch show there. 

  • Steve Buscemi


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    The veteran character actor tried his hand at improv in his early 20s, decided he wasn't funny enough, and switched to acting instead. Buscemi has since starred in popular movies including Fargo and Resevoir Dogs, and hit show Boardwalk Empire. 

  • Amy Schumer


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    Once a no-name stand-up comedian, Schumer showed off serious acting (and writing) chops in 2015's Trainwreck. She earned a Golden Globe best acting nod for her performance. 

    More from The Stir: 9 Stars Who've Bared It ALL for the Movies (PHOTOS)

  • Mo'Nique


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    Mo'Nique started her comedy career with stand-up, heading to It's Showtime at the Apollo and Def Comedy Jam before eventually landing a leading role on TV's The Parkers. The comedian took her acting to the next level in 2009's Precious, for which she won an Academy Award.

  • Seth Rogen


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    Rogen excelled at stand-up comedy as a teen, winning the Vancouver Amateur Comedy Contest at 16. The multitalented actor has also done well at the box office, with hits including Knocked Up, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, and The Interview.

  • Kevin Spacey


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    Spacey started doing stand-up right out of high school, but his star ended up shining brightest on the big screen. The two-time Academy Award winner is known for American Beauty and L.A. Confidential, among other movies, and for hit Netflix series House of Cards.

  • Whoopi Goldberg


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    Goldberg's stand-up routine was so good that she had her own HBO special and one-woman show before heading to the big screen. The funny lady quickly earned acclaim for her acting as well. She gave fans goosebumps in 1985's The Color Purple and won an Oscar for 1990's Ghost. 

    More from The Stir: 14 Stars Who Were Fired From A Movie (PHOTOS)

  • Jim Carrey


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    Carrey landed his first stand-up gig at 15, and went on to open for comedic legend Rodney Dangerfield. A physical comedian with a knack for mimicry, Carrey segued his fame into starring roles in hit movies such as The Truman Show, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and Bruce Almighty.   

  • Michael Keaton


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    Keaton did stand-up comedy in Los Angeles before finding his footing as an actor. The veteran performer has done everything from Batman to Birdman, for which he was nominated for an Academy Award in 2015. 

  • Emma Thompson


    Image via Zhang Fan/Xinhua Press/Corbis

    Thompson's pre-fame stand-up routine focused on herpes and related topics. She soon ditched the mic and took up acting instead. Thompson has won two Academy Awards and starred in beloved films including Sense and Sensibility, Love Actually, and the Harry Potter series.

  • Eddie Murphy


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    Murphy's stand-up routine as a teen helped land him a spot on Saturday Night Live. His comedic chops served as a springboard into acting. Norbit aside, the Oscar-nominated actor has carried great movies, including Trading Places, Beverly Hills Cop, and Coming to America. 

    More from The Stir13 Movie Stars Who Were Almost Unrecognizable Onscreen (PHOTOS)

  • Woody Allen


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    Allen started doing stand-up comedy while still a high schooler. In his 50-plus-year career since, the writer and director has proven his talent acting in front of the camera, including in Annie Hall, opposite Diane Keaton. 

  • Robin Williams


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    As a stand-up comedian, Williams was known for his improv and his speed -- both of which continued to benefit him when he took up acting. Williams aced countless films including Good Will Hunting, Dead Poets Society, Hook, and Mrs. Doubtfire. He won a best supporting actor Oscar for Good Will Hunting in 1998.

  • Chris Rock


    Image via Paul A. Hebert/Press Line Photos/Corbis

    Rock is famous for his no-holds-barred stand-up, but the comedian has also had success on the silver screen, with movies including I Think I Love My Wife, Grown Ups, and Head of State. Rock also hosted the 2016 Academy Awards.

  • Ron Perlman


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    Perlman's been banking on the big (and small) screen for nearly 40 years, including on hit show Sons of Anarchy. His attempt at stand-up comedy earlier in his career wasn't nearly as successful. 

    More from The Stir: 20 Stars Who Dissed Their Own Movies (PHOTOS)

  • Billy Crystal


    Image via Paul A. Hebert/Press Line Photos/Corbis

    Crystal worked as a stay-at-home dad by day and stand-up comedian by night in the 1970s. Despite his comedic successes, he is perhaps best known for his performance in the iconic When Harry Met Sally, not to mention City Slickers and Mr. Saturday Night. 


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