Photos Of Iconic Comedians Before The Fame

One of the most vulnerable jobs someone can have is to make others laugh. There are many comedians who have touched the hearts of millions with their relatable jokes and spot-on senses of humor. Whether they got their start in stand-up, improv, or writing, certain comedians have stood the test of time. Now, it’s time to look back at legendary comics such as Will Ferrell, Sarah Silverman, and Conan O’Brien before they became household names. Keep reading to see if you recognize them in their early years.

Adam Sandler Started Doing Comedy At 17

adam sandler then and now
Zoe Mims/Pinterest/Frazer Harrison/Getty Images
Zoe Mims/Pinterest/Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Adam Sandler was born on September 9, 1966, in New York City and has become one of the most successful comedic actors of all time. He graduated from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts and started performing in comedy clubs when he was 17.

Comedian Dennis Miller caught his comedy act and suggested he become a part of Saturday Night Live. Sandler was hired as a writer and later became a featured player with hilarious and original songs. After his time at SNL, he became a top film actor and formed his own production company called Happy Madison Productions. His movies have made over two billion dollars at the box office.

Jay Leno’s Comedy Dreams Came True Early

jay leno then and now
Bill Curtis/Shannon Finney/Getty Images
Bill Curtis/Shannon Finney/Getty Images

James “Jay” Leno was born on April 28, 1950, in New Rochelle, New York, and is best known for being the former host of The Tonight Show. Leno grew up in Andover, Massachusetts, and earned a degree in speech therapy from Emerson College.

At 23-years-old, he started performing in comedy clubs and it only took him about four years to get booked on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. This led to some small TV appearances and guest hosting opportunities on The Tonight Show. Finally, he was able to completely take over for Carson from 1992 to 2014 with Jimmy Fallon as his replacement. Now, Leno is an avid car enthusiast with a vast collection.

Steve Martin Was Born To Perform

steve martin then and now photo
People/Twitter/James Devaney/Getty Images
People/Twitter/James Devaney/Getty Images

Stephen “Steve” Martin was born on August 14, 1945, in Waco, Texas, and grew up in Southern California. He was a cheerleader in high school and one of his first jobs was working as a magician at Disneyland. His love of performing came from his father who acted in plays during World War II.

During college, Martin took classes in drama and started participating in a comedy troupe at Knott’s Berry Farm. By 22-years-old, he landed a writing job for The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour and he started appearing as a stand-up comedian. His success as a stand-up performer led to major movie roles including The Jerk, Three Amigos, and The Pink Panther.

Ellen DeGeneres Decided To End Her Talk Show

ellen degeneres then and now
Barbara Colosimo Ramsauer/Pinterest/Frazer Harrison/Getty Images
Barbara Colosimo Ramsauer/Pinterest/Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Comedian and TV personality Ellen DeGeneres was born on January 26, 1958, in Metairie, Louisiana, and spent her early years working odd jobs such as a clerk in a law firm, a house painter, a waitress at TGI Fridays, and a salesperson at J.C. Penney.

She started performing stand-up comedy around the time she finished college and by 1984 she was named Showtime’s “funniest person in America.” Her work as a stand-up performer led to various movie and TV roles, but her big break came in 2003. She was able to start her own daytime talk show called The Ellen DeGeneres Show, which will end after 19 years in 2022.

Kevin Hart Used Comedy As A Coping Mechanism

kevin hart then and now
Haidee Rodriguez/Pinterest/Getty Images
Haidee Rodriguez/Pinterest/Getty Images

Comedian Kevin Hart was born on July 6, 1979, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and spent his childhood using comedy as a way to cope with his difficult upbringing. He decided to drop out of college to move to New York City to pursue a career in stand-up comedy.

Although he had a rough start, his success came in the early 2000s with small roles in TV shows and movies. His career took off with parts in the Scary Movie franchise, Soul Plane, The 40-Year-Old-Virgin, Little Fockers, and more. By 2015, Hart earned a spot on Time Magazine’s “100 most influential people in the world” list.

Chris Rock Drew Inspiration From This Famous Comedian

chris rock then and now
Ron Galella/Johnny Louis/Getty Images
Ron Galella/Johnny Louis/Getty Images

Christopher “Chris” Rock was born on February 7, 1965, in Andrews, South Carolina, but spent most of his childhood in New York City. As a child, he was heavily bullied at his predominately white school, which caused him to drop out of high school.

Rock started performing comedy at 19-years-old and quickly shot to superstardom. He befriended fellow comedian Eddie Murphy and was immediately inspired by him. Murphy gave Rock his first film role in Beverly Hills Cop II, which led to Rock being cast on Saturday Night Live in the early 1990s. He is now one of the most recognized comedians and actors, with four Emmys and three Grammy Awards.

Jerry Seinfeld’s Love Of Jokes Came From His Dad

jerry seinfeld then and now
Mpond2/Imgur/Gary Gershoff/Getty Images
Mpond2/Imgur/Gary Gershoff/Getty Images

Jerome “Jerry” Seinfeld was born on April 29, 1954, in New York City and most likely got his sense of humor from his father, who wrote down jokes he heard while serving in World War II. Seinfeld got an inkling to start stand-up during college and made it his full-time job after graduating.

He rose to prominence after appearing on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson doing his stand-up routine and was able to form professional relationships with other comedians. He and Larry David came up with the idea of his own sitcom in the late ’80s (Seinfeld), which became one of the most-watched shows in television history.

How Chelsea Handler Fell In Love With Stand-Up Comedy

chelsea handler then and now
Chelsea Handler/Facebook/Rich Fury/Getty Images
Chelsea Handler/Facebook/Rich Fury/Getty Images

Chelsea Handler was born on February 25, 1975, in Livingston, New Jersey, and is the youngest of six children. After high school, she moved to Los Angeles to pursue acting but fell in love with stand-up after telling a funny driving story to a group of people.

She was able to find many jobs in reality TV and began hosting her hit late-night comedy show called Chelsea Lately in 2007. Handler has gone on to host several other popular reality shows, write six best-selling books, and has traveled around the world doing stand-up shows.

Chevy Chase Comes From A Famous Family

chevy chase then and now
Silver Screen Collection/Jean Baptiste Lacroix/Getty Images
Silver Screen Collection/Jean Baptiste Lacroix/Getty Images

Cornelius “Chevy” Chase was born on October 8, 1943, in New York City and had one of the most unique childhoods. His family was well-known in New York society and has famous ancestors dating back to the 1600s. During college, he was in a band with the founding members of Steely Dan.

In his mid-20s, he formed an underground comedy ensemble called Channel One and was a writer for the Smothers Brothers TV show. Most likely know him for starring in the beginning episodes of Saturday Night Live. After leaving the show, he went on to have a huge career in comedy movies such as Caddyshack, the Vacation franchise, and more.

Will Ferrell Preferred Sports During His Early Years

will ferrell then and now
Celebuzz/Pinterest/Dominik Bindl/Getty Images
Celebuzz/Pinterest/Dominik Bindl/Getty Images

John William “Will” Ferrell was born on July 16, 1967, in Irvine, California. His father worked in showbusiness as the saxophone and keyboard player for the Righteous Brothers. While he was usually seen playing sports, Ferrell realized at a young age that making people laugh warmed his heart.

At 24, Ferrell moved to Los Angeles and joined The Groundlings comedy group where he perfected his skills before joining the cast of Saturday Night Live. From 1995 to 2002, Ferrell displayed a wide comedic range of original and hilarious characters. His success from the show allowed him to pursue a rewarding film career with leading roles in the Anchorman franchise, Elf, Step Brothers, and many more.

Bill Murray Lucked Out With His Siblings

bill murray then and now
Patrick Downes/Pinterest/Michael Reaves/Getty Images
Patrick Downes/Pinterest/Michael Reaves/Getty Images

William “Bill” Murray was born on September 21, 1950, in Evanston, Illinois, and is one of nine children. Several of his siblings are involved in showbusiness and his older brother Brian helped him get his start in comedy at The Second City in Chicago.

Murray’s claim to fame was replacing Chevy Chase during the second season of Saturday Night Live. This led to several starring roles in blockbuster comedy films such as the Ghostbusters franchise, Caddyshack, and Groundhog Day. Murray can be seen in the upcoming Ghostbusters: Afterlife and Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch.

Jim Carrey Lived In A Van When He Was A Teenager

jim carrey then and now
Jim Russell/Albert L. Ortega/Getty Images
Jim Russell/Albert L. Ortega/Getty Images

James “Jim” Carrey was born on January 17, 1962, in Newmarket, Ontario, Canada, and knew he had a knack for comedy when he would do impressions in front of his mirror. His family became homeless while he was a teenager, so the six of them lived together in a Volkswagen van.

He began doing stand-up at 15 and dropped out of high school a year later to pursue a comedy career. He landed a recurring role on In Living Color in 1990, which led to a budding comedic film career. Carrey was one of the top comedians of the 1990s with movies such as Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, The Mask, and Liar Liar.

Eddie Murphy Spent Time In Foster Care

eddie murphy then and now
Frederic Meylan/Michael Kovac/Getty Images
Frederic Meylan/Michael Kovac/Getty Images

Edward “Eddie” Murphy was born on April 3, 1961, in New York City and his father was an amateur actor and comedian. Part of his childhood was spent in foster care, which helped him develop a better sense of humor. His first comedy performance was at a talent show in 1976 and his career only went up from there.

By the early 1980s, Murphy became a cast member on Saturday Night Live and created many memorable satiric characters including Buckwheat and Mr. Robinson. This fame allowed him to start making movies including the Beverly Hills Cop franchise, the Coming to America franchise, and The Nutty Professor.

How David Letterman Got His Own Late Night Show

david letterman then and now
Michael Ochs Archives/Jim Spellman/Getty Images
Michael Ochs Archives/Jim Spellman/Getty Images

Television host and comedian David Letterman was born on April 12, 1947, in Indianapolis, Indiana, and got his love for comedy through his father who was always the life of the party and telling jokes. Letterman began working as an announcer and newscaster for his college radio station before becoming an anchor and weatherman in Indianapolis.

He moved to Los Angeles during his late 20s to be a comedy writer and began performing his own stand-up bits. Soon, he was a frequent guest on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, which eventually led to his own late-night talk show called Late Show with David Letterman.

Tim Allen Spent Time In Prison

tim allen then and now
Kypros/FOX/Getty Images
Kypros/FOX/Getty Images

Tim Allen was born Timothy Alan Dick on June 13, 1953, in Denver, Colorado, and is the third of six children. Allen got into comedy on a dare when he was 22 and performed in a comedy night. After spending a few years in prison, he started doing more stand-up comedy and began appearing on late-night talk shows.

His stand-up performances led him to star in his own television sitcom called Home Improvement, for which he was paid $1.25 million per episode. Later, he became a star at the box office in films such as The Santa Clause franchise and the Toy Story franchise.

Sarah Silverman Was Fired From SNL

sarah silverman then and now
Norma Griggs Gilbert/Pinterest/Gotham/Getty Images
Gilbert/Pinterest/Gotham/Getty Images

Actress and comedian Sarah Silverman was born on December 1, 1970, in Bedford, New Hampshire, and is the youngest of five siblings. Her mother was a campaign photographer for George McGovern and ran a theater company. Silverman did her first stand-up performance at 17 and moved to New York City to pursue it full-time.

Her rise to fame came in 1993 when she was hired as a featured performer and writer for Saturday Night Live, but she was fired after one season. Her fans likely know her for her Comedy Central show called The Sarah Silverman Program and her various film roles including Wreck-It Ralph, School of Rock, and I Smile Back.

Conan O’Brien Was A Brainiac In School

conan o'brien then and now
Gazette Review/Pinterest/Tommaso Boddi/Getty Images
Gazette Review/Pinterest/Tommaso Boddi/Getty Images

Conan O’Brien was born on April 18, 1963, in Brookline, Massachusetts, and is one of six siblings. He excelled at school by being editor of his high school paper, graduating from Harvard University, serving as the Harvard Lampoon’s president for two years, and more.

The years shortly after his college graduation were spent writing for comedy shows including Not Necessarily the News, Saturday Night Live, and The Simpsons. NBC scouted him to host his own late-night show in 1993 and he stayed on the network until 2010. Then, he moved to Los Angeles to host TBS’s Conan, which will end in June 2021.

Amy Poehler Got Bitten By The Acting Bug

amy poehler then and now
SappyGilmore/Reddit/RB/Bauer-Griffin/Getty Images
SappyGilmore/Reddit/RB/Bauer-Griffin/Getty Images

Amy Poehler was born on September 16, 1971, in Newton, Massachusetts, and got her love for performing after playing Dorothy in an elementary school production of The Wizard of Oz. She continued acting in plays throughout high school and college and studied improv comedy in college.

Then, she moved to Chicago to be a professional improv performer and met Tina Fey while they were in a Second City touring company. Poehler’s natural instincts for improv helped her earn a spot on Saturday Night Live in 2001. After about seven years on the show, she left to create and star in NBC’s Parks and Recreation. Poehler is also a founding member of the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre.

Tina Fey Made History At SNL

tina fey then and now
Breanna Chanson/Pinterest/Jim Spellman/Getty Images
Breanna Chanson/Pinterest/Jim Spellman/Getty Images

Elizabeth Stamatina “Tina” Fey was born on May 18, 1970, in Upper Darby Township, Pennsylvania, and was interested in comedy very early on. Her parents would show her classic comedy films and TV shows and many of her extracurriculars reflected her love of entertainment.

After graduating with a degree in drama from the University of Virginia, she moved to Chicago to take improv classes at The Second City. She was hired as a writer and featured cast member of Saturday Night Live in 1997 and eventually became their first female head writer. She left the show in 2006 to create and star in her own sitcom called 30 Rock.

Someone Predicted Dave Chappelle Would Become A Comedian

dave chappelle then and now
Ron Galella/Sean Rayford/Getty Images
Ron Galella/Sean Rayford/Getty Images

David “Dave” Chappelle was born on August 24, 1973, in Washington D.C. and grew up in Silver Spring, Maryland. Family friend and jazz singer Johnny Hartman predicted Chappelle would be a comedian because of his admiration of Eddie Murphy and Richard Pryor and love for performing.

After high school, he moved to New York City to focus on becoming a comedian and quickly got the chance to perform on The Late Show with David Letterman, The Howard Stern Show, Late Night with Conan O’Brien, and more. Most of his fans remember his work on Comedy Central’s Chappelle’s Show, which was a parody of American pop culture.