Jim Carrey is the kind of person who would have frustrated acting teachers. He can be serious when he takes on dramatic or down-to-earth roles, but he likely would not be as famous as he is if it weren’t for the silly overacting that dominates his most popular films from the nineties. The physical comedy that makes many people think of Jim Carrey as a living cartoon character is what most people think of when they hear his name, and while he has dialed down the silliness in recent years in favor of more slow-paced pursuits like painting, there is a chance he might be ready to embrace his merrier side once again.
Carrey’s humor was first developed north of the border. He was born in Newmarket, Ontario in 1962. The youngest of four siblings and raised Roman Catholic, he always loved comedy as a kid, watching shows like Monty Python’s Flying Circus (just like every other Canadian teenager in the seventies) and The Carol Burnett Show, even writing to Carol Burnett and telling her that she should hire him because he was already a master of impressions (he was turned down but overjoyed that he got a response).
Carrey’s family was so poor that they lived in a Volkswagen van at one point, so he would work eight-hour shifts after school at the tire factory where his father worked, but he dropped out of school at the age of sixteen to perform comedy instead. His family was supportive of his comedic ambitions and his father even drove him to the Yuk Yuk’s comedy club in Toronto, but the amount of times he bombed on stage and the dire financial situation of his home life made his pursuit of stand-up comedy extra difficult.
After his family’s financial problems were solved, he returned to the comedy clubs with a more polished act and eventually went from performing at open-mic nights to getting paid to perform regularly.
One night Rodney Dangerfield noticed how funny Carrey was and asked him to open for him in Vegas, but Carrey’s career really started to launch when he moved to Hollywood and began performing in The Comedy Store on Sunset Boulevard and began appearing on TV in the eighties, eventually landing in front of Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show.
Carrey was popular in the clubs as a stand-up comedian but he has always leaned more towards television and film throughout his career.
He auditioned for Saturday Night Live for the show’s 1980-81 season and didn’t get selected, but he did get selected as a cast member for the Wayans Brothers sketch comedy In Living Color on FOX, where he was one of the biggest stand-outs in the show’s five seasons on the air from 1990 to 1994.
In Living Color was a perfect showcase for Jim Carrey’s physical and particularly goofy style of comedy and this show was where most people first learned who he was.
It was actually during his time on In Living Color when Carrey’s star was on the rise and he was in high demand from Hollywood. He was filming the movie Ace Ventura: Pet Detective at the same time he was filming In Living Color, which turned out to be a stroke of luck because the film was released the same year that In Living Color ended and that movie was a huge number-one box office success, especially with young men who went back to the theater and saw it multiple times, apparently seeing tremendous appeal in Jim Carrey’s obnoxiously over-the-top antics in the movie.
As a matter of fact, the script for the film was so bad that some people thought it was crazy that Jim Carrey wanted to make it, but it was exactly Jim Carrey’s looneyness that was the only contributing factor to the film’s watchability and likely the only reason for its popularity, which of course led to Carrey’s ascension as a hot commodity in show business.
Interestingly enough, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective was not the only movie Carrey was filming during his run on In Living Color nor his only box success of 1994. Ace Ventura was released in February, superhero comedy The Mask was released in July and Peter Farrelly’s screwball comedy Dumb and Dumber co-starring Jeff Daniels was released in December. All three contributed to Jim Carrey’s growing fame in the nineties.
His first major role in a popular pre-existing franchise was as the villain Riddler in Batman Forever (1995) which was another wacky reprisal, but a departure came in Ben Stiller’s 1996 film The Cable Guy starring Carrey as a cable TV installer who menaces Matthew Broderick. It was a dark satire starring a less hyperactive Carrey that received less acclaim than usual.
He teamed up with Ace Ventura director Tom Shadyac once again for the fantasy comedy Liar, Liar (1997) in which Carrey plays a character who is magically unable to lie and it was his best received movie from film critics at the time, even winning over Roger Ebert who previously panned him.
His first serious role came in the comedy-drama The Truman Show (1998) which received praise and earned Carrey his first Golden Globe for his performance as Truman Burbank, a man who finds out his life has been a TV show his entire life. He also received praise playing Andy Kaufman in the 1999 biopic Man on the Moon.
His mix of serious and wacky roles continued into the next decade. While many people remember Carrey’s film career in the 2000s for his versions of famous fictional characters such as the Grinch, Count Olaf, Horton the elephant and even Ebenezer Scrooge (plus all the spirits) in Robert Zemeckis’ motion-capture animated Disney film A Christmas Carol, the films I think are the best of the decade are his only comedy of the decade to feature Carrey in prime wacky form the supernatural Bruce Almighty (2003), Michel Gondry’s widely acclaimed drama Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) and my favorite Jim Carrey film of the decade I Love You Phillip Morris (2009).
A slew of unimaginative roles followed throughout the 2010s and it seemed that Jim Carrey was taking a break from expressing his wackier side. His best role in this period actually came on television when the Showtime series Kidding premiered in 2018 but he gives a more subdued performance in the show where he plays a children’s TV entertainer.
Following that role, he made a return to the Jim Carrey that most of his earliest fans fell in love with while playing the colorfully unhinged Dr. Robotnik in Sonic the Hedgehog (2020).
Even though Carrey is a great actor when he does drama, he is probably the only actor who I enjoy watching overact. Which would not be the case if he was not so skilled at making people laugh. It actually has gotten to the point where it is disappointing when he does not give over-the-top performances because of how funny he is.
However Sonic the Hedgehog is being well-received and there is likely going to be a sequel, so does that mean Jim Carrey is going to make a comeback and return to being the zany oddball that he was in his nineties films? There’s a chance!