by Ralph Lucas – Publisher
(July 13, 2018 – Toronto, ON) It is a piece of showbiz lore that the best comics often come from families that have experienced the direst of circumstances. Some examples include Carol Burnett, who was abandoned by her alcoholic mother and brought up by her grandmother; Rosie O’Donnell, who lost her mother to cancer at the age of nine and the legendary Charlie Chaplin, who spent his earliest years in near poverty after the death of his father. So what does all this have to do with Jim Carrey?
James Eugene Carrey was born January 17, 1962, in Newmarket, Ontario, just a short drive north of Toronto. Like so many funny people before him, his beginnings are marked by constant uncertainty. He was the youngest of four children, and his dad had great difficulty making ends meet. He was a musician, who played saxophone and clarinet and would supplement his meagre income by occasionally taking jobs as an accountant. Carrey was raised to understand the necessity of work. The need to earn money. The absolute truth of survival. For example, when he was in his early teens, the family moved to Scarborough, now a suburb of Toronto, and he got a job as a janitor in a factory. The rest of family took various jobs within the factory in exchange for living in a small cottage on the premises. Things were so desperate, he eventually dropped out of high school to help his family stay afloat. His father, although upset, told his son “Well, you’re 16. You’re a man now. You’ve got to make your own decisions.” Thus empowered, Carrey took a hard look at his life to that point, and quickly came to the realization that what really made him happy was making other people laugh.
He had started hanging out at the Toronto comedy club Yuk Yuk’s when he was only 15-years-old. He took advantage of the club`s “open mike” and his early impersonations and physical comedy styles were such a hit he quickly went from being a “member of the public” to a regular performer at the club. His new found success at Yuk Yuk’s prompted a move to Los Angeles where he also got a chance to do standup comedy. Two of the giants of the comedy biz, Rodney Dangerfield and Buddy Hackett, enjoyed his act so much they hired him as their opening act when they went on tour. Carrey’s life was beginning to change in ways he had previously only been able to dream.
In 1983, he was offered a bit part in a movie. He didn’t expect to become a household name, and the movie lived up to that expectation. However, it was a start and he enjoyed the experience. He was just 21, and he kept busy and visible by taking other small roles in various television and movies.
Reaching his mid-20s, Carrey fell in love with and married actress Melissa Womer in 1987. They had a daughter, Jane, soon after. But his movie career was starting to gather its own momentum, and it took a toll on the young couple. They decided to got their separate ways in 1993. During this time, Carrey appeared in a string of small roles, including Once Bitten (1985), Peggy Sue Got Married (1986), Pink Cadillac (1989) and Earth Girls Are Easy (1989). These roles prepared Carrey for his biggest project yet, the series In Living Color.
Intended as an alternative to Saturday Night Live, Carrey was the only white cast member of the comedy troupe that took late-night laughs to a whole new level. Filled mainly with Wayan siblings, In Living Colour took New York street humour and mixed it with some good old fashion rebellion. In 1990, Saturday Night Live was the only show of its kind making any kind of noise, but some people were growing tired of the almost 20-year-old show and its style. They were hungry for a little variety, and In Living Color provided that and more. Carrey was a breakout star within the show. A risk taker like Carrey was in heaven being able to improvise and push the limits of his characters. His “Fire Marshall Bill” character was a regular feature within the show and became one of its most popular sketches. Carrey stayed with the show until 1992. His breakthrough was just two years away.
No one could have guessed that the first of four films he appeared in in 1994 would turn out to be the major boost his then fledgling career needed. It was called The Mask, and while much of his on screen time served simply as a basis for animation overlays, there was no denying that Carrey had brought something very special to his performance. The Mask became insanely popular and continues to enjoy almost cult hit status for Carrey`s fans. His co-star was the then unknown Cameron Diaz. But it was Jim Carrey`s physical humour mixed with his magnetic charisma that made The Mask worth watching. Then came Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. He wrote and starred in this very different comedy and ran away with the audience’s approval right from its release. His off-center humour and genuinely genius comic timing sent Carrey into stardom faster than he could have ever imagined.
Nineteen ninety-four was a pretty mixed up year for Carrey. To begin with, he met actress Lauren Holly (and went on to marry her in 1996). Then the Farrelly brother’s Dumb and Dumber, which he co-starred with Jeff Daniels, came out. It was about two of the dumbest individuals on the face of the earth and was also a hit. It earned him two MTV Movie Awards (MMA), one for best comedic performance and one for best on-screen kiss. On a more somber note, his father, Percy, passed away.At the funeral, he slipped a $10-million cheque into his father`s jacket pocket. Carrey had written the joke cheque to himself when he was a struggling actor.
The next year he co-starred in Batman Forever, playing The Riddler, another role that seems to have been made just for him. Although not a huge hit by studio standards, the Batman series maintains a loyal following and garnered Carrey critical praise for his role.
Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls, also released in 1995, was not as successful as the original but still kept Carrey in the hearts of his public. He won a People’s Choice Award for favourite actor in a comedy and two MMA’s for best comedic performance and best male performance. A certified hit with the kids, Carrey was ready to move into another realm of the comedy genre, the villain.
In 1996’s Cable Guy, a role that made headlines for Carrey’s incredible salary, he played a darker character who stalks co-star Matthew Broderick. Audiences seemed unwilling to accept him as anything other than a lovable funny dufus, and the film was a flop, although he did win an MMA for best villain.
Liar Liar in 1997 brought Carrey back as the fun-loving trouble maker. An all around fallible hero who, thanks to the birthday wish of his son, cannot tell a lie. Although a comedy, this movie brings out a deeper side of Carrey as he struggles with his conscience and his overall view of his own humanity. In 1998, he appeared in the fabulous fantasy, The Truman Show. A satirical look at the appetite of the general public for anything remotely media related, The Truman Show focused on the contrived life of a man who was born and lived within a controlled environment his entire life and his struggle to become his own person. Carrey was outstanding in this role, with early hype whispering an Academy Award nomination. This was not to be, although he did receive the Best Actor Award from the Golden Globes, which is administered by the Hollywood foreign press.
Next came the bio-pic, Man on the Moon. This life story of comic legend Andy Kauffman was released in November 1999, and while some critics had a hard time with the film, most liked it, and it earned Carrey his second Golden Globe for Best Actor in January of 2000. Often a Golden Globe win is echoed by an Academy Award, but once again Jim Carrey was overlooked.
Carrey’s Me, Myself and Irene did not deliver the boffo box office returns in the summer of 2000, but Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas, which was released in November of 2000, introduced Carrey’s unique style to a wider audience. The high production values of this timeless Dr. Seuss story guarantee he will show up on television sets at Christmas time for many many years to come.
In late 2001 he starred in The Majestic. Box-office returns were more than disappointing. However, many people saw in Carrey the solid acting ability he had previously delivered in The Truman Show. Many said this was his best work yet. His paced slowly down slightly, but the hits kept coming. In 2003, it was Bruce Almighty, where he is given godly powers by God, play by Morgan Freeman, and in 2004 it was the critically praised Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, with Kate Winslet, and Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, based on the popular children`s stories. In 2005 it was Fun with Dick and Jane with Téa Leoni, a remake of Ted Kotcheff’s 1976 film of the same name.
The year 2001 brought word that he would try to gain U.S. citizenship because, as he said, “this is the country that let all of my dreams come true.” His dream of American citizenship was realized in October of 2004, yet Carrey was quick to point out that he holds dual citizenship and would never cut his ties with Canada. Oddly, in the constellation populated by the mega-stars of the entertainment world, borders just don’t seem to really matter. Jim Carrey has far surpassed any boundary that could possibly hold him. His work truly belongs to the world and as if to prove that he was given a People`s Choice Award in early 2005 as Funny Male Star. Determined by Internet voting from around the world, it is clear Carrey has become, in the truest sense of the term, world famous. And perhaps that fame was finally recognized in the more mainstream Canadian press. In August 2006, Carrey was named to the top of Canadian Business Magazine‘s list of Canadians in Hollywood. Which is a long, long way from those humble beginnings in Newmarket, Ontario.
It would be wrong to suggest his career went on hold sometime in the first decade of the new century, after all between 2000 and 2010 he made 13 features. But since 2010 his output has slowed and at the mid-point of the second decade his focus seemed to move away from the big screen back to television, a medium he had ignored, other than rare guest appearances, for a long long time. His last series, In Living Color ended in 1992. More than two and a half decades later he signed on to Executive Produce the dramedy series I’m Dying Up Here, which is set in the usually funny but often brutal world of standup comedy and the people who briefly inhabit the small stages and endure the abuse of fickle audiences and cruel comedy club managers. The series was picked up for a second season in 2018.
Also in 2018 it was announced he would return to the small screen in the starring role of a series titled Kidding. Carrey will play Jeff, a.k.a. Mr. Pickles, an icon of children’s television, who also heads up a multimillion dollar branding empire. But when his family begins to implode, Jeff finds no fairy tale or fable or puppet will guide him through this crisis, which advances faster than his means to cope. Showtime has ordered a 10-episode first season which will be broadcast in Canada by HBO. The series was created by Dave Holstein, a writer and producer on Showtime’s Weeds and I’m Dying Up Here. Carrey also takes a role as one of the Executive Producers.
Ask people what Jim Carrey films they remember and chances are they will respond with titles like Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, The Mask, Dumb and Dumber, and Bruce Almighty. All comedies. But Carrey has tackled serious roles and serious subjects, albeit sometimes with humour in films like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Man on the Moon, The Majestic, and The Truman Show. The plot of this new series seems to offer a perfect balance for the actor who is approaching his 60th year. He has a chance to play both sides embodied in those famous theatrical masks of the smiling Thalia, the muse of comedy, and the frowning mask of Melpomene, the muse of tragedy. It is very much a reflection of his life from his difficult early years to his position as The King of Comedy, a title once given to another Canadian funnyman, Mack Sennett. Both men were born on January 17th.
It is generally agreed that we are living in a new Golden Age of Television. Instead of waiting months if not years between Jim Carrey films, it will be a special treat to watch him on the small, but ever-growing small screen every week.
Also see:Jim Carrey’s Filmography.
This biography was originally written in 2005 and was updated in 2018. Copyright © 2018 by Ralph Lucas, it may not be reproduced without prior written permission. For more information about copyright, click here.