Celebrities You Saw Before They Made it Big

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[/ul]“Big” is a relative term here. Define it as you see fit. Mine are all comedians in early-mid 90s New York City.

Jon Stewart, 1991: Closed a show at Stand Up NY on the Upper West Side. Very conversational, “casual” comedy. Very funny.

I knew the woman who ran the open mike nights on Monday at the Boston Comedy Club in Greenwich Village, NYC, which I lived down the street from, and which was my summer hangout. I saw all of the following there, in 1994:

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[li]Mark Maron: I remember the bare bones of what would become his signature style. Seemed promising, but not really funny then. He was trying too hard.[/li][li]Todd Barry: Like Maron, I could see his low-key style forming. Funny.[/li][li]Dave Atell: Had a certain obviousness to his jokes. Yelled a lot. Hit-or-miss.[/li][li]Dave Chappelle: He was there with the owner of the club, who was also his manager. Manager was convinced he would be huge. Easily the funniest of all, like a young Bill Cosby. The timing, the originality, everything seemed fully formed.[/li][/ul]

There was another guy whom I saw only once, and to my knowledge never made it big. He came out, briefly looked at the audience, and then launched into the most manic combination of Jerry Lewis, a Tex Avery cartoon character, and meth-addict-on-overdrive that you could ever imagine. Didn’t say a single coherent word. I stared at him slack-jawed for a full 30 seconds before bursting into amazed laughter. If anyone has any idea who this might have been, I’d love to hear about it.

One of my good friends’ mothers is a children’s talent agent and when we were in high school in the early 90s she would frequently throw us jobs as extras for whatever was filming in the area.

Anyways, during that time, through either being extras or hanging out at her office, most notably we met Michelle Williams (pre-Dawsons Creek, on the set of Lassie) and Stacy Kiebler (pre-everything she’s done). Stacy was a few years younger than us and while already very tall and pretty, nothing all that special to us at the time. We’d preferred to hang out outside the office and smoke rather than sit inside with a 15 year old girl.

I saw The National Lampoon Show* on its campus tour circa 1974. They had a new guy in the lineup – a singer who could also do comedic acting. He went by an unlikely single name: Meatloaf.
They brought him in to replace another pudgy comedic actor, who occasionally sang. That guy went on to some late night gig in NYC – John Belushi.

I saw Bette Midler at Tzeitzel in Fiddler on the Roof on Broadway. I also saw Armin Shimerman in a small role in Saint Joan on Brodway, long before DS9.

I just mentioned my Tom Waits experience in a Pit thread earlier today.

I saw John Denver opening for Blood, Sweat & Tears in 1970. His biggest claim to fame at the time was having written Peter Paul & Mary’s hit “Leaving on a Jet Plane.”

Not quite saw, but I knew Bruce Springsteen was playing at a bar in New Jersey around 1971 I think. Talk was starting about him in the area.

Almost forgot. I saw Brad Garrett fidgeting outside the Star Search office in LA. I told him to just go in and get it over with.

*forgot to add the starred comment – The National Lampoon Show was not the same as Lemmings.

Well, probably doesn’t mean much to anyone except major hockey fans, but I played softball against future hall-of-famer Dino Ciccarelli when we were teenagers. He was a superb shortstop. I had no idea he was also a superb hockey player.

My girlfriend and I went to a comedy club in the Village in the late 80’s, maybe 1990. We saw a couple no-name guys who were funny, but the closing act, another no-name guy (maybe Ray something) was absolutely hilarious. He did bits about his Italian mother and her pasta sauce; we couldn’t breathe, we were laughing so hard. Soon after that I started seeing him places on TV- hey, isn’t that the guy we saw in the club a few months ago? Eventually he ended up with his own sitcom, Everybody Loves Raymond.

Also in the mid-80’s, I worked as a stagehand for the nightclubs in the Trump casinos in Atlantic City. One week in the summer the Temptations were the headliner, and their opening act was this big guy, must have been 6’5" or 6’6", really funny, did impressions and had some pretty good stuff. He went out bowling with the stage crew a few times. Nice guy. A few years later, he has a co-starring role on a sitcom, Everybody Loves Raymond.

I was on an elevator at the San Francisco Nordstrom with Luke Perry and Jason Priestley, as they were there to promote the first season of Beverly Hills 90210. No idea who they were at the time. Thought the sideburns were a bit much though.

Saw in person? Or in some show/movie before they made it to the big time?

If its the latter, then both Kiera Knightley and Rose Byrne appeared in the Star Wars prequels as handmaidens who were disguised as Queen/Senator Amidala. It was not a star making role by any means and for each fame came latter. Keeping with the Star Wars theme, I saw Hayden Christensen in a movie before he was selected as Anakin.

He must have still been delivering futons to movie stars at that point.

I worked at a comedy club in the late 80’s/early 90’s and saw a buttload of comics who went on to bigger and better things.

Drew Carey played our club the week he did his first Tonight Show.
All of the “Blue Collar” guys came through, including a guy named Dan Whitney before he became Larry the Cable Guy.
Let’s see, Lewis Black, Jeff Dunham, Bill Maher… I’m sure I’ll think of more.

Yeah, I was thinking in person, but it really doesn’t matter. Bring 'em. :slight_smile:

Similarly I played little league against NHL goalie and NY Islanders GM Garth Snow.

Also back in the early '90s I saw Steve Carell at Second City in Chicago.

Saw a two-man off-Broadway play back in maybe '82 that starred Ron Silver and Craig T. Nelson.

At about the same time, I was at a comedy club in NYC and heard one young, black comedian introduced as “a protegé of Eddie Murphy” (who was white-hot at the time). The kid was over-eager, his timing was off, and his material was amusing but not really funny. Chris Rock. He’s gotten better.

I saw Margaret Cho bomb in a comedy club in the mid 80s. She handled it really well though, and by the end of her set she had us all laughing.

Jeff Dunham performed for my boy scout troop in the early 80’s. It was a room of maybe 50 kids and parents. I remember it well, he was still in college at the time.

Wheelz reminded me…

Back in the mid-80s, we used to go to a midnight show on Saturday nights in a tiny club in the basement of a bar in the theater district. The headliner/host/whatever was a guy named Rusty McGee, who was funny as hell. The only other regular act, there just about every week, was Lewis Black, who was good but uneven. Most nights he’d have us gasping for breath, but some nights we just kind of smiled.

I went to a concert in about '98 or '99 that turned out to be in the front room of a sorority house at Wellesley College. They’d pushed the furniture out of the way and people just sat on the floor. The opener was a guy named Ellis Paul who has gone on to some fame in folk music circles.

I saw The Presidents of the United States of America in Seattle (opening for They Might Be Giants) when they had just signed with a major label and reissued their first CD. Everybody knew they were about to be big.

I’ve posted this before, but what the hell.

Back in the summer of 1986, for my bachelor party, my brothers took me to a club called the Comedy Cellar. There were about ten comedians doing sets that night, and nine of them were great. The only one who sucked was the last one- he was really skinny, really nervous, and didn’t even look old enough to drink at the bar.

As I said, he was already nervous, but he had the misfortune to come on right after a fat, boisterous Italian comedian whose act included a lot of give and take with the audience. In other words, the crowd this young guy faced wasn’t ready to sit still and listen; they were ready to shout out and heckle because the previous act had primed them to do so.

Needless to say, he was absolutely awful. I mean, pathetic.

And yet, 26 years later, the ONLY comedian from that group I ever heard of again was that lousy comedian who ended the night.

Chris Rock.