Sometimes comedians choose to leave the stage and focus on the other aspects of life like depression or hiding in South Africa. When a comedian quits stand up it can be a shock to fans, but with any luck the bug won't leave the comedian's system and they'll return to the clubs after a hiatus. Here are 12 comedians who have at one-point or another said they were quitting stand up forever, whether or not it's actually true.
Steve Harvey says he’s quit stand up because of cancel culture. He explained, “The only way I can do one more special, is that it would have be to at the end of my television career, because it will end my television career. We’re in the cancel culture, and nobody, no stand-up alive that is sponsor-driven can say anything he wants to. Chris Rock can’t, Kevin Hart can’t, Cedric the Entertainer can’t. I can go down the list.” Usually, comedians blaming cancel culture for a downturn in their comedy career sounds lazy, but this reasoning behind losing the millions sponsors give him seems fair. Harvey does still perform improvised stand-up sets directly for the audience during commercial breaks at Family Feud, which I experienced firsthand, so that's probably how he gets the bug out.
Lisa Lampinelli announced in 2018 that she was quitting stand-up comedy because she had chosen to become a life coach and motivational speaker. Lampinelli told Vulture, “It’s not a typical path. It’s pretty weird for somebody to do this, but you know what’s funny? I said to Stern, ‘This is why I don’t think I was ever a comedian first.’ I think it was my way of connecting with people. Now I’m using storytelling and workshops to connect, so I don’t think I was a true lover of the art form. I was just doing it.”
Do you remember Kyle Cease? He was in Not Another Teen Movie? His Comedy Central Presents episode earned the number 1 ranking on the 2009 Comedy Central Stand Up Showdown? Kyle Cease quit his quickly rising stand-up career to become a motivational speaker and New York Times best-selling author.
Ron White retired from stand-up comedy early this year at the deserving age of 65. White told the Atlanta Journal Constitution, “I’ve been doing this 37 years. I’ve loved the whole ride. I just feel like it’s time to put it down. I have a big year coming and that’ll be it. I’m in a good place in my life and comfortable with my decision.” Thank you for your service, Ron.
Michael Richards quit stand-up? I wonder why? After a racially motivated blow-up at The Laugh Factory, Richards backed out of stand-up immediately. On Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee Jerry Seinfeld insisted Richards get back out to the clubs, but Richards didn’t feel he deserved to go back.
Hannah Gadsby told The Guardian in 2017 that she had decided to end her comedy career after the run of her show Nanette ended. Gadsby said she was retiring because “I don’t think comedy is a very sophisticated form. The obligation to get that laugh – for that to be the reason to speak in the first place – often means that you don’t tell a whole story. Because there are things that you have to cull.” Then Nanette went on to win several awards, leading Gadsby to rescind everything she had said and return with another special in 2020 called Douglas. I guess a fat check and awards can make you learn comedy is sophisticated again.
This one may be obvious, but B.J. Novak quit stand up to join the writing staff and cast of The Office. Before B.J. got The Office he was an accomplished stand up comedian, touring and appearing on Conan in 2004. Novak told NPR, “I was doing standup at the Hollywood Improv, and Greg Daniels, who created the show, saw me perform and I was doing one-liners, essentially, and pausing between the jokes. He told me afterwards that it was my first joke that got him, which was, ‘I learned nothing in college. It was really kind of my own fault. I had a double major: psychology and reverse psychology.’ He said it was that joke.”
Although he has returned to the game, Marlon Wayans told Jimmy Fallon that he quit stand up for 20 years after Chris Rock heckled him at a club. Wayans said, “I was on stage, and you know how you’re trying to find it, right? And I was on stage, and I was like, ‘So, what else is up?’ He goes, ‘How about some jokes?’ And I didn’t know who it was. All I kept hearing was his evil laugh. ‘How about being funny? How about that?’ And I swear I quit stand-up for like 20 years.”
Martin left the stand up scene at the height of his career around 1981 because he felt the act had been seen by so many people that it was time to move to the next phase. He told Terry Gross, “The act essentially, besides all the jokes and bits and everything, was conceptual. And once the concept was understood, there was nothing more to develop. It's like painting the same blank canvas over and over and over and over and over. Once the concept is known, you don't need to see two. And that was in the back of my head - that I was really done artistically with what I had created or pastiched.”
The Amazing Johnathan
One-of-a-kind comedy magician The Amazing Johnathan left stand up in the 90s due to a drug problem and depression despite having a career rocketing toward the top with Comedy Central specials and Letterman appearances. The comic was later diagnosed with a heart problem which gave him a year to live, and made magic difficult due to his joints locking up. The Amazing Johnathan decided to return to stand up for one final ride before he passed in 2022 and his journey can be seen in the documentary Always Amazing on YouTube by fellow comedian and friend Steve Byrne.
Judd Apatow got his comedy training from interviewing comedians for his high school radio show, then began performing stand up at 17 seriously and called it quits at 24. Apatow has returned to stand up two decades later to fulfill his original dream and take a break from the grind of movie writing. He told Ira Glass, "I wasn't like Steven Wright or Emo Phillips...I wasn't gonna reinvent what comedy is. And that's one of the reasons why I stopped because I felt like I was stronger in writing and other things I was doing. But since I started again I...I am annoyed with things and I have stories and I have positions. So it's really fun because it's like being put in a forced coma for a while and then waking up and you have more tools to do something."
Dave Chappelle left the public eye and his television show in 2005 after a couple of incidents made him reconsider his life. He was performing to a 4,000-person audience who wouldn’t stop interrupting his set to yell out references to his TV show, which made Chappelle storm off stage in anger. He returned to the stage to say, “People can’t distinguish between what’s real and fake. This ain’t a TV show. You’re not watching Comedy Central. I’m real up here talking.” In addition, Chappelle had it when he heard a crew member laugh in the “wrong way” at a racial sketch that had Chapelle in blackface. Chappelle fled to South Africa and didn’t return to stand up until a 15 city tour in 2013.
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