4 Stand-Up Comics Who Didn’t Start Until They Were Older Than 30
Thinking about starting a career in stand-up comedy but worried that you’re way too old to get started? You can take some inspiration from these four stand-up comedians who didn’t start cracking wise behind a microphone until after they were on the other side of 30. Even if you don’t find them all that funny, they’re at least living proof that it’s never too late to start joking around.
No one got bigger later in life than Dangerfield, an overnight success story that took decades to develop. Dangerfield did try to get into the comedy game at age 15, writing jokes for established comics. Using his given name of Jack Roy, he never found his footing as a comic before giving up to sell aluminum siding. But by the early 1960s, when Rodney was in his 40s, he decided to give stand-up comedy a more serious try. A fill-in spot on The Ed Sullivan Show went over like gangbusters, and he became a talk-show staple. Somehow, at age 59, he transformed into a movie star with his hilarious performance in Caddyshack. It was, writes Wayne Federman in his History of Stand-Up, “one of the greatest third acts in show business history.”
Romano studied to be an accountant while holding down a variety of part-time jobs, waiting until he was 30 to begin entering stand-up contests. At 32, the Queens native won a city-wide comedy contest and his big breakout on David Letterman didn’t happen until he was 38. Romano told Rich Eisen about his first time performing at an audition night at The Improv. One Sunday each month, aspiring comics would pick numbers out of a hat for a chance to perform. To increase his chances, Romano brought “a girl I knew from the neighborhood so we could both pick.” Because all the comics had to provide a name, Romano told his friend to use the androgynous Jackie Roberts. Sure enough, that was the number picked, and Romano made his first-ever stage appearance as the hilarious Jackie.
Gervais began his entertainment career trying to be a pop star, not turning to stand-up until the late 1990s when he was approaching 40. The Harvard Business Review asked Gervais if he could have found stand-up success at a younger age. “A bit earlier maybe,” he responded. “But in comedy, I think you need to find a voice, and probably a discontented one. With me, it was getting fat and approaching middle age.”
Armisen is another semi-successful musician (he was the drummer in the punk group Trenchmouth and played background drums for Blue Man Group) who decided to make a comedy career change. “It does feel accidental,” he admitted to Howie Mandel.
How did Armisen make the switch? “In 1998 (he would have been about 32), I started making videos of me interviewing bands as different characters,” he explained. “And that sort of got me into comedy. I and a friend of mine edited it, and I would give them away as VHS tapes.”
The punk rocker turned punk comic played a number of characters in Fred Armisen’s Guide to Music and South by Southwest. The tapes’ underground popularity eventually led to his Standup for Drummers and a sketch career on Saturday Night Live.