Top 10 Comedians With Surprising Pre-Fame Careers

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It’s difficult to break into any form of show business, and comedy is no different. Before rocketing to superstardom, most comics have to figure out another way to pay the bills. Here are 10 famous comedians with some pre-fame day jobs that you probably wouldn’t expect.

10. Bob Newhart Was An Accountant

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Bob Newhart is one of the most beloved comedians to ever grace the world of standup, with his shtick as a mild-mannered and nervous guy often leading to hilarious deadpan routines. He never really looked much like a comic; if you never saw him before, and had to guess, you’d probably say he was an accountant. And hey, you’d be right! Newhart served in the Army during the Korean War and, after serving stateside for the duration as a personnel manager, he got a job as an accountant for United States Gypsum, where he later claimed his motto had been “that’s close enough.” Sounds like most accountants we know, to be honest.

9. Phil Hartman Designed Album Covers

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The late, great Phil Hartman was both a staple on Saturday Night Live, and voiced many of the most popular bit characters on The Simpsons, and was renowned for his voice work and ability to do spot on impressions. He was also just flat out hilarious, though that didn’t instantly translate into a career in comedy. Before all that, Hartman designed album covers for a living. Hartman received a degree in graphic design, and went on to create album covers for bands such as America, before deciding to pursue comedy, where one of his earliest jobs was helping to create the character of Pee-Wee Herman, alongside Paul Reubens.

8. David Letterman Was A Wacky Weatherman

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Letterman, before becoming the showbiz legend that he is today (not to mention being the reason Top Ten Anything is so popular,) was actually still in show business. He started as a radio host, and then became a weatherman for an Indianapolis television station. He became known for his often bizarre, but always hilarious, behavior in front of the camera, which included bits like announcing temperatures for fictitious cities. Letterman also worked as a pit road reporter at the Indianapolis 500, famously asking Mario Andretti in a post-crash interview about the traffic on the track.

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7. Johnny Carson Was A Boxing Naval Magician

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Long-time Tonight Show legend Johnny Carson wore many fascinating hats, before proving that a gigantic jaw and nasally whine is not necessary to be a successful talk show host. Before getting into television, he served in the US Navy, worked as a magician, and had a 10-0 record as an amateur boxer. He also served as a communications officer, decoding encrypted messages during WWII. Of course, being a magician and a code breaker, we’re starting to think that Carnac The Magnificent had a bit of an unfair advantage in making his predictions.

6. Mel Brooks Fought In World War II

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Mel Brooks created some of the greatest comedy films of all-time, from The Producers, to Blazing Saddles, to Young Frankenstein. And, though he looks like a guy who would sign up for WWII but get turned away for being small, frail, and too wacky to be trusted with a gun, it turns out that the military absolutely took him. Brooks, the guy who played Yogurt in Spaceballs (and who barely had to kneel down when doing so,) fought in the Battle of the Bulge. And, upon returning from the war, he worked as a drummer and pianist in nightclubs, only turning to comedy when the regular nightclub comic was too sick to work one night, and he filled in. He killed that night, and has been killing since. Not in the war sense.

5. Adam Carolla Was A Boxer

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Adam Carolla is brash, vulgar, controversial; even if you were a fan of Loveline and The Man Show, you have probably wanted to punch him in the head for something he’s said from time to time. There was a time, actually, when you would have done just that and gotten away with it, since Carolla used to be a boxer, as well as a boxing instructor. It was actually through his work as an instructor that he met Jimmy Kimmel, and the rest, as they say, is history.

4. Sam Kinison Preached The Word Of God

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Some people reading this might be too young to remember Sam Kinison, since he was killed in a car crash in 1992 at the age of 38. However, there was a time when he was one of the biggest stand-up comics on the planet, with a trademark delivery that consisted primarily of screaming his jokes at the audience. He gained fame in 1984, and later would appear in the film Back to School, and was a regular guest on the Howard Stern Show.

Now, based on the subject matter of his routines, you might not guess his background. Though if you think about the screaming part, it might give you a better idea. Kinison, as it turns out, was a Pentecostal preacher before turning to comedy. His hellfire-and-brimstone approach to religion translated well as a stand-up comic, rife with profanity and adult subject matter that Jesus likely did not approve.

3. Drew Carey Was A Marine

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At this point, you probably know Drew Carey more for being a television host than actually being a standup comic, since the most famous things he’s done over the past 15 years are hosting Whose Line Is It Anyway? and The Price is Right, but Carey has been a standup comic since 1985, and still does so whenever he can get a break from the Plinko board.

But long before any of this, he was, of all things, a United States Marine. Yes, the chubby, prone-to-giggle-fits Drew Carey, was a member of the elite military branch; that picture above showcases his ID shot. His stint in the USMC actually gave him his trademark buzzcut and military-issue glasses, which he sports to this day.

2. Ricky Gervais Was An ’80s Glam Pop Star

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At this point in time, Ricky Gervais is arguably the most famous British comedian in the world. Before he got into comedy, though, the short, pudgy, pug-nosed comedian was a wannabe pop music star. Not only that but, if you look up the old photos, you’ll find that he looked just like David Bowie, which is more than a little disconcerting. He was one half of the pop duo Seona Dancing, which released two singles, neither of which made the top 40. It was probably for the best, for his sake and ours. That doesn’t mean we’re not going to force you to listen, however. Have fun!

1. Rodney Dangerfield Was An Acrobatic Diver

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Rodney Dangerfield gets no respect, though he deserves all of it. The legendary comedian and actor is still beloved years after his death, as are his movies. Interestingly enough, one of them, Back to School, has a random subplot where Dangerfield is a former acrobatic diver, who has to pull off a nearly impossible dive at the end of the film. But guess what? That subplot really wasn’t random at all because, when he was a younger man, Dangerfield actually worked as an acrobatic diver. And if you ever think that Dangerfield couldn’t possibly have had the body to pull that off, remember that Louie Anderson is doing high dives on ABC now, so anything’s possible.


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2 Comments

  1. I remember first seeing David Letterman as a daytime talk host on a morning show called, appropiately enough, The David Letterman Show, back in 1980. (I was sick one week from jr high, but once I found the show, I tuned each day whenever could). The show actually won two daytime Emmys, but was cancelled due to low ratings. But Dave was hilarious. He would call up people at random from a telephone book and chat with them in his typical Dave fashion and humor. He even introduced his famous “Stupid Pet Tricks” on that show.

    No doubt, that morning show propelled him into Late Night sometime later.

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