As shocking as it may sound, not every comedian joked his or her way straight to stardom. Before they were making you laugh onstage, in movies and on television, they were working regular dead-end jobs– you know, like most of us! From waiting tables to applying makeup to the dead, comedians have done it all. Below, we’ve listed 12 of our favorite before-comedy comedian jobs. (Click each photo for full size images).
Ellen DeGeneres: Her daytime talk show is celebrating 10 years of success this week, but before the former stand-up comedian became a worldwide hit and trail blazer (especially for the gay rights community) she was using her personable demeanor to sell vacuums door-to-door. While it obviously wasn’t her calling, she no doubt slung a few jokes in order to get some sales. Interestingly, she mentioned her former job on her show during an interview with Willie Nelson, who — get this — also used to sell vacuum cleaners!
Dane Cook: One of the highlights of his 2003 debut album Harmful if Swallowedwas his bit about working at Burger King — aka The BK Lounge — as a kid, but it seems fast food wasn’t the only thing in Dane’s early work life in suburban Boston. When he was 15, Dane was tossing newspapers on porches in his childhood neighborhood to make some bucks. “The thing that sucked is when I would go collecting everyone acted like they weren’t home,” he once said. Regardless, Cook’s work ethic has paid off.
Jim Carrey: Before he signed on to become the most famous (only?) pet detective, Jim Carrey (Ace Ventura, himself was a teen-ager mopping floors. “I quit school at age 15 to begin working to help support my family as a janitor,” he once told James Lipton on Inside the Actors Studio. “I’d have a baseball bat on my janitor cart because I was so angry I just wanted to beat the heck out of something.” Lucky for us, he eventually traded in the mop for a microphone and made his stand-up debut in Toronto, which led to opening road gigs for Rodney Dangerfield and a spot on the trailblazing sketch show In Living Color.
Jon Stewart: While The Daily Show’s stand-up bona fides launched him into television success, there were many jobs before that. Most interestingly, Stewart worked as a puppeteer, performing in shows for disabled children. And word has it that when puppets pop up on The Daily Show, Stewart controls them. Interestingly, when Stewart interviewed Kevin Clash, the man behind Elmo, Sesame Street‘s most famous character, in October of 2011, he never mentioned his puppeteering skills, despite repeatedly doing his own terrible rendition of Elmo.
Louis C.K.: Well he certainly isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty. Before working as a stand-up comedian on stage, Louis was under cars. “I wanted to be a lawyer and argue cases of civil rights before the supreme court,” C.K. said in April, adding, “Or a car mechanic. I would have sucked at both.”
Zach Galifianakis: Before becoming one of the most well respected stand-up comedians of our time (not to mention a co-star in