• 13 comedians’ surprising first roles

    Even the biggest comedy stars have to start somewhere. Local commercials, made-for-TV movies (before “special television events” were a thing), and brief character arcs on shows can be important first steps in long careers. Especially local commercials. Thankfully for major celebrities, those credits don’t appear on IMDB. We had to do a little digging. From the silly to the surprising, Laughspin is rounding up a list of our favorite first credits from some of our favorite comedy stars.

    Tina Fey, Mutual Savings Bank “Hi” Campaign, 1995

    While Tina Fey officially debuted on TV in an episode of Upright Citizens Brigade in 1999, she appeared four years earlier in an amazingly weird ad for Mutual Savings Bank. We can forgive the very 1990s vest, but why is she in an abandoned warehouse?

    Seth Meyers, Village of the Damned, 1995

    Much like Fey, fellow Saturday Night Live alum, Seth Meyers’s first credit comes from 1995. He is only listed as Trooper (Uncredited) in Village of the Damned. The John Carpenter remake of the 1960s cult-horror classic features a lot of state troopers and—spoiler alert—most of them die. It is hard to say which one is Meyers. Can you find him in this hectic scene?

    Stephen Colbert, FirsTier Bank Ad, date unknown

    Stephen Colbert officially got his start on the Dana Carvey Show in 1996. But unofficially, a local bank ad for FirsTier seems like it is from earlier in the decade. While it isn’t as perplexing as Fey’s bank ad, it is just as ’90s. There is something insanely charming about Colbert even if he’s just listing locations in Nebraska.

    Donald Glover, Winner Takes it All, 1998

    Not much can be found about the 1998 TV movie Winner Takes it All, but we do know that Donald Glover was an extra in it. There is not much about the film online other than it follows two rappers and childhood friends who end up on opposite sides of the law and must work together when one becomes ensnared in a plot to take out a mafia boss. Someone please go dig through their mom’s VHS tapes and report back to us.

    Jason Alexander, McDonald’s Ad, 1985

    Okay, so this one is actually not his first credit. It’s more like his fourth. But this ad is really a much watch. Out of all the ads on this list (and there are more coming), this one really is the most amusing. Plus, it teaches us that Jason Alexander can sing. That being said, his first credit is also amazing. He plays a camper in the 1981 slasher flick, The Burning. You can see him in the trailer paddling boats and flirting with girls before he will be attacked by a scissor-wielding Jason Voorhees-type:

    Jerry Seinfeld, Benson, 1980

    While George was thrashing around in horror, Jerry Seinfeld’s first ever role was a three-episode run on the sitcom Benson. The young comedian played a character called Frankie on the show. The series focused on the titular character Benson, a wisecracking butler who was the backbone of a dysfunctional family.

    Robin Williams, Can I Do it Until I need Glasses, 1977

    Robin Williams had a truly epic career as an actor which included over 100 credits, but his first was a couple of small parts in the 1977 sex comedy, Can I Do it Until I need Glasses. It is not so much a film, but rather a collection of dirty sketches. Williams played multiple bit parts including a lawyer and a man with a toothache. The film is very dated and, well, just watch the trailer:

    Mindy Kaling, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, 2005

    Mindy Kaling, surprisingly, debuted with more than a couple of lines in the Judd Apatow’s The 40-Year-Old Virgin. Kaling plays Amy, Paul Rudd’s ex. It’s a small part, but a great get from the young Office alum.

    Steve Carell, Brown’s Chicken Ad, date unknown

    Speaking of The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Steve Carell’s first IMDB credit is in the 1991 film Curly Sue where he plays a waiter without any lines. But that might not have been his first credit. He was in an ad for Brown’s Chicken sometime in the early ’90s. While there is no definitive date for when it was made, it’s a great local commercial where Carell gets to speak. We are left with the question: Which came first? The fried chicken or the Hughes?

    Jon Stewart, Mixed Nuts, 1994

    Jon Stewart started his acting career out as a rollerblader in the Steve Martin-led comedy Mixed Nuts. He is mainly in the background but rolls through the shot multiple times throughout the movie. Two years later, he would land his next film role in First Wives Club. Unfortunately, his character was cut out of the film so we will never see him in the role of a lifetime as Goldie Hawn’s boy toy.

    Adam Sandler, The Cosby Show, 1987

    Adam Sandler became a blockbuster star in feature films (despite how hard the critics fight it), but his acting career started on the small screen. From 1987 to 1988, the Wedding Singer actor played Smitty on the Cosby Show. A friend of Theo’s from school, Smitty was a goofy dork. Not long after, Sandler got hired as a write on Saturday Night Live and the rest is history.

    Chris Rock, Krush Groove, 1985

    That seemingly little boy in the blue shirt is none other than comedy icon Chris Rock. The Top 5 star was just 20-years-old when this hip-hop drama came out. The film is about a record label and has a ton of cameos from music stars including Sheila E., Run-D.M.C. & Jam Master Jay, The Fat Boys, Kurtis Blow New Edition, Beastie Boys, and LL Cool J.

    Janeane Garofalo, Kiki’s Delivery Service, 1989

    Janeane Garofalo’s first credit is for voicing the character of Ursula in the English dub of Kiki’s Delivery Service. The children’s classic from esteemed Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki follows a young witch as she gets her powers. Garofalo plays a tough girl who befriends the young witch. In the Japanese version, both Ursula and Kiki are voiced by Minami Takayama, but in the American version the parts are split and Kirsten Dunst plays Kiki. Garofalo isn’t the only comedian in the cast of the English version. She is joined by the late Phil Hartman who plays Jiji, a talking black cat. Hartman was already a big name by 1989, but he got his start in voice over as well providing additional voices for Scooby-Doo and Scrappy-Doo in 1979.

    Rosa Escandon

    I am a stand up comic and writer living in Brooklyn, NY. When I'm not on stage, I am Comedy Editor for The Tusk, sit on the board of the Cinder Block Comedy Festival, and writing my next project. I am passionate about writing about feminism and comedy as well as how women, LBGTQ people, and minorities are changing the face of comedy and entertainment. You may have seen me on Buzzfeed Video, Seriously.TV, aplus, or maybe just on twitter.

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