The 55-year-old actor and comedian got his start in stand-up, and used his personal experiences to fuel much of the themes and plot points in the show — which takes place in the ‘70s Los Angeles comedy scene and follows a group of young comedians and the pressure they place on themselves to put on a good performance each night.
“I had such a glorious chance to be creative in this world of comedy,” Carrey told the audience at the Los Angeles premiere of the series on Wednesday night, from the DGA Theater. “It’s a beautiful thing, an extraordinary thing that happened in the ’70s. It was the big bang of creativity, so I am honored to be one of the people [who] are bringing this show to you and bringing that world to light.”
“This is a labor of love,” he added. “It was an idea that was rolling around in my head for a long time, and I really wanted to see the comedy world as it really was and the extraordinary experience that I actually was lucky enough to have.”
Though Carrey has gone on to find success in Hollywood — with blockbuster movies like Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, Dumb & Dumber, The Mask, and Liar, Liar — don’t expect the world portrayed in I’m Dying Up Here to be all rainbows and unicorns.
“People who say, ‘Maybe this show is just a little too dark.’ Is it too dark? Too dark…” Carrey reflected. “Darkness is where diamonds form.”
The Canadian comic recounted his early experiences with comedy to the crowd, thanking Mark Breslin — the man who gave Carrey his start at Yuk Yuk’s Comedy Club in Toronto. “I’ll always appreciate [that],” Carrey said. “[He] was a guy who gave me a chance to voice my opinion, and show my talent — and he also gave me my first real horrible experience.”
That experience happened when Carrey was just 15-years-old. “My mother dressed me in a polyester suit because that’s how they dressed on the Dean Martin Roast in the hippest part of Toronto,” he recounted. “I stood up there, and I did this horrible, corny act. Halfway through it, they started playing the soundtrack of Jesus Christ Superstar, saying, ‘Crucify him, crucify him, crucify him, crucify him!’ Mark got on the microphone backstage and went, ‘Totally boring, totally boring.’ I was 15. I got no leeway for that at all.”
“That’s the comedy world,” Carrey explained — recounting his days two years later at New York City comedy clubs The Improv and The Comedy Store. “Most nights when I was experimenting, I had to crawl into the piano and shut the lid on myself for the next four acts or stand on somebody’s table with a broken beer bottle and go ‘Okay, it’s the end for me or you!’ ”
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Carrey, whose also credited as a writer for two episodes of the series including its pilot, also took time in his speech to get political — standing by fellow comedian Kathy Griffin for her controversial severed Trump head bit and explaining how the comedy scene depicted in the show came out of a similar political crisis American’s are going through today.
“It happened at a time following Vietnam, and during Nixon and Watergate,” Carrey said. “I think what happens is, when these extraordinary times politically happen, and we’re going through terror and the fear of the end, comics are the last line of defense. We tell them the truth, and we make something beautiful out of it.”
“So, uh, Kathy Griffin? Hold up a severed leg as well,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s funny, but I don’t think the joke is the problem. Don’t worry about it. Don’t worry for your existence. All of this is meaningless… all of creation is just God’s Fidget Spinner. It’s really not important. What’s important is that we’re all here.”
I’m Dying Up Here premieres Sunday (10 p.m. ET) on Showtime.