The Best Comedic Debuts on 'The Tonight Show'

Legendary sets that made careers of Joan Rivers, Jerry Seinfeld, Drew Carey, Garry Shandling, Roseanne and more

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Jim Carrey

Less an impressionist than a live-action cartoonist, Jim Carrey floored audiences with his brand of stand-up before his film career took off. This November 24th, 1983 appearance on The Tonight Show introduced Carrey's manic energy, physical elasticity and multi-purpose rubber mug to a great number of TV watchers. In this very loose and very silly set, Carrey starts with a big, jittery Elvis impersonation, but really impresses with his series of celebrity impersonations that rely on no words at all. The sense that it all might be the power of suggestion goes away once he finds the steely, narrow-eyed sneer of Clint Eastwood, Charles Bronson's pinched, taunting squint, the cool, blinking affectation of James Dean. The audience's wonder and disbelief are apparent, as Carrey impishly carries on, mugging and grinning through a few more, including a quick duet between Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy. Though Carrey was apparently upset that first, big professional performance didn't get him called over to Carson's couch, it hardly mattered; audiences saw his promise, and he was on his way. 

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