Famous Actors You Didn’t Know Were Once Standup Comedians

Standup comedy has long been a stepping-stone for comedy stars in Hollywood on both the big and small screen. But of course, not everyone gets their start that way, and there are also you’d probably never guess started out on the stage as comedians, largely because of the serious roles, they’re known for today, including these.

Steve Buscemi

Steve Buscemi has had a long list of roles with some rather intense performances in films like “Fargo” and “Reservoir Dogs” – he made his indelible mark the HBO’s hit series “The Sopranos” and brilliantly portrayed a crime lord in the channel’s crime drama “Boardwalk Empire” too.” Not exactly the type of actor you’d think started out in comedy. In fact, he was also a firefighter at one point working 12-hour shifts in New York after 9/11. But the reality is, Buscemi was doing just that although he’s recalled his early days doing just that in a number of interviews, including “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.”

Aiko Tanaka

Tokyo, Japan-born Aiko Tanaka took a different approach to her career, doing the opposite of most by starting out in acting, studying theater in the U.S. before appearing in well-known shows like “My Wife and Kids” and movies, including “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift.” More recently she’s taken a new path many may not know about yet, doing standup comedy and filming for “Laughs” on FOX and NuvoTV’s “Stand Up and Deliver”

Erica Bana

Australian actor Eric Bana was first noticed by Hollywood for his performance in 2001’s “Black Hawk Down” and shortly after playing the title character in “Hulk.” He’s gone on to play key roles in “Troy” the historical drama and political thriller “Munich” directed by Steven Spielberg, in the 2009 “Star Trek” film and “Deliver Us from Evil” among countless others. His impressive career surprisingly started out with comedy when in 1991 while working as a bartender, he performed standup gigs in the pubs of inner-city Melbourne. He ended up appearing on a late night show and was noticed by producers of “Full Frontal,” an Australian comedy series.

Emma Thompson

British actress Emma Thompson has taken home two Oscars, two Golden Globes, three BAFTA Awards, and a Primetime Emmy Award. She starred and scripted the 1995 period drama “Sense and Sensibility,” with just a few of her other notable films including “Last Chance Harvey” “Men in Black 3” and “Saving Mr. Banks.” While she was still honing her acting skills and studying at the University of Cambridge, she was also part of a comedy troupe called “Footlights” which is where she met comedy greats Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie.

Robert Downey, Jr.

The actor famous for his “Iron Man” roles as well as his struggle with substance abuse was hired at barely 20 years old by “Saturday Night Life” – at the time, Rolling Stone magazine called him the worst cast member in the history of the show. He lasted for all of one season but bounced back in a big way, overcoming his addictions and going on to become one of Hollywood’s top film stars.