20 Funny Stories About Becoming a Comedian

Zack Galifianakis, Joan Rivers, Wanda Sykes, Jerry Seinfeld, Jerry Lewis, and 15 other stand-ups share their funniest stories about being a comedian.

from Reader's Digest | September 2011

This Is the Job for Me!

by Jerry Seinfeld

[When Jerry was eight, he told a joke that made his friend spit up his milk and cookies.]

I felt the milk, and I saw it all coming at me, and I said, “I would like to do this professionally.”

—Excerpted from CNN

• Jerry Seinfeld was the star and cocreator of Seinfeld.

I Almost Died Laughing

by Jerry Lewis

I’m preparing the big finale for my 1960 film Cinderfella.

The setting is a ballroom. The centerpiece: a long, majestic staircase with 64 steps. I’d flown in the Count Basie Orchestra from New York, so the soundstage is packed with hundreds of crew members, actors, extras, musicians, and visitors. I tell the cameraman where to set up the camera and what his cue is. Now I’m ready to film. I make my entrance at the top of the stairs. The camera follows me as I do my choreographed routine, going from the top stair all the way into the ballroom. I go to my costar Anna Maria Alberghetti. I take her hand and kiss it. I leave her and run up those 64 stairs in nine seconds flat. Nine seconds flat!

And then I wind up at the hospital — I had a heart attack at the top of the stairs.

The film and all those actors, extras, crew members, and musicians are on hold for eight weeks because I’m now inside an oxygen tent. We’re talking 1960, so it’s a huge canvaslike affair — square, with zippers. And on the top of it, there’s a flap you can open to put in the stethoscope, medicine, and so on.

That night, my father comes into my room. He opens the little flap on the oxygen tent, sticks his face inside, and says, “Do you know what you’re doing to your mother?”

• Jerry Lewis is a comedian, actor, producer, writer, director, singer …

The Day My Act Was Born

by Lisa Lampanelli

Bring back the fat chick!

It was only five words, but they changed my life forever.

The place, in Meriden, Connecticut, was a mediocre crab-and-burger joint that hosted a stand-up comedy show. The crowd was full of food, half full of liquor, and devoid of civility.

To be honest, my set wasn’t my best — having just started in comedy — and I did about 15 minutes of jokes about my weight, my Italian family, and my current relationship.

As I introduced the next comic, I breathed a sigh of relief. I had made it through the set. But while watching the comic struggle for laughs, I heard that fateful line: “Bring back the fat chick!”

I froze. Sure, the drunken creep who yelled it was implying I was funnier than comic No. 2. But he had called me fat, a word that every woman from Eve to Eva Braun to Eve Ensler has feared. I felt my face turn red as the audience shifted its gaze to where I stood. In that instant, I made a decision: I was gonna get them before they got me. I may be the only comedian who has been heckled when she was offstage, but in that moment, “Lisa Lampanelli — Insult Comic” was born.

• Lisa Lampanelli is a mainstay of the Comedy Central Roasts.


My Favorite Act

by Dan “Larry the Cable Guy” Whitney

Johnny Vegas was a crazy Brit. I remember he was standing on a table at this comedy club belting out “God Bless America” when suddenly he fell off and cracked his head open. The place went silent. Is he dead? Is he alive? No one knew. Then out of the blue, a voice shouted, “Come on, you sorry so-and-sos, sing with me!” Johnny staggered to his feet and, with blood pouring from his head, marched around the club leading us all in a sing-along. I’m telling ya, the Brits do some strange stuff.

• Dan Whitney’s Only in America with Larry the Cable Guy will air in 2012 on the History Channel.

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