Peep Your 9 Favorite Comedians Before They Were Famous

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kristen_openerPhoto: REX USA/Peter Brooker.
When asked why they choose a career of being funny, most comedians invariably say the same thing: they just can't see themselves doing anything else. It takes a very specific skill set to make people laugh; a meticulous sense of timing is key, and a skewed, yet perceptive, understanding of the world also helps. A tiny detail or an observation that might seem mundane to you or I, could be fodder for them. But, most importantly, it takes guts.

Take for example, a 14-year-old Seth Rogen, who in 1996, walked onto a Vancouver stage with no stand-up experience whatsoever, and started splitting sides after joke number one. Or, a 19-year-old Dave Chappelle, who in 1993, blew Ed McMahon away on Star Search with the same prodigious joke-telling that made him one of this generation's strongest comedic talents. They, and the other comedians we've assembled here, were simply born to do it.
Sarah Silverman
Age: 22
Watch comedy’s reigning queen of raunch hone her razor-edged wit in this early performance at legendary comedy club The Improv. It wasn’t until later that Silverman made her mark with cringe-worthy jokes, but her trademark confrontational style was apparent from the get-go.

Louis C. K.
Age: 20
Before he was the blunt, know-it-all curmudgeon with the perfectly bleak observations about life, he was the blunt, know-it-all curmudgeon with the perfectly bleak observations about life — and hair!

Ellen DeGeneres
Age: 27
If you can get past the mullet to end all mullets, you’ll notice a burgeoning comic seemingly immune to the nerves that come with a debut on The Tonight Show. Instead, the future daytime queen delivers with the confidence of an old pro, a whole 30 years before that selfie.

Kristen Wiig
Age: Early 20s
Before she became everyone's favorite SNL funny woman, Wiig honed her ability to play idiosyncratic weirdos with L.A.’s fabled sketch comedy troupe, The Groundlings. This sketch featuring Wiig as a demented tooth fairy who “doesn’t like to touch the teeth” would likely be the funniest thing SNL has done all season.

Seth Rogen
Age: 14
Jonah Hill once called Seth Rogen the most confident guy he’s ever met. Watching a teenage Rogen walk out onto a stage in front of hundreds of people and deliver a stand-up routine like he’s been at it for years, well, we have no choice but to believe Hill.

Jerry Seinfeld
Age: 27
Have you ever noticed that the moment Jerry Seinfeld stepped onto the stage for his first-ever HBO appearance, he was destined to become one of the most iconic voices in American comedy history? We sure did. (See what we did there?)

Aubrey Plaza
Age: Early 20s
We wouldn’t be surprised if the audience watching the young NYU student take the Upright Citizens Brigade stage and do her spot-on imitation of Sarah Silverman were thinking one thing: One day a young comic is going to do a spot-on impression of Aubrey Plaza. Well, they were right.

Dave Chappelle
Age: 19
Poor, poor Kevin Brennan. The aspiring comic never stood a chance once a youngster named Dave Chapelle took the Star Search stage and unleashed a furious onslaught about life as a minority in America — that was as poignant as it was hilarious — resulting in a perfect score. Like we said, poor, poor Kevin Brennan.

Janeane Garofalo
Age: 24
In one of her earliest stand-up performances, you can see the quirks, honesty, and aloofness that defined the alt-comedy movement which exploded in early 90s Los Angeles, and turned Garofalo into a Gen X icon.