Wanda Sykes & Ken Jeong.

From Day-Job To Dream Job: 25 Comedians Who Quit Their First Careers For Comedy

For many, comedy doesn’t cut it when it comes to paying the bills. Plenty of comedians found their start in unrelated careers. The waiter to actor pipeline is real but what is more unexpected is the doctor to comedian pipeline. A surprising number of comedians entered the workforce in much more serious careers including doctors, lawyers, and funeral home beauticians. Here are some comedians for whom comedy was their second or even third career.

Wanda Sykes was a procurement officer at the National Security Agency

Wanda Sykes.
Wanda Sykes: I'm An Entertainer. Courtesy of Netflix.

Before comedy, Wanda Sykes needed a security clearance for her day job. My question is, what is she not sharing on stage?...

Source: Washingtonian

Tig Notaro managed bands in Denver, CO

Tig Notaro: Hello Again. Courtesy of Prime Video.
Tig Notaro: Hello Again. Courtesy of Prime Video.

Comedy and music have long been intertwined as audio arts but who would have guessed long time stand up comedian Tig Notaro was a Denver music giant, managing all the local bands.

Source: Magnet Magazine

Greg Giraldo was a corporate lawyer

Greg Giraldo: The Roast of Joan Rivers. Courtesy of Comedy Central.
Greg Giraldo: The Roast of Joan Rivers. Courtesy of Comedy Central.

Greg Giraldo took to the stand but now takes up stand-up. Giraldo took what he learned about commanding a room, usually a courtroom, and applied it to the comedy stage. Not to mention it’s where he learned how to roast the opposition.

Source: Psychology Today

Gary Gulman was an accountant and substitute teacher

Gary Gulman: Born on 3rd Base. Courtesy of Max.
Gary Gulman: Born on 3rd Base. Courtesy of Max.

Gary Gulman traded in numbers for jokes as he moonlighted as a comedian. Gulman also did a stint as a substitute teacher and would famously use high schoolers as his test crowd before bringing his set to open mics.

Source: WBUR

Jonny Loquasto was a physical therapist

Jonny Loquasto: Saudi Stepdad. Courtesy of Jonny Loquasto.
Jonny Loquasto: Saudi Stepdad. Courtesy of Jonny Loquasto.

Jonny Loquasto is a fully licensed physical therapist who moonlights as a stand-up comedian, WWE announcer, and stepdad.

Source: ComediAnswers

Ken Jeong was a doctor

Ken Jeong: You Complete Me Ho. Courtesy of Netflix.
Ken Jeong: You Complete Me Ho. Courtesy of Netflix.

Imagine seeing your doctor streak completely nude across your movie screen. For many that became a reality when The Hangover premiered and Ken Jeong’s comedy career took off.

Source: The Hollywood Reporter

David Letterman was a weatherman

David Letterman in My Next Guest Needs No Introduction With David Letterman
David Letterman in My Next Guest Needs No Introduction With David Letterman. Courtesy of Netflix.

Before The Comedy Store, Letterman could often be found in front of a green screen giving Indianapolis their weather. Letterman went from clouds to clowns in a matter of seconds.

Source: The Washington Post

Whoopi Goldberg was a funeral home beautician

Whoopi Goldberg
Courtesy of Lucas Jackson/Reuters.

Before finding a warm blooded audience, Goldberg only had the dead to hear her stories. Goldberg previously was a beautician at a funeral home, one of the more spooky professions on this list.

Source: Oprah

Bob Newhart was an accountant for the US Gypsum Corporation

Bob Newhart.
Courtesy of Nicole Hvidsten — Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Self proclaimed bad accountant, Bob Newhart, adopted the motto ‘that’s close enough’ in his accounting career. Newhart would even use his own money to correct petty cash imbalances. 

Source: The CPA Journal

Phil Hartman was an album cover designer

Phil Hartman on Saturday Night Live. Corutesy of NBC.
Phil Hartman on Saturday Night Live. Corutesy of NBC.

The Groundlings alum and co-creator of The Pee-Wee Herman Show, Phil Hartman was a graphic designer for album covers. Hartman designed covers for bands such as America, Poco, Steely Dan, and the Firesign Theatre comedy group. 

Source: Fast Company

Ricky Gervais was the frontman for Seona Dancing, a glam-pop group top 80 charting with success in the Philippines

Ricky Gervais.
Ricky Gervais: Humanity. Courtesy of Netflix. Photo credit: Ray Burmiston.

Before his comedy career, Ricky Gervais found mild success in the galm-pop world as the from man for the 1980s British new wave group Seona Dancing, which, oddly enough, found success in the Philippines.

Source: Salon

Drew Carey was in the U.S. Marine Corps

Drew Carey.
Courtesy of Monty Brinton/CBS.

Carey served as field radio operator in the 25th Marine Regiment in Ohio for six years before becoming a bank teller and waiter at Denny’s.

Source: US Veterans Magazine

Johnny Carson was a magician

Johnny Carson.
Courtesy of The Television Academy.

Long-time The Tonight Show host, Johnny Carson, first started out in the magic scene. Carson debuted his ability to create illusions at the ripe age of 12 with the stage name “The Great Carsoni.”

Source: San Francisco Magic Theater

Zach Galifianakis was a bus boy at a gentlemen’s club

Zach Galifianakis.
Zach Galifianakis: Live At The Purple Onion. Courtesy of Netflix.

Before the Between Two Ferns, Galifianakis found himself between two poles as a busboy at a gentlemen’s club. The job has made him hate strip clubs ever since.

Source: Watch Mojo

Graham Chapman was a doctor

Graham Chapman.
Graham Chapman in The Meaning of Life (1983). Courtesy of Celandine Films.

The Monty Python mainstay, Graham Chapman, also earned an M.D. giving special meaning to his historical line, “‘Tis but a scratch.”

Source: IMDB

Phil Hammond was a doctor

Phil Hammond.
Courtesy of Miranda Parry.

British comedian Phil Hammond often used his knowledge as a doctor as material. This allowed him to easily bring hilarious commentary about the National Health Service.

Source: iWantGreatCare

Harry Hill was also a doctor, specifically a Proctologist

Harry Hill
Courtesy of James Manning/PA.

Harry Hill used to be a proctologist, a doctor that specializes in the anus and rectum, in the U.K. His work quickly became the butt of all his jokes.

Source: Birmingham Live

Jagdish Chaturvedi doctor and medical innovator (not super well known here but is popular in India via his youtube channel)

Jagdish Chaturvedi
Courtesy of Jagdish Chaturvedi via YouTube.

While not a well known in the western hemisphere, Chaturvedi has become a popular stand-up comedian in India via his YouTube channel while still holding a job as a doctor. On top of this Chaturvedi was one of the 35 innovators under the age of 35 as chosen by the MIT Technology Review in 2016 putting all these other funny doctors to shame.

Source: Jagdish Chaturvedi

Adam Kay was also a doctor (more of a comedy writer than a performer but he is performing a little bit now)

Adam Kay
Courtesy of Adam Kay.

Adam Kay, best known for his book This Is Going To Hurt, is another english doctor turned comedian after finding it hard to face death everyday, though Whoopi Goldberg seems to love it.

Source: BBC

Modi was a Wall Street international banker for Merrill Lynch

Modi: Know Your Audience.
Modi: Know Your Audience. Courtesy of Modi.

Modi had already hit it big in the finance world despite having majored in psychology and minoring in voice. Is it public speaking, vocal lessons or something else? Who knows. However, Modi ultimately decided to pivot from big time banks to the smaller stage of an up and coming comedian, finally utilizing his degrees.

Source: Liherald

Tina Fey worked at the YMCA

Tina Fey. Courtesy of Emilio Madrid-Kuser/NBC.
Courtesy of Emilio Madrid-Kuser/NBC.

The SNL star first worked “the worst shift imaginable” at the YMCA just to be able to take improv classes at Second City. Right out of college, Tina Fey quickly realized the only job that would take a drama major and allow her to also take classes at second city was the early shift at the YMCA.

Source: Information Station

Charlie Pickering was a lawyer

Charlie Pickering.
Charlie Pickering in Comedy in Color. Courtesy of Peacock.

The stand? More like the stage! Pickering chose to trade in the jury for an audience that chose to be there. When he made the decision to pursue stand-up, Pickering says, “I couldn’t tell my parents.”

Source: Australian News

Anh Do was a lawyer

Anh Do.
Courtesy of Anh Do.

While for most comedy doesn’t pay the bills, Anh Do found that he was making more doing stand-up than at his entry level law job and immediately made the switch.

Source: Lawyers Weekly

Alice Fraser was a lawyer

Alice Fraser.
Alice Fraser: SAVAGE. Courtesy of Prime Video.

The stand-up comedian, TEDx speaker, and long time podcast host may have only lasted 18 months as a lawyer but she genuinely believed it was the right fit for her creative tendencies.

Source: Lawyers Weekly

Shaun Micallef was a lawyer

Shaun Mcallef
Courtesy of Shaun Micallef. Photo credit: Tina Smigielski.

Micallef may have put in the most time, spending over a decade as an insurance lawyer before making it big in comedy. 

Honorable Mentions (because many comedians have had less than ordinary side hustles):

Theo Von sold hamsters

Theo Von
Theo Von: Regular People. Courtesy of Netflix.

One of the weirdest side hustles to come out of someone pursuing stand-up comedy is Theo Von’s job of selling hamsters. It is through these odd jobs that come incredible content, in fact it is the topic of Von’s comedy album 30lb Bag Of Hamster Bones.

Source: YouTube

Dusty Slay was a pesticide salesman

Dusty Slay.
Dusty Slay: Workin' Man. Courtesy of Netflix.

Before killing on stage, Dusty Slay would kill insects. While he was not an exterminator, he would sell pesticides. This ultimately led to him ending up at Disney World with his coworkers who were much more passionate about than he was.

Source: Nateland

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