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Jim Carrey’s journey to stardom served as inspiration for Showtime’s upcoming dramedy I’m Dying Up Here.
The series, slated to debut in June, is set in the world of stand-up comedy in the 1970s, around the same time Carrey was first coming up as a comedian.
“I had so many incredible experiences. I’m lucky to be alive, really,” he joked during a panel for the series at the Television Critics Association winter press tour. He’d been wanting to do something centered on the era for a long time, which is why he jumped at the opportunity to option William Knoedelseder’s nonfiction book “I’m Dying Up Here: Heartbreak and High Times in Stand-Up Comedy’s Golden Era,” on which the series is based.
Of the many storylines in the show that were inspired by Carrey’s own life, one is prominent in the first episode: Two of the young comedians new to Los Angeles (played by Clark Duke and Michael Angarano) take up residence in a closet. “For very first year I was in L.A., I lived in a closet,” Carrey revealed onstage. He’d met someone at the Improv who said he had a room Carrey could stay in — but the “room” turned out to, in fact, be a closet.
“Jim was really generous. He would just come in and tell us stories,” said show executive producer Michael Aguilar, noting that sometimes the tales would be about specific circumstances (i.e., what it was like to live in a closet), and other times, it would be more of an attitude about the pressures of chasing a dream. “As he’s telling these stories, you almost see an episode coming together,” added Aguilar.
Another idea pulled from Carrey’s life was losing out on a Tonight Show slot after being previously booked. Shortly after the up-and-coming comedian had landed the coveted spot on Johnny Carson’s talk show, he did a showcase at the Improv, where he had a lukewarm night. The lackluster performance cost him the gig. “It could have been the end of me, but my brain has always had this fail-safe where I think, ‘It’s going to happen another way,’ ” he said of the experience. Carrey booked The Tonight Show again only six months later.
Much of the series revolves around The Tonight Show because of its ability to make or break a comedian’s career. “At that time, there was a beam that could catapult people to the stars, and that was The Tonight Show. We all came out and gathered around the heat of that and were hoping for the best,” said Carrey, who noted that it was the same with David Letterman.
When asked whether working on the show has made him want to jump back into stand-up or consider going on tour again, Carrey didn’t hesitate. “No,” he said emphatically. “I’m in the process of shedding layers of persona at this time in my life. So I’m very happy to here for these guys and watch these guys enter this world and create these characters who are looking to create a cadence and a persona and something that will draw people’s attention to them and the work that they’ll do and the triumphs they’ll have. And then somewhere around episode 40, I think they’ll start to question it and go, ‘Oh wow, that’s not actually me.’ And they’ll start to strip it away, which is what I’m in the process of doing.”
I’m Dying Up Here premieres Sunday, June 4, at 10 p.m. on Showtime.
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