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??Jim Carrey-s on??: Manic Riddler’s early days in T.O.

By Leatrice Spevack

Part-one in a two-part series

Jim Carrey, the “Riddler” in Batman Forever, is rumoured to have finagled a fat $20 million for his role in the upcoming flick, Cable Guy. Three million smackers would be my slice of the pie if I was still managing him. 

Everyone’s read or heard about Carrey’s poverty-pervaded childhood, his alleged cocaine consumption, his divorce from the mother of his daughter and his ring-the-pudding engagement to actress Holly Hunter.

But there’s been much unmentioned and many unnamed amidst all the hype, the revisionist quasi-biographies and pandering profiles about the Newmarket native Jim Carrey.

Did you know that the Ryerson’s the Edge pub (then the Filling Station) played a part in helping the 18-year old Carrey hone his craft? In addition to performing regularly at Yuk-Yuk’s Komedy Kabaret, Carrey toured countless University and college campuses across Canada.

I first spotted Jim at one of Yuk-Yuk’s amateur nights while running the talent agency and operating as occasional in-house spin doctor. Carrey’s hair fell past his shoulders. His act consisted of weak jokes and startling good singing impressions. Despite the roughness of his routine, it was obvious that the boy was teeming with talent, and energy. 

But more than that, Carrey had “IT” – that crazy undefinable characteristic that separates the mere flashes from the true stars. Call it magnetism. Call it charisma. Whatever it was, it was there – in spades.

I began to book Carrey as often as I could. However, the comedy craze hadn’t yet begun. There was no circuit of clubs, no stand-up comedy shows on TV. The industry was in its infancy.

Carrey played restaurants, senior citizen residences, bars and banquet halls that he was too young to drink at. The other comics would have been resentful had it not been for his charming naivete and genuine warmth. “It” worked on the cynical and the hungry too.

After a falling out with Yukmeister Mark Breslin, I quit and soon found myself in a small-time band management company. Being hired was contingent on “what I could bring” to the firm. I decided to bring Jim Carrey.

The $100-a-night Carrey became my project, my obsession. The contract was a handshake. The little city press piled up and Carrey’s promotional kit became increasingly heavier to mail – much to the chagrin of my new boss who was less than pleased with the $15 commissions. 

Still, in the Toronto dailies, he was virtually ignored. He was, after all, just a comic, and comedy was the black sheep of the entertainment industry.

Ever wonder why Carrey never mentions Yuk-Yuk’s? It’s because Carrey was coerced to perform a week for free at their club in Montreal. Why?

Before our terms had been struck, Carrey had worked for the competition, Montreal’s Comedy Nest, because they offered him more money. Yuk’s liked loyalty. But Jim’s loyalty was to his family, whom he helped support on his Kraft Dinner salary. 

Why would a manager acquiesce to such terrible terms? Simple. It was the only way Carrey could get six consecutive nights in Toronto to showcase his newly-polished act to talent agents, producers and the press. It might have been a contract with the Devil. But Yuk-Yuk’s was the only room in town with the atmosphere Carrey needed to shine.

Is there a “big break” an artist can point to and say, “This is where everything changed?” I think there is. For Carrey, it came that week in form of a whopping rave review on the front page of the Star’s entertainment section.

Everyone was there, including a group booking from a private girls’ school. They screamed. They squealed. There was barely a calm person in the house.

After the show, one of the opening comics leaned across the table at the Pilot Tavern and whispered to me: “It was like seeing the Beatles.”

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