One night in 1990 I headed down with a buddy to check out a comedian named Jim Carrey at a local place called the Comedy Magic Club in Hermosa Beach, California. At that point, Carrey was best known as the white guy on a predominantly black show called In Living Color, a sketch comedy show on Fox’s Sunday night primetime lineup in the vein of Saturday Night Live. It would still be a few years before he blew the door wide open with Ace Ventura: Pet Detective.
I’d seen Jim Carrey for a few years on cable TV shows in the late eighties, and was pretty familiar with his impressions. Hilarious guy. Very physical. A facial contortionist. This dude’s mug was like rubber, and could do uncanny impressions of guys like Clint Eastwood, Jimmy Stewart, etc. Jim Carrey was a cult classic in the stand-up comedy scene.
I’ll never forget his set. THE DUDE WAS A MADMAN. Very physical; he must’ve gone on non-stop for about two hours. He was soaked by the time he was done, and I couldn’t believe he didn’t break any bones. My bro and I sat up near the front, and cheered him on the whole time. Being rabid fans of his work on In Living Color, we were one of the first members of the Fire Marshall Bill following, which I can vividly remember at that point had only appeared on ILC about two times. Being only about two weeks new, Fire Marshall Bill was fairly obscure, even to some of the bigger Jim Carrey fans. If you hadn’t caught the show in a couple weeks, you would have never heard of FMB yet.
Sometime during the set, Jim mentioned that he was “known for his impressions”, which got the knowing crowd in an uproar. He then said he was open to requests, and people began yelling out the obvious ones: “Do Michael Landon!” “Do William Shatner!” And so forth. I yelled at the top of my lungs “DO FIRE MARSHALL BILL!!!!”
I can remember feeling that I was one of about three people in that room who knew who Fire Marshall Bill was. But Jim laughed, and acknowledged the request out of the corner of his eye. “Fire Marshall Bill, okay…gotcha…”
He then launched into a montage for a few minutes, doing the cult favorites. Then he asked a gal down front if she had any matches. She did. Without stuttering, Carrey lit a match and continued on talking about whatever he was talking about, and then, slowly, his top lip went up to expose his top teeth. The rest of his face followed, slowly morphing into the Fire Marshall Bill face.
I swear to God I’ve never laughed harder in my life. I’ve probably laughed as hard since, but never harder. It was one of the most lasting and physically draining guffaws a person could ever experience. It was heaven.
A classic Fire Marshall Bill skit, which probably aired the weekend before I saw the live Carrey gig: