How eight beloved stand-up comics got their starts

Every comedian who’s ever made you laugh till you cried had to start somewhere, and that somewhere was usually a daunting place: behind a microphone on a dimly lit comedy club stage, facing a room full of people who’ve come to be entertained. To honor April Fools’ Day — when everyone is hilarious, or subjected to someone who thinks they are — we asked eight comedians to tell us about their early stand-up experiences. Some were blessed with beginner’s luck, while others bombed so thoroughly that they have no memory of the experience. But they all had to put themselves out there to find out what they were good at — or what they could get good at.

Here’s what they had to say. Interviews have been edited for length and clarity.

George Lopez

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Less than two weeks before his high school graduation, Lopez, 62, went onstage for the first time.

It was June 4, 1979. Lopez and a friend had heard about a local kid who performed at the Comedy Store in Westwood, Calif. After some encouragement, Lopez made the journey and waited two hours for his three-minute slot. He got a stranger to buy him some wine and used a pen to shove the cork into the bottle so he could drink it.

At first, it was tough going for the “Lopez vs Lopez” actor. “And then toward the end of the three minutes, I nailed a couple pretty good ones,” he said. “So I think I did decent. I mean, it wasn’t silent. I would say 40 percent of 100. For somebody that was scared of everything. I’m not sure why, not only did I go that first time, but kept going. I still haven’t figured that out.”

Of that first experience, Lopez said, “I’m so proud of the fact that I went up there once. It changed my life from black-and-white to color.”

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