Do you know Jim Carrey, either from his stand-up comedy or from his many successful films, including Dumb and Dumber, Mask, Liar Liar, The Truman Show, or A Series of Unfortunate Events? You might think that anyone as talented as Jim must had a great home background and went to a great school with plenty of money to afford the best of training. Think again.
In his early years at school he describes himself as quiet and having no friends. Yet, he discovered that he could make friends by making people laugh. That was his turning point. But the results weren’t all positive. One teacher wrote on his report card: “Jim finishes his work first and then disrupts the class.” At home, he thoroughly enjoyed making faces and mimicking in his mirror.
His ambition showed when he began to think beyond entertaining his fellow students. At age ten he sent his resume’ to actress/comedienne Carol Burnette, hoping to be discovered.
It wasn’t all downhill for Jim. First, he had to work around his learning disability, dyslexia, in order to succeed in school. He did this by developing a phenomenal memory.
Although his dad tended to encourage his craziness, his mom was alarmed and often sent him to his room. No problem – just more time to practice in front of the mirror.
Money was another hurdle. His family lived in a rough district with lots of low-rent townhouses. By the tenth grade he was trying to juggle eight-hour night shifts at the factory with school during the day. He was so exhausted that he couldn’t understand what his teachers were talking about. He didn’t have any friends at school and feared that anyone getting close might find discover his embarrassing poverty. With little learning and no relationships, he felt that school was getting him nowhere. He called it quits at 16.
His family decided that their surroundings were taking them the wrong direction, so they packed up and moved to Canada with no job in sight. His parents and two siblings lived in a beat-up yellow Volkswagen camper van for a full eight months, parking in campgrounds.
You can imagine his emotional baggage – the loss of his teen years, feeling intellectually backward, the embarrassment and hardship of poverty. Yet, perhaps that feeling of inferiority paved the way to his success by making him feel that he had to try harder than others. As one biographer wrote:
“His greatest bursts of creativity were born out of desperation; so was his remarkable willingness to take risks.”
His first public performance was in Toronto’s Yuk-Yuk Comedy Club. Eleanor Goldhar, publicist for the club, noticed Jim’s intensity. When he wasn’t performing, he was quiet compared to the other comedians. In her own words,
“You could see him watching and listening – observing closely, paying attention to everything that was going on.”
Jim Carrey used his hard times and set-backs to motivate him to try harder. He could have turned to drugs and drinking. Instead, he channeled his energies to making something special out of his life. What about us? Do we sit around fretting about what we lack or how life has dealt us a bad hand of cards? Or, do we take what we have and make something out of it? This week I want to stop worrying about what I can’t do and start concentrating on what I can do. Will you join me?
Believing in the Kids on the Fringe Teachings of Jim Carrey
Lucy Dervaitis could have taught in an affluent school district that offered all the educational extras and an abundance of supportive parents. Instead, she chose a rough, poor district. Many of her 7th graders came from unstable homes, arriving at school each morning without the benefit of either a good night’s sleep or breakfast. One student threatened her and had to be removed from her class. Years later he was charged with attempted murder.
Rather than dreaming of a better school in a better district, she relished the challenge of reaching the forgotten or hard to reach students – the ones others had given up on. She felt it was her calling in life. So when a young cut-up named Jim arrived in her class, she saw him for what he could become than as a distraction or a pest. His funny faces and impersonations of teachers would have probably offended most teachers. But Lucy saw past his rough edges. In her own words,
“I never found him a serious behavior problem. I don’t even remember giving him detentions. I thought it was great that this funny little guy was showing such talent at a young age.”
He would drop out of school three years later. But he never forgot this teacher who believed in him. How did she handle this rambunctious child?
Obviously, he wanted attention. So rather than discipline him for disrupting the class, she asked him to put together an act and perform it for the class at the end of the school day, on the condition that he would do his work and not disturb the class. He thought this was a great idea and went along with it.
Jim would impersonate popular figures like actor John Wayne or Elvis. He’d jump around and contort his face. The students loved it, asking for a Jim show when they got bored. Lucy, however, would usually say that they had to wait for the end of the day or a special occasion.
Jim bonded with Lucy Dervaitis from the first day of class. It’s no wonder. She believed in him. It was a breakthrough for Jim, whom you might have already guessed is Jim Carrey, hugely successful stand-up comedian and star of many successful films such as Dumb and Dumber, Mask, Liar Liar and The Truman Show.
I’ve got to wonder how I would have handled a student like Jim? I hope I’d have had the vision and creativity that Lucy Dervaitis demonstrated. She looked past the goofiness and distractions to see a little guy who desperately needed some attention and an outlet for his unusual talents. I only hope that I can do the same.