Psychologists have long been intrigued about what makes comedians gravitate toward comedy. Some research indicates that comedians tend to come from low socioeconomic households, and comics are often the youngest child in the family. In fact, humor can be used as a healthy defense mechanism against a turbulent home life. However, not everyone comes to comedy for the same reasons. Let’s look at five performers and see what drew them to a career in making people convulse in laughter.


Eddie Murphy


“Around 15, I started saying, when I’m 18, I’m gonna get famous,” Eddie Murphy told Parade


Sure enough, he was cast on Saturday Night Live at the age of 19 which led to leading roles in 48 Hrs., Trading Places, Beverly Hills Cop, Coming to America, and Dolemite Is My Name. So what brought Murphy to such a prosperous side-splitting career? “I was always funny,” he asserts. 


“I grew up around a bunch of funny people.” He recollects making strangers on the city bus laugh when he was just eight years old. “Every time the bus stopped, whoever got off the bus, I would start talking, like, doing what that person was saying and where they’re going, and like a voice for that person. I was doing it loud enough and the whole bus was laughing, and it went on for like a half-hour. Then when I got off the bus, the whole bus clapped.” 


Watching TV, Eddie learned to imitate the likes of Bugs Bunny, Sylvester the Cat, and Bullwinkle. “My mother says I never talked in my own voice—always cartoon characters.” 


Later, when Murphy heard Richard Pryor’s comedy albums, he realized he was a comedian. “It made me go, ‘That’s what I am.’ You know? ‘That’s who I am.’” By the age of 15, he hosted a youth center talent show. “Looking out to the audience, I knew it was show biz for the rest of my life,” he recalls. 


Steve Carell 


Steve Carell keeps audiences laughing with his performances in The Office, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, and the Anchorman movies. But growing up, he never dreamed he’d be a comedian. Steve thrived in college, but after graduating, he was stumped as to what career he should pursue. So the young man sat down with his parents to “go through all the options.” 


“I used to play [ice] hockey all through college, so I was pretty good, and so I thought maybe something to do with hockey or sports. And I was on the college radio station, so I thought about radio. And I was in the student government. We listed all these things. And I had always done plays for fun. But it had never been anything in my mind to try it professionally. And they said, you should try it, you should give it a shot. You’ll never know unless you try.” And so he did.


Wanda Sykes


Wanda Sykes was first recognized for her work as a writer on The Chris Rock Show and currently plays Daphne Lido on the popular sitcom Black-ish. Whether she’s writing, producing, or acting she finds a way to make audiences laugh. But originally the Emmy Award-winning funny lady worked for five years as a contracting specialist at the National Security Agency. 


She once revealed to The Baltimore Sun, “I just really felt like I was wasting my time, government money, and taxpayers’ money working that job. I was doing well and getting promoted. But it was not fulfilling. I knew I should be doing something else.” 


It was about that time when Coors Light invited amateurs to perform in front of a live audience for a Super Talent Showcase in Washington, DC in 1987. 


“I was just listening to [the] radio, and they promoted a comedy talent show. And I said, ‘I am going to do that.’” After all, Sykes had kept her friends laughing since her elementary school days. Going on stage for the first time, the Curb Your Enthusiasm actress recalled, “It was great. I didn’t know what to expect, and I didn’t have that much anxiety. I was oblivious to what I was getting into. It was total freedom and fun.” 



Kate McKinnon


It’s hard to believe, but Kate McKinnon insists she’s “extraordinarily introverted” despite her uninhibited character work and over-the-top celebrity impressions on Saturday Night Live. The funny woman revealed to Variety she started speaking in character voices at the age of 10 to deal with social anxiety. 


“I found I was more easily able to communicate with people doing a funny voice,” she remembers. “I found it was a way to share joy and bring a sense of fun and community in a way that I had trouble doing just in my own voice.” And over the years, McKinnon has kept audiences laughing with her roles in Ghostbusters, The Spy Who Dumped Me, and Yesterday.


Kevin Hart


Growing up, Jumanji actor Kevin Hart’s family life was unstable. His father battled drug addiction and was rarely present in young Kevin’s life. Then in 2007, his mother died from cancer. In turn, Hart used humor as a coping mechanism to make others laugh about painful experiences as well as his insecurities. 


“The jokes come from real experience,” he asserts. 


Hart started pursuing a career in stand-up after performing at an amateur night at a club in Philadelphia. From there, he started hopping around from clubs to college campuses using the stage name “Lil’ Kev.” Standing at 5’ 2”, he found ways to weave his small stature into his act along with his marriage troubles. 


“Because of what I do, it has to be an open book,” he says. Hart’s comedy tours include I’m a Grown Little Man (2009), Seriously Funny (2010), and Laugh at My Pain (2011).