Jim Carrey: A True Pop Icon
(c) 2004, Anthony Stanghini
An icon… someone or even something that is the object of great attention and enthusiasm… basically, in simpler terms, an idol. When I hear the term icon, I instantly think of one man, a man who in the field of entertainment, mostly comedy, made his name known worldwide. At the time of his rise to super stardom, everyone would bear in mind his name and intensely catchy phrases. This man is not only Canadian but also a true reference to the meaning of icon. This man is Jim Carrey.
At a young age, Jim would use his humour to cheer up his parents at the down times in his unpleasant childhood. From time to time, his father (Percy) would drift in and out of various jobs, relocating himself and his family all over Ontario, from Newmarket to Hamilton. The only true form of entertainment and escape from reality was the little shows Jim used to put on for his parents and siblings. Forming and moulding his face into favourable actors of the time, Jim would amaze his family and most of all, make them laugh; for that brief period, all was forgotten about their unstable state in society. To me, everything Jim Carrey went through as a child is amazing and is really unthinkable to someone living in a fortunate household. Jim would do anything to spread laughter; for example, he would go to sleep during the night wearing tap shoes, just in case his mother or father needed cheering up (Knelman, 1999). Eventually, Jim would refine his humour, after many failed attempts at local Toronto comedy clubs. This included Yuk Yuk’s, where during his first time on stage, at the age of 15, he was yanked off by a long cane due to the ruckus he caused in the crowd because of lame jokes (Wallner, 1995). Jim started to put together skits using his mimicking abilities; these would eventually become a huge draw at some unknown comedy clubs. He would put celebrities in various situations where you would never imagine them. This would supply him and his family with some money to pay for the bare necessities like food and shelter. After a while of entertaining at Toronto clubs, he would expand his comedy routine to the Comedy Store in Los Angeles. Rodney Dangerfield picked him up as an act to open his comedy shows. This would give Jim some serious credentials to venture into acting; he saved enough money to take acting lessons and eventually tried out for a television show called The Duck Factory. Although it only lasted 13 episodes, Jim had received some excellent reviews that would help him later on in getting another acting job (Knelman, 1999). The show In Living Color was what started him off as a pop icon. Memorable hilarious characters like Fire Marshall Bill and Vera de Milo made Jim Carrey and the In Living Color show one of the most watched sketch comedy series of all time. The reason behind all this background biographical information is that, to me, every popular icon has a story behind why they become so great and wanted in the media’s eye. James Dean, the rebel of motion pictures, turned out the way he was because of his relationship with his father; this is also true for Marilyn Monroe and her relationship with her mother. Jim Carrey had a rough childhood, and became the biggest leading man in comedies during the 1990’s. Everything he went through– all the moving, ridicule, and basically crap Jim put up with –pushed him forth to emerge as my favourite popular icon.
Jim Carrey, to me, is symbolic of many things; obviously the main one is comedy. However, I also see Jim Carrey as somewhat of a hero. I was thinking of what it would take to make Jim Carrey explode with all this talent. It came to me when I realized it was to help his family. Although he had always wanted to become a comedian, since the day he would make his grade school classes laugh, the main driving force was love. So when I look at the semiotics of Jim Carrey, I see two separate signifiers, parts of a split personality that Jim himself encompasses.
The following is an iconographic picture of Jim Carrey.
For the signifier, I see a person with gleaming white teeth and an eye-catching smirk. Piercing eyes that grab your attention. This person is wearing what seems to be a pot on his head and a yellow sash across his upper body. I see a man made out to look like an idiot. On a second level of semiotics, the signified to me is Jim Carrey, the movie star. Not an idiot but a genius in comedy and movies… I see a man who can make someone laugh with a raise of an eyebrow and twitch of a mouth. This picture is of Jim Carrey one of the greatest comedic brains, who mixes various forms of comedy. On a third level of semiotics, the signified goes deeper than just comedy and being a box office mega star. I see Jim Carrey, a son who would stop at nothing to spread the much-needed joy in his childhood for his parents; now, he just does it worldwide. I see a caring compassionate man, the boy next door that provides for his family and would do anything for them– a hero. To me, the meaning of Jim Carrey is much deeper than what everyone assumes, which is being an excellent comedian. I see two levels: the movie star Jim everyone knows and the hero Jim people ignore.
Jim Carrey has been in more than eleven box office successes. So for me to say Jim Carrey is not a brand would be a lie. He himself, his image, and personality is a brand. He was the first actor to be paid $20,000,000.00 million dollars to star in a movie. Ever since that payment, he has not received less for a comedic role (Hughes, 1998). His characters from three separate movies–Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, The Mask, and Dumb and Dumber– have been made into cartoons because he appeals to audiences young and old. He didn’t voice the characters; he wasn’t even asked to, but his facial image was used so people would recognize that it is a Jim Carrey product they are watching. I read in Wizard, a comic book magazine, that a publisher of Dark Horse Comic Books used Jim Carrey’s picture on the cover just to sell more books than they would usually generate without a celebrity endorsement (Cotton, 2003). The Mask comic book cost $3.99 when I originally purchased it; since then, it rose 3 dollars in value mainly because of Jim Carrey’s image on the front cover. Another comic book featuring Jim is Batman Forever, that cost $5.99. Action figures from Batman Forever (1995) and The Grinch (2000) have specific detail based on his facial features. These figures ranged in price from $9.99 to $54.99, including a remote control car featuring Jim Carrey as The Grinch riding it. Posters with Jim Carrey on them come in various arrays, movie posters, and self-posters posing Jim in various situations and movie scenes. His posters usually range in price, depending on how limited they are. Jim Carrey t-shirts from an unauthorized website JimCarreyonline.com are anywhere from $16.99 to $23.99 for a pullover, $15.99 for a baseball cap, $12.99 for a coffee mug, to $13.99 for a wall clock. Jim has had many other t-shirts with his image sold at comic book shops; they cost $25 dollars, or 2 for $40. Other products which featured Jim Carrey include a TV set, which promoted The Cable Guy movie. With it came a TV guide cover, chips, a coupon, and a faceplate for your tuner. Another product type is video games featuring his voice and characters. This was done for Batman Forever, Lemony Snicket’s: A Series of Unfortunate Events, and The Grinch. Jim Carrey has been branded so much, I wonder if he knows half the stuff his image is being used to sell. He was seen as a face of laughter, something people could turn to if they were down. He represented comedy to the North American public. Now he is a merchandising icon to make profit… a Jim Carrey corporation. Every move he makes, everything he does, people want a chunk of the money it generates.
Jim Carrey’s impact on my life has been immense. Ever since the first time I saw him on In Living Color, when I was about 5, I would try to mimic him as Fire Marshall Bill. I would repeat his catch phrase “Now let me tell you something!” and get the same laughs he would. Ever since then, his talents in comedic and dramatic roles have intrigued me. He has influenced the way I think of life, and how I play my role in my family– it only takes one tiny chuckle to make someone happy. Or at least that is what I learnt from him. Jim Carrey, to me, is the greatest leading man in movies today; he expands his role past his stereotype, proving to people that you can accomplish anything, time and time again. He has been in the eye of the media, and will not leave for a long time. Every living person is attracted to comedy, and Jim Carrey is attracted to supplying it. I feel that because of him, I do the same thing; why be upset when you can make things change? I look back on his struggle to where he is now and realize that if there is any celebrity who deserves to be where they are, it would be him.
In conclusion, Jim Carrey is and will always be among the greatest comedians who have provided me with laughter over the years. He will be an icon of humour, whose vision of comedy as a life-saving tool will carry on with his legend. Everyone recognizes Jim Carrey and we all tune in to him to get a little laugh now and then. He may very well be the best tool for this. Really, there is no need to wonder why today’s youth is a comedy-addicted culture; icons like Jim Carrey ushered us into this state. He made himself the idol he is to all fans. Using his will and compassion, he had to support his family and make them laugh and be happy… only now, he’s doing it with fans. This is why Jim Carrey is one of today’s most identified popular icons.
Knelman, Martin. The Joker is Wild: The Jim Carrey Story. Toronto: Penguin Books, 1999.
Hughes, Mary. Jim Carrey: Comedian – Performer. Langhorne, Pennsylvania: Chelsea House Publishers, 1998.
Wallner, Joan. Jim Carrey: Comedian, Impersonator, & Movie Star. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Abdo & Daughters Publishing, 1995.
Cotton, Mike. “The Top Comic Book Movies of All Time.” Wizard: The Comics Magazine. August. 2003: 83-94.