The Family Lived In A Van: Jim Carrey Beat The Odds


Comedian Jim Carrey spends his life bringing laughter to the world, but the laughs were few and far between during his difficult adolescence.

Born in Newmarket, Ontario, Canada, Carrey’s first several years were not remarkable.  His father, Percy, had an accounting job, and the family enjoyed a comfortable small-town life.

With his sights already set on comedy, Carrey sent an application in to the Carol Burnett Show while still in elementary school. One teacher allowed him a few minutes to give a show to the class at the end of each day, if he managed to keep it under control for the rest of the day.

Then, when he was thirteen, disaster struck.

Percy lost his job, and soon the family also lost its home.

In a peculiar arrangement, the Titan Wheels factory offered the Carrey family a small onsite building to live in, in exchange for having every member of the family work as either security or janitorial staff.

Carrey, the youngest, worked a full eight-hour shift after coming home from school each day.

Although he had been a good student in Newmarket, in the suburban school at Scarborough the teenager began to struggle.  He was always tired, and he was afraid to make friends, for fear someone would find out about his living conditions.

Finally, the Carreys decided they couldn’t take it any longer.  They were all exhausted, their building was cramped, and there was hostility with the regular factory workers.  The family moved out, and into a Volkswagen camper van.

Although living in a car was challenging, they actually felt some sense of relief at being away from the miserable factory environment.  Percy, who had given up a music career in order to create a stable life for his children, began to encourage his son to pursue comedy in earnest.


At age 15, in an attempt to generate some income, Carrey tried his hand at stand-up, wearing a bright yellow suit made by his mother, Kathleen.  The act was not well received, but he kept at it, honing his skills until he began to get regular gigs on the Toronto club circuit.

At the age of 16, he quit school and began supporting his family with comedy.

Carrey’s early act consisted mainly of impressions, but it received good reviews.

The following year, after his family had regained it’s footing, he left them and moved to Los Angeles, where he talked his way into a regular show at the Comedy Store.  He was spotted by veteran comedian Rodney Dangerfield, who invited Carrey to be his opening act the following season in Las Vegas.

At last, he had financial reliability, but he was afraid he would be trapped in a lounge lifestyle, so the next year he began pursuing acting options.  Like his first comedy show, his first acting gig, a sitcom called The Duck Factory, was a flop.

He went through several minor roles before he met Damon Wayans on a movie set.  Damon’s brother, Keenen, was putting together a sketch comedy show, In Living Color.  Carrey was asked to join the cast, where he made a name for himself with outrageous acts.

In 1994, he slid overnight from crazy TV comic to movie star, with the releases of two comedy classics, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and The Mask.

In 1998, he made the switch to drama with The Truman Show.  Audiences were shocked at his sincere performance, and he won one Golden Globe, and another one the next year for his portrayal of Andy Kaufman in Man on the Moon.


Carrey had managed to achieve success at every venture, but he thought he’d met his match after the first day of filming How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000).  He put his leg through a wall and told director Ron Howard he couldn’t tolerate the heavy makeup, which took eight and a half hours to apply each day.  Howard enlisted a former CIA torture endurance expert to coach Carrey through it, and a Christmas classic was made.

Like every other challenge in his life, Carrey didn’t give up.

Not even when he was a poor kid living in a van.

Jim Carrey is one celebrity who beat the odds.

Click here to read the full list of celebrities who Beat the Odds on their way to success.

Here is Jim Carrey in a performance that you won’t be able to erase from your memory (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind):