- - Sunday, June 4, 2017

Los Angeles’ famous Sunset Strip was a hot spot for aspiring standup comics in the 1970s, with legends like George Carlin, Richard Pryor, David Letterman, Andy Kaufman, Robin Williams and Steve Martin all taking to the mic at the various clubs of West Hollywood. Comedian and actor Jim Carrey is hoping viewers will be interested in revisiting that same time period. The “In Living Color” and “Truman Show” veteran is co-executive producing Showtime’s new series, “I’m Dying Up Here,” which premieres Sunday at 10 p.m. EST.

“Every comic just wants to love people … and be loved in return. That’s what most artists are after,” Mr. Carrey toldThe Washington Times at the Television Critics Press Tour.

The show, based on William Knoedelseder’s book, recreates the Sunset Strip of the ‘70s, with comedians vying for success and trying to elicit laughs from an audience. “I’m Dying Up Here” stars Oscar-winner Melissa Leo, Al Madrigal of “The Daily Show” among others.

Mr. Carrey believes “I’m Dying Up Here” will offer counter-programming to the current crop of films and TV shows premised on comic books and superheroes.

“This is a show about humanity,” Mr. Carrey said. “It’s about people who want superhuman powers but will never get them, but will spend their lives seeking something special. It’s about that sharing of love and camaraderie.”

Mr. Carrey famously portrayed comic oddball Andy Kaufman in the 1999 movie “Man in the Moon,” for which he won a Golden Globe. It was his intention, he said, to eventually revisit the ‘70s stand-up scene. It was a milieu he knew well, and a time he himself became somewhat notorious on the Strip for his own stage antics.

“There was one night at The Comedy Store where I [purposely] stayed onstage for two hours because the crowd hated me so much,” Mr. Carrey said. “And then I crawled during the next person’s act through the crowd on my hands and knees, got behind the piano and sang, ‘I hate you all, you gave me cancer’ until the audience left.”

During the Press Tour panel, Mr. Carrey acknowledged that many of his own early Hollywood experiences ended up incorporated into “I’m Dying Up Here.”

“I lived in a closet when I first came to L.A.,” the native Canadian recalls. “I met somebody at the Improv who said they had a room, and it turned out to be a closet. And I woke up the very first morning in the house to walk out in the kitchen and found a beautiful young girl making bacon with no pants on.

“And I went, ‘wow.’”

Asked why he thought the ‘70s were such a golden era in stand-up, Mr. Carrey said the polarizing Vietnam War contributed to a groundswell of artistic expression across all mediums.

“We were coming out of … Vietnam and Nixon. And that helped give birth to a new attitude and a new desire to express yourself and say those edgy truths,” Mr. Carrey said. “Vietnam gave us incredible music, art, poetry and comedy. It changed comedy.”

Comedians have always sought to find the line of good taste and then to cross it — be it Lenny Bruce in the 1960s or current acts like Bill Maher and Kathy Griffin, both of whom have found themselves facing backlash in the past week for gags that many took as going too far.

Mr. Carrey said Bruce, whose act earned him several obscenity trials, “is the only reason why we can speak” so openly at comedy clubs now.

“Everything is getting so careful,” he said of the politically correct culture. “There are these large groups of the collective ego that like to flex their muscles when someone says the wrong word, and it kills art and expression.”

Mr. Carrey believes that the current divisive time in America will ultimately be a gift, both to the country and to future artistic expression, just as the Vietnam War once was.

“Every seemingly horrible and devastating thing that happens to us gives birth to something beautiful,” Mr. Carrey said. “Disaster gave us a lot of great, amazing things.”

While Mr. Carrey said he would never return to doing stand-up himself, he offers sage advice for anyone wanting to get into the business.

“I always tell people who are starting out just to give it away and do it for free,” Mr. Carrey said. “Do it anywhere you can. All experience is good.”

“I’m Dying Up Here” premieres Sunday on Showtime at 10 p.m. EST.

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