Jim Carrey is the modern master of slapstick comedy. A king of the visual gag, his contorted facial expressions and full-bodied delivery are something that has marked him out as one of the most unmistakable figures of our time. Love him or loathe him, you cannot disagree with the fact that his comedy is one of a kind.
After landing a recurring role in the sketch show In Living Colour in 1990, Carrey went on to star in some of the zaniest roles of the era. Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, The Mask, Dumb and Dumber, and even his turn as a camp David Schumacerified version of The Riddler in 1995’s Batman Forever standout as career highlights. A personal favourite of his performances was as Charlie in the Farrelly Brothers classic, Me, Myself & Irene, which was Carrey at his most unhinged.
Carrey also starred in a range of other memorable films such as How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Bruce Almighty, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events,The Truman Show, Man on the Moon, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, to name but a few.
Carrey has starred in a wide range of classics, giving us some unforgettable characters in the process. Comedy aside, his work in Man on the Moon and Eternal Sunshine are perhaps the two most essential performances he’s ever given. Introspective and considered, they showed that Jim Carrey is much more than a larger than life comedian. It was with this pair of appearances were he silenced his detractors, who simply dismissed him as a one-trick pony.
However, it is Carrey’s comedy that has made him so iconic. Following in the footsteps of Peter Sellers and Groucho Marx, his form of slapstick really is something else. The control he has over the minor muscles in his body is almost inhuman. There will likely never be another comedian that can twist his body into the Francis Bacon-esque shapes in the way that he does.
One key element of Carrey’s career that has endeared him to fans has been the sheer number of impressions he’s delivered. Taking on some of the most iconic faces in the celebrity world, Carrey’s contorted versions of some of pop culture’s heroes and villains have been a welcome antidote to the bleak mundanity of modern life. For budding comedians, Carrey’s impressions have set a high bar.
Join us, then, as we list his ten best impressions.
Jim Carrey’s ten best impressions:
Where better to start than Carrey’s impression of Texas’ favourite son? Taking McConaughey’s southern drawl to the limits, he gives the Dazed and Confused star a ridiculous makeover.
Rolling a ‘booger’ in his finger into what he claims is the shape of an anchor, Carrey’s impression dazzles the host David Letterman and rightly grosses him out. Parodying the philosophical introspection that McConaughey popularised with his performance of Rust Cohle on True Detective, this is a remarkable impression.
Jim Carrey and Clint Eastwood appeared alongside each other in 1988’s The Dead Pool, the fifth and final film in the Dirty Harry franchise. Carrey’s first dramatic role was the first indicator of things to come for the then-budding actor. The first time that Carrey and Eastwood met was clearly a huge deal for the Ontario native, and it is something he’s touched on a handful of times across his career.
The most iconic impression he gave of the hard-nosed actor came in 1996 when presenting him with the AFI Life Achievement Award. The eyebrows he does when satirising Eastwood are comedy gold, as is the quip: “I love that tape, and I show it to all my friends”. He turns Eastwood into a breathy, suggestive character, a brilliant deconstruction of his tough-guy persona.
Another impression that came via David Letterman, was the impression of once celebrated cyclist Lance Armstrong. Aside from a joke about Madonna’s fictional ’60 and sexy tour’, his insane portrayal of Armstrong on his bike is jaw-dropping. It’s vintage Carrey, we’ve seen him pull these facial expressions numerous times over the years, but that doesn’t negate the hilarity of this performance.
Donning a newly shaven head, Carrey explains that a lot of people had been saying that he looks like Armstrong, “especially when I do this”. He then jumps onto an invisible bike and tells Letterman that he’s “drafting” in reference to the tactic utilised by professional cyclists towards the end of a stage, to which Letterman is forced to oblige.
This is Jim Carrey to a tee and is straight out of the leftfield. We get it when he goes for politicians or niche celebrities, but British grindcore pioneers, Napalm Death? It’s a different story altogether, and one that accounts for his wacky off-stage personality.
During an appearance on an American chat show in the early ’90s, Carrey explained that he’d be enjoying thrash metal as of late and had got into Napalm Death. He admits semi-sarcastically, “There’s something about it, man, that I can’t let go”. He then jumps into an impression of Napalm Death. Like a crazed blood neanderthal, it really is something like you’d never seen before.
There were plenty of Joe Biden parodies that Carrey delivered whilst a part of Alec Baldwin’s Trump-era on SNL. Whilst there’s plenty of content to dig into from this chapter, his debut as Biden is the one that’s really gone down in history.
Carrey plays on Biden’s bumbling character and turns him into something of a Hunter S. Thompson-like figure. Complete with rhymes and incomprehensible gags such as “I’ve got the beginning of 46 thoughts, now let’s do this!”, it’s a great impersonation of the President.
Jack Nicholson is such an iconic Hollywood figure that there have been endless numbers of impressions done in his name. However, none hit the mark as accurately as Carrey’s.
The only other man on earth to have as expressive eyebrows, there’s a couple of famous impressions of Nicholson that Carrey’s done. Both feature that scary, contorted face he perfected as The Grinch, and they’re brilliant.
From 1992’s season three of In Living Colour, this impression is spot on. Referencing the highly topical arrest of Pee-wee Herman actor Paul Reubens for masturbating in an adult movie theatre in 1991, this is one of the closest to the bone and cringe-inducing impressions that Carrey has ever delivered.
Something akin to The Batman’s nemesis The Joker, this truly is a haunting take on the sinister elements of the Pee-wee character that made us uncomfortable as kids. The “I have the right to an attorney, I have the right to remain silent gag” is pure genius. It’s surprising that a libel suit was never lodged.
Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone)
Another actor and character who have invited countless parodies are Sylvester Stallone and his career-defining boxer Rocky Balboa. His facial expressions riff on the off-kilter bottom half of the face that Stallone is known for, and the back and forth’s between trainer and Balboa are hilarious.
Balboa is portrayed as a moron who fights a parody of pop star Grace Jones, with close attention paid to her role as May Day, the femme fatale in the 1985 bond flick, A View to a Kill. Utterly ridiculous, this is ’90s American comedy in all its outdated glory.
An early Carrey impression came as a part of his first appearance on US TV, on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show in 1983. The fresh-faced Carrey introduces himself with a John Cleese-esque “hello”, before he bounces into what can only be described as an accurate representation of ‘The King’, turning his back to the audience whilst doing his hair and jacket.
When he turns around, the top corner of his mouth is stuck to his cheek, as if by prosthetics, and this was really the first sign that Jim Carrey was about to explode in Hollywood. It is one of the best Elvis impressions you’ll ever see.
One of his finest moments on In Living Colour, the impression of Star Trek’s Captain Kirk, AKA William Shatner. Kirk’s in an introspective mood as the skit opens, writing in his diary. “God, I feel so vulnerable,” Kirk writes, flipping the character and Shatner’s overtly macho personas.
It calls out all the flaws of Shatner and Kirk and parodies that iconic “Khan!” interaction from The Wrath of Khan. There’s also nods to the secondary characters in Star Trek, and how it was they who really made the show, and not Kirk.