In 1994, a comedic actor previously most famous for his performances on ‘In Living Color’ released three iconic films—‘Ace Ventura: Pet Detective,’ ‘The Mask,’ and ‘Dumb and Dumber’—that changed Hollywood’s approach and pushed a genre to its commercial limits.
Nearly 30 years ago, a handful of smart people set out with one mission: to make some silly movies. What followed was a true golden age of Hollywood comedy that saw the arrival of megastars still with us today, a commercial explosion, and then, an eventual splintering that changed the genre forever. Welcome to Part 2 of Comedy in the ’90s, our six-part series documenting this decade-defining boom in all of its sophomoric glory.
In the early ’90s, Carrey and writer Steve Oedekerk began revamping the script of what became the former’s first film of the decade. At the time, Veasey was also developing a comedy pilot. During late-night brainstorm sessions, the trio commiserated. I would be in my office writing and they would be in their office writing, Veasey says. “And I remember Jim would scream, ‘Junk food time!’ And they’d come in and it was like going to the movie theater. And I vividly remember Jim acting out the scene where he put the plunger on his face. And it’s 1 or 2 in the morning. I’m like, ‘Yeah, that’s funny!’”
While he was becoming famous, he often told reporters (and Oprah) about how he once speculatively wrote himself a $10 million check for acting services rendered. He shared the story so much that Spy magazine even skewered him for repeating it over and over. The exact details matter less than what the tale symbolized. As Veasey puts it: “He had arrived.”
That day in Veasey’s office, after Carrey explained what was really going on, he started screaming. Pam, I got it! Veasey recalls him shouting. They paid me! Soon he was jumping up and down. Not knowing how else to react, she started jumping up and down as well; two friends and collaborators, on the brink of a career-altering shift, just jumping and yelling their heads off. It was very exciting. It was a really great moment, she says. It was also the moment that completely changed a genre.
In 1994, Jim Carrey took over comedy. Starting that February with Ace Ventura: Pet Detective—a movie that bucked critical revulsion to the tune of $107.2 million against a $15 million budget—and continuing with The Mask and Dumb and Dumber, Carrey set off a chain of events that changed the business of Hollywood. In total, the three movies amassed $706.1 million in worldwide box office receipts. By 1995, his per-picture salary had shot from six figures all the way to eight.
If Wayne’s World started a comedy revolution, then Jim Carrey accelerated it to ludicrous speed. Thanks to him, the genre was, at least for a time, seen as a tentpole, and his personal financial success was in large part responsible for studios beginning to pay comedy stars like action heroes. (Through a representative, Carrey declined to be interviewed for this article.) The actor’s unprecedented 12-month stretch proved that comedy could generate commercial blockbusters. But at the same time, Carrey became a symbol of the genre’s limits. By the mid-’90s, Carrey’s price tag had grown large enough to scare the hell out of the film industry. When he inked a $20 million deal to star in The Cable Guy, one executive said that it set a perilous and dangerous precedent.” Another whined to the Los Angeles Times that if Carrey is getting $20 million, then what are Arnold Schwarzenegger and Tom Hanks worth?”