While it’s hard to pinpoint the exact person who was the world’s first comedian, many people believe it was the American vaudeville comedian and actor, Frank Fay. So, continue below to learn about Fay, his contribution to comedy, and his legacy.
Early Life and Career
Fay was born in San Francisco, California, in 1891, as Francis Anthony Donner. But, after deciding that his given name wasn’t professional enough for the stage, he decided that he would be called Frank Fay. Back then, comedy wasn’t what we know it is today. Comedians often wore costumes and would roller-skate while telling jokes. But, Fay disliked the way that comedians performed and presented himself. So, instead of wearing a costume and parade around, he decided to stand on stage, wear his usual outfit (which was a tuxedo), and tell jokes. The way he presented himself and his routine paved the way for modern comedy, as well as influencing many future comedians, such as Bob Hope, Milton Berle, and Jack Benny. Fay began performing this way around 1918, and quickly became extremely successful. He was even vaudeville’s highest-paid headliner (he earned $17,500 a week).
Then, in the late 1920’s, Fay began to transition from standup comedy to movies. Warner Bros signed Fay, and he starred in the 1929 movie, The Show of Shows. The film was an immediate hit, and a year later he starred in the musical comedy, Under a Texas Moon, as well as Bright Lights and The Matrimonial Bed. The next few years consisted of Fay making movies nonstop. Some of the movies he starred in are; God’s Gift to Women, A Fool’s Advice, The Stolen Jools, and Nothing Sacred. In his films, Fay often showed off his comedic skills, as well as his musical talents. Then, in the late 1930’s, Fay took a break from film to return to standup comedy.
Even though Fay began focusing on his standup comedy career, he made a return to the big screen in 1943, for the low-budget film, Spotlight Scandals. Initially, Fay signed on for a series of comedies, in which he would star alongside comedian Billy Gilbert. But, he ended backing out of the deal after Spotlight Scandals, because he did not get along with Gilbert. Then, eight years later, Fay acted in the movie, Love Nest. But, after Love Nest, Fay never made a return to film. Instead, Fay found increased success as a standup comedian. He often performed in nightclubs, as well as on radio shows. Fay even performed in the late 1950’s, and would use his love as music as a basis for jokes. In one of his most popular routines from the 1950’s, he took a popular song, and analyzed the senseless lyrics.
At the age of 69, Fay died in Santa Monica, California. He leaves his legacy of his blockbuster films, as well as the two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In addition to his film legacy, Fay is recognized as the first comedian, who paved the way for how standup would be performed in modern comedy.