‘Birdman’ Michael Keaton: Forgotten Stand-up Comedian

Birdman actor Michael Keaton can seemingly do no wrong. The quintessential every man that won hearts as Mr. Mom, protected Gotham as Batman, and put on the deep freeze in Jack Frost has enjoyed a career renaissance as of late. His retired superhero flick has just been nominated for seven Golden Globe awards, of which Keaton won Best Actor, and nine Oscar nominations, where Keaton is also favored to win Best Actor.

With Keaton’s renewed popularity cresting ahead of a cautiously awaited sequel to the Tim Burton cult classic Beetlejuice, long-time fans are revisiting many of Keaton’s classic 80s films like Night Shift and Johnny Dangerously, but how many remember Michael Keaton… stand-up comedian?

While Keaton’s Wikipedia page states that “an unsuccessful attempt at stand-up comedy led Keaton to working as a cameraman at WQED (TV) in Pittsburgh,” Keaton’s stab at stand-up could be said to have been more successful than most realize. Keaton made one appearance on the fabled An Evening at the Improv stand-up comedy showcase in 1982, and then appeared again on what, at the time, was the biggest stand-up comedy HBO special of the day, Comic Relief. The star-studded event was created by comedy writer and Andy Kaufman co-hort Bob Zmuda as a non-profit designed to raise money for America’s homeless. Comic Relief featured virtually every major comedian of the era — including, apparently, Keaton — and was hosted by comedy legends Whoopi Goldberg, Billy Crystal, and the late, Robin Williams.

Keaton’s brief foray into stand-up comedy was at least memorable enough to be deemed #7 on Funny or Die’s “12 Carefully Selected Moments From Michael Keaton’s Career To Remind You He’s The Best,” even as Rolling Stone referred to Keaton as “just not very good at” stand-up. RS writer Andy Greene does point out, however, the delightful irony that the most accessible clip circulating the internet, which is featured at the end of this article, was apparently shot at Gotham City Comedy Club — some seven years before Keaton would don the cape and cowl in Burton’s groundbreaking 1989 Batman film that would launch Keaton into another stratosphere.

While the 64-year-old Keaton seems inclined to agree with Greene, reportedly admitting that he “stunk” as a stand-up, it is clear from the video clip that at least one part of Greene’s assessment is undeniable: Keaton’s brand of comedy might not have been for everybody, but his poise and comfortability in front of the camera suggests the sort of confidence and bravado worthy of Gotham’s grittiest vigilante.