Ben Stiller as "Tom Cruise" in The Hustler of Money

Ben Stiller as "Tom Cruise" in The Hustler of Money parody

Here’s some found comedy history for you.

Many of you will be familiar with Ben Stiller’s Tom Cruise impression. He’s parodied Cruise many times, most famously in MTV Movie award Mission Impossible skits.

But back in 1986, a young Stiller was in the cast of a revival of the play The House of Blue Leaves in New York City. The production won four Tony awards. Also in the cast was actor John Mahoney, later to achieve fame in Frasier.

I’ll let Wikipedia take it from here:

During its run, Stiller produced a satirical mockumentary whose principal was fellow actor Mahoney. His comedic work was so well received by the cast and crew of the play that he followed up with a 10 minute short called The Hustler of Money, a parody of the Martin Scorsese film The Color of Money. The film featured him in a send-up of Tom Cruise’s character and Mahoney in the Paul Newman role, only this time as a bowling hustler instead of a pool shark. The short got the attention of Saturday Night Live, which aired it in 1987, and two years later offered him a spot as a writer. In the meantime, he also had a bit part in Steven Spielberg’s Empire of the Sun.

Stiller only stayed with SNL for about 5 episodes, but his exposure there led directly to his MTV show and then his famous Fox Show.

See the video below:

What’s interesting is that this makes Stiller one of the world’s first YouTube style-stars, decades before YouTube. Nowadays every comedian and his mother are throwing content up on YouTube to try to get discovered. But back in 1986, this “viral video” had to be passed around literally by hand. It’s sort of like how the South Park dudes got discovered.

I have to say, the “funny” doesn’t hold up so well. But you have to remember, this is 1986. There aren’t a thousand parody videos floating around the internet based on every movie released in a given summer. This was undoubtedly fresh and “guerrilla” for it’s time. And aside from not having YouTube, it’s worth noting that in 1986 you didn’t have iMovie or FinalCut. Something like this was an actual production with significant time, editing and production investments. You couldn’t just string this together using your iPhone and your Macbook. Not bad, for the time. Not bad at all.

So, for all you aspiring YouTubers out there, Stiller proved you can ride a dumb video to fame… 25 years ago.

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