Jake Johannsen

Jake Johannsen is not a household name. But he is a success.

Johannsen is the perfect example of a celebrity who has crept lightly into the public consciousness, not with a bang or a whimper, but with more of a glide. He began doing stand-up comedy in San Francisco in the early '80s, and within four years was winning local comedy competitions. Success came relatively quickly after that, with appearances on HBO and on "Late Night with David Letterman."

While the Letterman appearances didn't launch him to mega-stardom, it became a significant venue for exposing him to the public. He has appeared on Letterman's show 35 times over the years, in addition to 15 or so appearances on "The Tonight Show," and several of his own HBO specials.

Johannsen's success has remained in the stand-up comedy arena, as he consistently tours the country, although he has also dabbled in TV and film. He has written several pilots, including one with writers from "Seinfeld, " that have failed to hit, in some cases because of network politics, he says. He also has appeared briefly in several films, including "Breakfast of Champions" with Bruce Willis and "Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle."

But while Johannsen has never attained super-stardom, his name is revered as one of stand-up's sharpest talents. TV Guide, in its special issue dedicated to the "50 Funniest TV Moments of All Time," placed his 1991 HBO special "This'll Take About an Hour" at No. 36.

In some ways, Johannsen's career is a model of what one should shoot for if one wants to be successful without going insane. So many aspirants in the performing world seek super-stardom from the get-go, reeling off names of the famous and infamous whose careers they wish to emulate. But in reality, a career's like Johannsen is more attainable, and, in the sense of how he's stayed true to his instincts, more potentially satisfying.