Pat Morita Was a Stand-Up Comedian Before Playing Mr. Miyagi in ‘The Karate Kid’

Pat Morita is well known for playing Mr. Miyagi in The Karate Kid franchise. He portrayed Daniel LaRusso’s (Ralph Macchio) sensei in the first three installments, before starring across from Hilary Swank’s Julie Pierce in the 1994 film The Next Karate Kid. 

Pat Morita
Portrait of American actor Pat Morita | Nancy R. Schiff/Getty Images

Today, the actor is remembered for playing the serious and reflective, wise and judicious karate instructor. Brave in the face of danger, but never aggressive or bold, Mr. Miyagi taught adolescents what it meant to live and breathe karate. Though Morita may have portrayed Mr. Miyago for several years, he was a successful stand-up comedian before the cinematic franchise came knocking at his door. 

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Inside Pat Morita’s early days as a stand-up comedian 

Before getting his big film break, Morita started out as a stand-up comedian in nightclubs and bars. He went by the name The Hip Nip, and he even went on to make his first film appearance in a comedic movie, Thoroughly Modern Millie. Though his birth name is Noriyuki Marita, he took the stage name “Pat,” partially due to the success of then-contemporary comedians Pat Henry and Pat Cooper. 

Pat Morita struggled to make it in comedy for several years. He opened for a few well-known singers, including Vic Damone and Connie Stevens, but the funnyman had more luck on the screen than on the stage. 

Morita also caught the eye of comedian Red Foxx, who went on to give him a role in Sanford and Son in the early 1970s. Morita opened for Red Foxx before appearing on the hit 1970s show. Sanford and Son was one of Morita’s first on-screen roles, and one of the few that would eventually lead the actor to The Karate Kid. 

What else did Pat Morita do before ‘The Karate Kid?’

Pat Morita appeared in a handful of well-known shows — for an episode or two — before going on to play Arnold Takahashi in Happy Days. He played the character from 1975 to 1983 in a total of 26 episodes.

He ended up appearing in The Karate Kid the year after he left Happy Days. Before Happy Days, Morita appeared in Magnum, P.I., Laverne & Shirley, The Incredible Hulk, Aloha Paradise, and more. He got to share the screen with several well-known actors who defined the TV landscape throughout the 1970s and 1980s. 

Following The Karate Kid, Morita continued to act; he even appeared in several movies a few years after he died (in 2005) due to production delays and other factors that pushed out the release dates. Morita last appeared in the 2014 film Rice Girl.