Attell's first appearance on television was in 1988 on VH1's Stand-Up Spotlight, which also featured early appearances by Lewis Black, Margaret Cho, Jeff Garlin, Jay Mohr and Wanda Sykes. The show was hosted by Rosie O'Donnell.
But perhaps his biggest break to date was achieved on November 23, 1993 when he made his debut on The Late Show with David Letterman. The appearance was seen by Saturday Night Live creator Lorne Michaels, who then recruited Attell to be a writer, and occasional performer, on SNL (you can see Attell behind Chris Farley during the famous "Rudy Giuliani Inauguration" sketch). Attell worked on the show for the '93-'94 season.
In 1995 Attell was featured on two HBO specials: alongside up-and-comers Louis C.K., Anthony Clark, Eric Tunney and Dave Chappelle, he was a featured performer on the 1995 Young Comedians Special, hosted by Garry Shandling. He was also given his own 60-minute special on the channel's "HBO Comedy Showcase". Subsequently, Attell was also given an episode of HBO Comedy Half-Hour in 1997.
Also in 1995, Attell appeared as Squiggly Dave on Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist, kicking-off a long-standing relationship between Attell and Comedy Central. In 1999 the network issued Attell an installment in their ever-popular Comedy Central Presents series.
The same year the network signed him on as a regular commentator on their satirical news show The Daily Show. When he arrived in 1999, the show was just finding its audience after the departure of host Craig Kilborn and the arrival of Jon Stewart, an old friend of Attell's from the New York comedy circuit. The three-year stint gave Attell access to a mass audience on a regular basis (The Daily Show has done much the same for comedians Stephen Colbert, Steve Carell, Lewis Black and others). Attell's series of commentary on the show was called "The Ugly American".
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