Her early appearances were on British TV sketch comedy shows A Kick Up the Eighties (with Rik Mayall and Miriam Margolyes) and Three of a Kind (with Lenny Henry and David Copperfield). After a brief but high-profile singing career, she appeared as Candice Valentine in Girls On Top with Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders.
She emigrated from the UK to the US and created her own network television series, The Tracey Ullman Show, from 1987 until 1990. She later produced programmes for HBO, includingTracey Takes On... (1996–1999), for which she has won numerous awards. She has also appeared in several feature films. Ullman's most recent sketch comedy series, Tracey Ullman's State of the Union, ran from 2008 to 2010 on Showtime.
Ullman was born Trace Ullman in Slough, Buckinghamshire (now in Berkshire), the daughter of Dorin Cleaver, of both English and Roman extraction, and Anthony John Ullman, a Polish Roman Catholic, who worked as a solicitor. Ullman later recalled, "My real name is Trace Ullman, but I added the 'y.' My mother said it was spelled the American way, but I don't think she can spell! I always wanted a middle name. My mum used to tell me it was Mary but I never believed her. I looked on my birth certificate and I didn't have one, just Trace Ullman." Ullman's father was a Polish soldier evacuated from Dunkirk in 1940. He subsequently worked as a furniture salesman and travel agent. When she was six, Ullman's father died of a heart attack while reading her a bedtime story. He was 50 years old. In an effort to cheer up her family, Tracey recounts putting on shows in her mother's bedroom, performing alongside her older sister, Patti. That first show was entitled The Patti Ullman Show. "I was a spin-off!" recalled Ullman. In her nightly performances she would mimic neighbours, family members, friends, and celebrities. Soon after, Ullman's mother remarried.
At the age of 12, a headmaster saw Ullman's future potential, and recommended her to the Italia Conti Academy stage school. Although the school gave Ullman her first taste of the stage, she does not look back on it fondly.
At the age of 16, Ullman began finding jobs as a dancer, and soon landed a role in Gigi in Berlin. Upon returning to England, she joined the "Second Generation" dance troupe. She also began appearing in variety shows.
The exposure led to her casting in numerous West End musicals, including Grease, and The Rocky Horror Show. During this time Ullman was cast in a play at London's Royal Court Theatre for an improvised play about club acts. Entering the competition, Ullman created the character Beverly, a born-again Christian chanteuse. The performance was a big hit and she won the "Best Newcomer Award".The BBC became interested and offered her the chance to star in her own show. In 1983, Ullman took part in the workshops for Andrew Lloyd-Webber's upcoming musical, Starlight Express, playing the part of Pearl.
Ullman married producer Allan McKeown on 27 December 1983; they have two children, Mabel Ellen McKeown (born 1986) and John Albert Victor McKeown (born 1991). Mabel McKeown works for Harriet Harman in a job funded by the Labour Party. She unsuccessfully ran as Labour's candidate in the by-election in Cremorne in Kensington and Chelsea Council in 2010. She once contributed to the Huffington Post. She has also campaigned for Labour.
Ullman became an American citizen in December 2006 and now holds dual citizenship of the United States and the United Kingdom. In 2006, Ullman topped the list for the "Wealthiest British Comedians", with an estimated wealth of £75 million.