There’s a general opinion floating around out there that comedy is harder to tackle than drama, and it’s easy to give credence to that notion. Just think about it in everyday life – is it easier to make a group of people genuinely laugh than it is to just throw a self-righteous hissy fit that draws everybody’s attention to your duh-ramaaaaa? All you have to do is raise your voice and talk over people for the latter, but being truly witty is much harder to master. Timing, sensibility, word choice, delivery – it’s all a bag of tricks that it sometimes feels like magic. Thus, it stands to reason that if you’re talented enough to be funny on screen, you can find a way to pull off serious roles as well. Here’s a list of ten comedians who have proved their chops in notable dramatic roles.
1. Mo’Nique in “Precious”
It’s hard not to start with the recent and darkly powerful dramatic turn from Mo’Nique that one her the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. She was famous for stand-up, sitcom work and hosting “Showtime at the Apollo,” but there was no humor in her performance as the broken, nasty, paranoid Mary Lee Johnston, the abusive mother of the title character. The soul-crushing darkness of her sickness made us squirm in our seats, and she deserved every accolade she got for that performance.
2. Jim Carrey in “The Truman Show”
Carrey was one of those guys whose comedy characters from “In Living Color” and movies like “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective” were such crazily exaggerated caricatures that you couldn’t imagine him keeping the famous “rubber face” in place long enough to legitimately emote. But he proved the adage that it’s easier to get wild and crazy people to tone it down than it is to get more reserved folks to let it all hang out – although that’s not to say his performance as Truman Burbank, a man unknowingly raised on a reality television show who comes to realize his entire life has been a sham, was easy. See also: “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” because you should.
3. Bill Murray in “The Razor’s Edge”
Comic actors do find it important to prove before long that they do have dramatic chops, and that’s one thing Bill Murray has proven over and over. However, it started with this 1984 adaptation of Somerset Maugham’s novel about “one man’s search for himself.” While this film didn’t really find an appreciative audience, it marked a turning point in Murray’s career – and a final dramatic scene that weirdly echoes his famous “It just doesn’t matter” speech in “Meatballs.” Plus, this is the movie he got to make in exchange for starring in “Ghostbusters,” so without this, we wouldn’t have that.
4. Patton Oswalt in “Big Fan”
Oswalt actually got some Oscar buzz for his supporting turn in the Jason Reitman/Diablo Cody film “Young Adult,” but his performance as the obsessive New York Giants fan who gets assaulted by his favorite player and has to suppress his own dignity for the sake of the team was a real testament to his talent. He transferred his real life dork passion into on-screen sports passion, showing just how similar devoted nerds in both arenas really are – complete with the single-mindedness and social ineptitude.
5. Mike Myers in “54”
Another comedian known for over-the-top characters like Austin Powers or… *shudder*… The Love Guru, Myers turned his talent for impersonation towards drama as well when playing Steve Rubell of the legendary Studio 54. The lead story in the mixed bag of a film is a love triangle between Ryan Phillippe, Salma Hayek and Breckin Meyer, but it was Myers proving he doesn’t have to be a silly gag machine which got the only positive attention when it was released, although a director’s cut of the film has gotten a much more favorable response – enough that it might qualify as a cult following.