Eight Comedians Who Did Serious Extremely Well

Every so often, a comic actor goes through a crisis of faith. Maybe they feel they’re being pigeonholed into roles that involve fart jokes and being hit in the balls too often, or maybe they just want to see what else they’re capable of. Sometimes this can be a train wreck, but for these eight actors, it’s gone pretty well at least once. Here are a few comedians who held a straight face effectively for an entire film.

Adam Sandler


Why P.T. Anderson chose Happy Gilmore to star in one of his films, I have no idea, but it turned out pretty damn good. As an emotionally stunted businessman in Punch Drunk Love, Adam Sandler made us forget all about his goofy past, at least for two hours. Sandler also tried to be more serious in films like Spanglish (ugh) and Reign Over Me (ugh to a slightly lesser extent), but Punch Drunk so far has been his dramatic tour de force. Now what’s he doing? Bedtime Stories? Sigh.

Bill Murray


Bill Murray has had wild swings back and forth between outrageous goofyball and serious actor. He’s ventured into drama a few times, with Broken Flowers, Ed Wood, and most noteably Lost in Translation, where he played a rich lonely actor who bonds with Scarlett Johansson in Tokyo, which scored him a Best Actor nom at the Oscars. Only a few other comedians can say the same.

Steve Martin


For someone whose career started so long ago, I’m still pretty impressed that Steve Martin is able to sell himself as a leading comedic man to this very day. His brief dip into drama was in Shopgirl, which was adapted from a novel that he himself wrote. Not bad. It was generally thought of as an art house movie, but most thought his performance as a bored businessman was right on.

Dan Aykroyd


Bill Murray’s Ghostbusters counterpart also scored a big Oscar nom for his supporting role in Driving Miss Daisy. He took other stabs at drama, but they ended up being in unfortunate places such as Pearl Harbor, so Miss Daisy will probably be his most memorable straight role. That’s all well and good, but I’d rather see him crossing streams or dancing the blues than trying to act all serious.

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  1. Don’t forget Dead Poets Society, one can’t argue that being a comedic role for Robin Williams.

    Also, Charlie Sheen (Hot Shots, 2½ men) and John C McGinley (Scrubs) was in The Platoon, 1986. Great movie, not too good acting. ^_____^

  2. Wow — one of the worst lists I’ve seen on this site.

    You consider The Truman Show and Punch Drunk Love to be serious movies? Steve Carrell did serious by playing a suicidal character that we laugh at in a comedy?

    “Branching Out” doesn’t mean switching from pie-in-the-face comedy to situational comedy…

    Robin Williams was a good choice for the list. Owen Wilson in Marley & Me would have been a good choice for the list, also. Jim Carey’s closest attempt at good acting (as opposed to buffoonery) was Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind. Bill Murray is spot-on. Adam Sandler doesn’t belong on this list.

  3. You lost me at Robin Williams, and incurred my unbridled scorn by Adam Sandler.
    I guess blogging isn’t bringing in the money, so might as well use the space to pimp yourself as a publicist.
    You are one of the reasons movies are bad.
    Please just go kill yourself.

  4. 😐 you should really rename this article “some comedians that tried to break their typecasting and one actor whos not yet been seen doing a straight role, also this list is not very good”. Terrible list. Will Smith should be on this list, sure he takes a lot of roles in bad films, but the man can act up their with the best of them.

  5. Tom Hanks was the first name that came to my mind — isn’t it interesting that his name wasn’t even mentioned? He’s most likely thought of more as an actor then as a comedian, which I guess is the best result a aspiring comedian can hope for…

    And lets not forget Kevin Spacey either….

  6. Actually, Ben Stiller has two dramatic roles under his belt. The first being Reality Bites, which in all honesty was somewhat lackluster but I liked it as a teen. The second was Permanent Midnight, the true story of Heroin addicted screenwriter Jerry Stahl.
    Besides that, I pretty much agree with this list.

  7. John C. Reilly is actual a very accomplished serious actor. Just his more recent works have been comedic. He actually played Stanley Kowalski on a Broadway production of A Streetcar Named Desire.

  8. You include “Will Ferrel[sic] in Melinda and Melinda”, but you ignore him in Stranger than Fiction, which was a much, much better movie – not as serious, perhaps, but his acting was better in it? Also, you don’t even check to make sure you spell actor’s names correct?

  9. Should have also mentioned Bill Murray’s role in “The Razor’s Edge” (1984). I am delighted to see that Punch Drunk Love was prominently featured for Sandler though, that is one beautiful movie. Also, I can’t wait to see when Demetri Martin makes his break into films. Another great actor who’s made a transition from doing his dark comedy stage perfomances to film is Eric Bogosian, he shouldn’t be on your list, but I felt he was worth a mention anyway. I’m wondering when Tina Fey or Amy Pohler will transition into serious films. There should be at least one female actress who can do it.

  10. I know you’re talking movies here – but don’t forget Hugh Laurie… A brilliant comic actor (though most of his early work is less well known in the US); and a great serious actor…

  11. how about eddie murphy in dreamgirls? i mean his movies are crap but he was incredible in dreamgirls. he needs to stop witht he fat suit movies though.

  12. And umm…. Where’s Eddie Murphy? From SNL, 48 Hours and Beverly Hills Cop to Academy Award nomination for Dream Girls.

    You can’t possibly have left him off the list on purpose.

  13. Ben Stiller was also in “Empire of the sun”. Can’t say he had a lot of lines or a very big part but it was a semi serious roll. I only mention because I watched it for the first time like 3 days ago and was stunned to see him.

  14. Don’t forget Steve Martin in The Spanish Prisoner. Great movie, I loved him in it. If you enjoy the mannered style of a David Mamet film, it’s great fun. If Mamet dialogue drives you nuts, stay away.

  15. I would also put Will Ferrel on this list for the movie Stranger Than Fiction. I wouldn’t consider it a comedy, and I count it as one of my favorite movies from Ferrel. It’s a completely different direction for him and he excels at it.

    Kal Penn, while good in the Harold and Kumar movies, was also in Epic Movie. For that he should be taken out of consideration for any list of comedic actors who end up doing anything right.

    @everyone who said Will Smith. How could you consider Will Smith a comedian? He went from a being a rapper to having a TV show then on to action movies. He’s done a couple of dramas, with Pursuit of Happyness being the best and Seven Pounds being the worst. Nonetheless, a comedian he is not.

    @ Joe I can’t speak for PDL, but The Truman Show is most certainly a dramatic film. It has its light-hearted moments, but I wouldn’t call it a comedy because of those. Think of the major plot and the themes addressed. I can’t see any that would render it a comedy.

    All in all, it’s not a horrible list, but it’s not a great list either. It did make me want to go back and watch eternal sunshine again, which is never a bad thing.

  16. You forgot a couple of the greats who started the trend from comedy to drama. Buster Keaton, Oliver Hardy, Jackie Gleason, Jack Lemon, and Lou Costello are a few you didn’t mention.

  17. I’m not a fan of this list…
    Tom Hanks was great in Philadelphia
    Will Smith should be on here as well, Fresh Prince –> Pursuit of Happyness

    And I absolutely loved Hot Fuzz and Sean of the Dead but this list is “Eight Comedians Who Did Serious Well” not “Seven Comedians Who (arguably) Did Serious Well and One Who Is Very Good And May (potentially) Do Serious Well In the Near Future”

    And Adam Sandler? Really? That was the best you could come up with?

  18. sub-zero,

    define well. sandler, carey, martin, williams are awesome. so is foxx, pryor and murphy. or did you mean “who did serious well at the box office?” or “who did well according to my taste”? or even “who did well and look like me”?

    just asking

  19. @ Neumahn

    What about them? I don’t seem to remember Chappelle or Seinfeld in any dramatic roles. I’m guessing you didn’t read the article, but why should that stop you from commenting on it?

  20. Terrible List, undoubtedly the best ever serious performance by a comedian was Paul resier whilst playing Carter burke in Aliens.

    No-one can deny that performance was special, as was almost every performance in the film/ but coming from a regular sstand up comedian. Great, great.

  21. I forgot I titled this “The Only Eight Actors Who Could Be Considered Comedians Who Were Ever in What Could Be Considered Serious Roles Where They Performed Somewhat Adequately or Better.” Then all this might be relevant.

  22. Steve Martin has done a lot more drama than just Shopgirl. Try Novacaine or Grand Canyon. For my money, though, his best dramatic turn was in Mamet’s The Spanish Prisoner.

    And as for John C Reilly, while he’s good in Magnolia, the movie Hard Eight, also directed by PT Anderson, gives him more screen time and an arguably better performance.

  23. as much as i hate ben stiller he did do an awesome job in permanent midnight, playing a heroin addicted tv writer in the eightys. it was based on the life of writer jerry stahl

  24. Man how could you people forget Jamie Fox in Ray? That was the single most awesome switch and quite possibly one of the best preformances I have ever seen in an actor.

  25. I’m not quibbling with any individual nominees on your list, but it seems like you watch a lot of white guys and not much else. No fault there, these are some pretty funny white dudes. But there’s Jamie Foxx, Lily Tomlin, and a bunch of other non-white, non-dude comedians to at least think about.

    And then there’s people who seem like comedians at heart, no matter what. Will Smith, for example. Or Jackie Chan…

  26. For the guy who listed Marley and Me as a movie that Owen Wilson branched out in….your retarded. Honestly? Well then let’s just put any person who routinely does comedy movies and then tries to do one half serious role, regardless if they do it well or not. I can name a thousand actors who could of taken the same role Owen Wilson did and done it just of well f not better. The thing that would separate Sandler’s role in Punch Drunk Love and Owen Wilson’s performance in Marley and Me is that a select few could of pulled off the role that Sandler did.

    And how is Wilson’s role any different in Carrell’s role? Are we not laughing at both? The only difference is that Carrell actually did a good job acting.

  27. as much as i hate ben stiller he did do an awesome job in permanent midnight, playing a heroin addicted tv writer in the eightys. it was based on the life of writer jerry stahl.

  28. Robin Williams to me is one of the rare comics who can successfully do both drama and comedy. Sometimes his comedy in over the top in a way that makes you uncomfortable, but it’s still funny and relevant. Often though, he makes me think of the thin line between sane and insane, genius and psycho. Maybe that’s why he’s so good in those psychotic roles. His real life demons must give him great inspiration.

  29. well i can’t believe the bad actor will smith wasn’t mentioned he’s performances in drama gets better and better *7pounds, pursuit of haapyness, hancock, I Am Legend, maybe even I-robot* to name a few

  30. WTF is Fred talking about “recently popular comedians”? Steve Martin, Dan Aykroyd and Bill Murray have been popular comedians for over 30 years. How far back do you need to go?

  31. Wow. John C. Reilly a comedian? The first thirty or forty movies he was in were dramas. Casualties of War? Boogie Nights? Hard Eight? The Thin Red Line? Oscar nomination for Chicago? I would hardly call John C. Reilly a comedian.

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