Film Latest - - by Paul Klein

No Laughing Matter: When comedians go dramatic and visa versa

No Laughing Matter: When comedians go dramatic and visa versa

It’s heading towards awards season, and with that there’s method actors doing their finest and comedians making an attempt at bringing dramatic pedigree to their filmography.

In anticipation of films like The Big Short, an awards-courting info-drama that has among it’s principle players, funny man Steve Carrell, and Robert De Niro’s new comedy Dirty Grandpa, a film which shows just how badly he wants a vacation, we count five dramatic actors who ventured into the world of comedy, and five comedy stars who tried to bring tears to our eyes.


Robert De Niro

Notable Dramas: Raging Bull, Mean Streets, Goodfellas, Casino, This Boy’s Life, Once Upon a Time in America, The Godfather Part Two

Notable Comedies: Meet The Parents, Analyze This, Silver Linings Playbook, Grudge Match, Last Vegas

Awards: Two Academy Awards and a further five nominations, One Golden Globe, and a further seven nominations

Success: While there is no doubting Robert De Niro’s talent as a dramatic actor (except perhaps his ill-judged turn in Frankenstein) his comedies have grown more and more tiresome. While Meet the Parents and Analyze This both played on his persona as a tough guy, mafioso type and cast him as the straight man against comedic funnies (Ben Stiller or Billy Crystal). De Niro himself has no particular comedy chops and only works when his stone face is against an aghast funny man. In recent years, though, he may simply have given up.


Meryl Streep

Notable Dramas: Out of Africa, Sophie’s Choice, Kramer vs Kramer, Music of the Heart, The Bridges of Maddison County, Adaptation., The Hours, Doubt, The Deer Hunter

Notable Comedies: It’s Complicated, The Devil Wears Prada, Into the Woods, Mamma Mia!

Awards: Three Academy Awards and a further sixteen nominations making her the most nominated woman in the history of the Oscars, Eight Golden Globes, and a further twenty nominations.

Success: Considered to be the greatest actress on the planet, ever, Streep has had success in comedy, while the musical comedy Mamma Mia! was a box office smash and is now a modern camp classic, she has also made a name for herself as bringing credibility to frankly lightweight fluff, and has managed to convince us that she would be torn between Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin – there’s a real acting triumph.


Jack Nicholson

Notable Dramas: Five Easy Pieces, The Shining, Chinatown, One Flew Over Cuckoos Nest, A Few Good Men, The Departed, Hoffa, The Witches of Eastwick

Notable Comedies: About Schmidt, As Good As It Gets, Something’s Gotta Give, Anger Management, Batman

Awards: Three Academy Awards and a further nine nominations, Seven Golden Globes, and a further ten nominations.

Success: Although nicely playing up his own screen persona in most of his comedies, Nicholson really is the king of the villains. Still his timing is better than most and he’s game for a laugh, and honestly, who thought he’d ever become so endearing in a romantic comedy?


Michael Caine

Notable Dramas: Educating Rita, Get Carter, The Cider House Rules, Alfie, The Ipcress File, The Italian Job

Notable Comedies: Austen Powers in Goldmember, Hannah and Her Sisters, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Kingsman: The Secret Service, Miss Congeniality

Awards: Two Academy Awards and a further four nominations, three Golden Globes, and a further eight nominations.

Success: Caine has incredible comic timing, with the ability to play up his persona as well as reinvent himself. Often times he’s cast in a suave upper class comedic role which nicely skews his working class roots.


Morgan Freeman

Notable Dramas: Glory, Amistad, Seven, Invictus, Kiss the Girls, Along Came A Spider, The Shawshank Redemption

Notable Comedies: Bruce Almighty, Evan Almighty, Ted 2, The Bucket List, Ten Items or Less

Awards: One Academy Award and a further four nominations, two Golden Globes, and a further four nominations.

Success: Freeman’s deep voice and flair for whimsy mean that he’s been beckoned to the comedy for some time. His turn as God, in Jim Carrey’s 2003 comedy Bruce Almighty is one of those great comedic turns that reminds you why great actors do comedy. Dreamcatcher is also very funny, but not in a good way.


Jim Carrey

Notable Comedies: The Cable Guy, Dumb and Dumber, Bruce Almighty, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, Liar Liar, I Love You Philip Morris

Notable Dramas: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Man on the Moon, The Truman Show, The Majestic

Awards: Two Golden Globes and a further four nominations.

Success: Now stalling in his comedy roles, drama has always been something of a dark trick for rubber face Carrey. Snubbed at the Oscars twice when not nominated for satire The Truman Show or for mind-bending drama Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. And of course who could forget his note perfect turn as troubled funny man Andy Kaufman


Steve Carrell

Notable Comedies: Anchorman, Evan Almighty, Dan in Real Life, Little Miss Sunshine, Crazy Stupid Love, The Forty Year Old Virgin

Notable Dramas: Foxcatcher, The Big Short

Awards: One Academy Award nomination, one Golden Globe, and a further seven nominations.

Success: Carrell’s unforeseen leap to drama was heralded by the slow and somewhat off-putting Foxcatcher in which Carrell was a monotone weirdo with a big rubber nose. More Burgess Meredith in Batman than a Jim Jones type he still wowed audiences who left the film going “was that really the guy from The Office?”


Robin Williams

Notable Comedies: Patch Adams, Flubber, Good Morning Vietnam, Man of the Year, Hook

Notable Dramas: The Fisher King, Good Will Hunting, One Hour Photo, Insomnia, The Night Listener, Awakenings, Dead Poets Society

Awards: One Academy Award and a further three nominations, six Golden Globes, and a further six nominations.

Success: Williams should have jacked in his funny man credentials when it came to films around 2004 and focused solely on drama. Turns in dramas has offered him three bouts with the academy and one win. His tragic passing just over a year ago leaves the memory of his great work all the more precious.


Albert Brooks

Notable Comedies: Broadcast News, Terms of Endearment, This is Forty, The Simpsons Movie

Notable Dramas: Drive, A Most Violent Year

Awards: Nominated for one Academy Award and one Golden Globe

Success: Despite his deadpan tones being used many times by those guys at The Simpsons Albert Brooks to many might not be a household name, but his turn as mafia guy Bernie Rose in Drive offered a different angle on the often grumpy looking comic star. His career is fairly diverse but his villainous turn was downright terrifying.


Steve Coogan

Notable Comedies: Alan Partridge, A Cock and Bull Story, The Trip, Around the World in 80 Days, The Other Guys, Tropic Thunder

Notable Dramas: Philomena, Twenty Four Hour Party People, The Look of Love

Awards: Two Academy Award nominations and one Golden Globe nominations.

Success: Another case of being better at drama than comedy, his work with director Michael Winterbottom and actor Rob Brydon have given us some great comedies, but his turn in the self-penned true story Philomena saw him on surprising form delivery the devastating line to a Catholic nun: “I couldn’t forgive you.” All this from the man who was Alan Partridge – aha!


Paul Klein, a film studies graduate from London.

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