If Madonna taught us anything, it’s that reinvention is the key to a long career. Apparently, that goes for comedians as well -- here are five of our favorite comics who actually pulled off a mid-career makeover.  Was it for better or worse?  Read ahead to find out.

Eddie Murphy

There may never have been a comedian bigger than Eddie Murphy was in the 1980s. Success was instant and blinding -- the brightest star on Saturday Night Live, huge movies with 48 Hours and Trading Places, and a gold comedy album all while he was in his early 20s. 

Paramount Pictures

Eddie’s comic persona was well established -- joyful and profane, a giddier version of Richard Pryor with a little Elvis thrown in for good measure. The R-rated fun kept coming -- Beverly Hills Cop, Coming to America -- until *record scratch* Murphy took a hard right turn.

In 1996, Murphy starred in a remake of The Nutty Professor, a goofy, for-all-ages romp that seemed to signal a gentler, more family-friendly Eddie.  Whether it was that film’s box office success or his status as a young father, he began churning out more films aimed at kids, including Dr. Dolittle, Daddy Day Care, and all of the dang Shreks.

Better or worse? Box office was great but from a comedy standpoint, undeniably worse. Although it appears he’s trying to reinvent again with raunchy projects like My Name is Dolemite.

Bill Hader

Hader was an exceptional talent on Saturday Night Live, a clever mimic (his Alan Alda is brilliant) and an all-around comedy Swiss Army Knife who would have appeared to have had a bright future as a goofy comedy movie star.

HBO

But instead, Hader took a left turn, choosing to become Liam Neeson way ahead of schedule. As Barry, a PTSD-addled assassin who catches the acting bug, Hader has blown up all our expectations of what he would become post-SNL.  

We can’t wait to see where this goes next.

Better or worse?  Better. 

Dennis Miller

As Weekend Update’s Anchor with the Floppiest Hair, Miller established himself as the hippest cat in town, poking at hypocrisy of all stripes with a vocabulary that was ridiculously and hilariously erudite.   

Broadway Video

The fun continued after SNL with an HBO show that featured intelligent celebrity chatter peppered with witty barbs. 

Then somewhere along the line (probably after an ill-fated stint on Monday Night Football), Miller decided there was a career to be had in becoming a conservative crank.  He was always political, but previously punched at people in power.  In his new guise as occasional Fox News pundit, the punches are aimed in the other direction.  It was enough to prompt Jimmy Kimmel to ask:  What happened to you?

Better or worse?  Worse.

Sarah Silverman

Young Sarah was a provocateur, (stupidly) wearing blackface on The Sarah Silverman Show and telling jokes like “I was licking jelly off of my boyfriend's penis and all of a sudden I'm thinking, ‘Oh My God, I'm turning into my mother!’”

Hulu

More often than not, it worked -- and it certainly got her noticed. This is the woman who, while dating Jimmy Kimmel, confessed that she was also f---ing Matt Damon.

Then she pulled an anti-Dennis Miller, first with her show I Love You America (an attempt to “connect with people who may not agree with her personal opinions through honesty, humor, genuine interest in others, and not taking herself too seriously”) and now with her podcast where she’s basically providing therapy to listeners when she’s not offering self-confessions.  (OK, that’s just a podcast.)

Unlike Miller’s “hey, is this where I can get a job?” ploy, Silverman’s career progression feels heartfelt. But it’s still less funny.

Better or worse?  Worse. 

Richard Pryor

You could also call this entry “George Carlin.”  Like Carlin, Pryor was originally a genial, suit-and-tie wearing type in the early 1960s, offering observations on life in the manner of Bill Cosby and other inoffensive types.

The Ed Sullivan Show

That all changed in 1967 when Pryor took a Vegas stage, checked out the audience, and exclaimed "What the f--- am I doing here?"  He left the stage and everything changed from that point forward, with an emphasis on racial politics and profanity that defined the latter half of his career.  The new version of Pryor is still considered by many to be the best stand-up of all time.

Better or worse?  Better. 

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