5 Comedians Who Do Some of Their Best Work When They Knock Off the Funny Business

5 Comedians Who Do Some of Their Best Work When They Knock Off the Funny Business

One more time for the people in the back:  Dying is easy, comedy is hard. That’s why the history of film accolades is littered with funny actors lauded for their turns in dramatic films, including Oscar nominees and sometimes winners like Bill Murray, Whoopi Goldberg, Jim Carrey, Melissa McCarthy, Woody Harrelson, Lily Tomlin, Jonah Hill, Dan Aykroyd, Steve Carrell and Eddie Murphy. Here are five more comedians who knocked it out of the park when they got the chance to put on their drama pants.

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Ali Wong

If you didn’t get the memo, stand-up comic Ali Wong can act. She’s had to clear an entire shelf in the past month or two to make room for all the awards she’s won for revenge drama Beef, including an Emmy, a Golden Globe, and a Critics Choice award. 

“Wong matches (costar Steven) Yeun beat-for-beat from the first episode to last,” says critic Brian Tellerico. “It’s easily the best acting work of her career, and I hope it opens dozens of doors for her in terms of future collaborations. About halfway through the season, I started to think about all the filmmakers I’d like to see work with her, and most of them were legends.”

Robin Williams

Williams deserved his Oscar as the sympathetic therapist in Good Will Hunting, but for my money, he’s even better when he goes completely dark. As the villain in One Hour Photo, “Williams finally gets a role so smartly written we forget not only that we are watching Williams the dramatic actor, but that we are watching Williams at all,” says the Detroit Free Press’s Terry Lawson.

Williams pulled off the dysphoria again in Christopher Nolan’s Insomnia. “The key is what he doesn’t do,” says Slate’s David Edelstein. “Those rubber features remain rigid, that madcap energy harnessed. The sour little curl of Williams’ mouth reminds me of Laurence Olivier in The Entertainer—all the paranoid alertness of a stand-up comic with none of the genial pandering. There is nothing so despairing—or potentially so lethal—as a clown who has given up hope of making us laugh but wants to have an impact on us anyway.”

Aubrey Plaza

The world discovered Plaza as the delightfully deadpan April on Parks and Recreation, but the actress has put that character’s lethal stare to good use in edgy dramas. In last year’s Emily the Criminal, critics applauded Plaza for her riveting performance.

“Emily is Plaza’s Michael Corleone,” says Observer’s Dylan Roth, “a character who erodes your sympathies so slowly that you almost don’t notice what’s becoming of her — or perhaps, what she always was.”

Adam Sandler

When the Sandman isn’t making goofy Netflix projects like Hubie Halloween, he somehow finds the time to star in indie dramas. He hasn’t landed that Oscar nom yet, but it’s coming thanks to movies like Uncut Gems

Empire Magazine’s Nick De Semlyen says it’s “easily the best film to ever extensively feature Adam Sandler yelling at a TV,” but we might opt for Punch Drunk Love, the Paul Thomas Anderson valentine in which Sandler yells at just about everything.

Jamie Foxx

The incredibly handsome Foxx started as an outrageous stand-up comic, graduated to TV sketch stardom with In Living Color, then took home the Academy Award for his startling dramatic turn in Ray

“Foxx does what he's supposed to,” says the Washington Post’s Desson Thomson. “He steals his own show.”


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