Ten Memorable Non-Comedic Performances By Comedians
by David Christopher Bell
I’ve found that this list comes up fairly often on the Internet – however every time I read one I’m surprised by how many redundancies they all share. While a few of said redundancies will also appear in the following (because sometimes you just can’t deny a good performance) I’m going to try and mix this up and give a you a few of my personal favorite and slightly less talked about non-funny roles some real funny people took on. Let’s get started with a picture of a pen jabbed into Jon Stewart’s eye.
10. Jon Stewart in The Faculty
I love Jon Stewart, but I also think there should be more movies out there where he turns into an alien and gets stabbed in the eye. I don’t know why, I just love watching it happen in this film. This happens right after he also gets his finders lopped off by Josh Hartnett, one of the many random actors stuck in this early Robert Rodriguez film. Seriously – the cast features Robert Patrick, Elijah Wood, Famke Janssen, and Christopher McDonald just to name a few. Oh and Usher, Usher’s in this film as well.
Here, check out Jon’s alien death for yourself:
9. Adam Sandler in Spanglish
Spanglish probably isn’t the most serious role you could say Sandler has been in. I’d even argue that his role in Funny People was probably more dramatic – however with films like Punch Drunk Love and Reign Over Me, while his roles have been more serious they’ve also been a lot more outstanding in nature. What I like about this particular role is that it is not only fairly serious, but extremely subdued as well. It’s a simple character, a man struggling to keep faithful in a marriage, and Sandler plays it beautifully by downplaying his own sense of humor – often appearing as not the funniest person in the room, such as with the following scene:
8. Steve Carell in Little Miss Sunshine
This is, of course, one of those you see in all the lists about serious roles by comedians. I actually don’t think the reason why has much to do with the level of drama involved in the part, to me it’s the same Steve Carell personality we see in some of his other work, only heavily downplayed – muted. But that’s why it works too, the character comes across as a skeleton of a man that was once jubilant, humorous, and charismatic. Any humor that comes from this beaten down suicide case is from his exhaustion with those around him and the reactions of his family. This clip really says it all:
7. Steve Martin in Shopgirl
I hate it when a movie like Shopgirl comes along, adapted by Steve Martin from a novel he himself wrote, and shows me this wonderful window – Steve Martin taking on a serious role that was clearly something person to him – and then the window shuts and never seems to open again. Since The Jerk, this man has made me laugh consistently, but it was so cool to see him try something as subdued as this role. My guess is that it’s because of the subdued nature of the role, and the film in general that it didn’t see the success it deserved. Also you can’t beat co-star like Claire Danes and Jason Schwartzman.
Of course when I mean subdued, I really mean subdued – as you will see by the first time Steve Martin’s character meets his future lover at her place of work:
6. Rodney Dangerfield in Natural Born Killers
This role had both absolutely nothing to do Dangerfield’s actual performance and at the same time had everything to do with it. The reason why is because his character in this film is not really unlike any of his comedic performances – which is what makes it so scary when you hear the words coming out of his mouth. This is probably one of the smartest scenes in a film I’ve ever seen – as director Oliver Stone disturbingly juxtaposes Rodney Dangerfield’s reputation and performance as well as a sitcom like environment with the extremely dark portrayal of a dysfunctional suburban family. Watch if you dare.
Click to the next page below to see the final five…
5. Jim Carrey in Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind
You knew this was coming – you saw the title and you said to yourself “Eternal Sunshine will be on this list.” Then you shoveled some more nachos in your mouth and then stuck some stickers on your cat’s tail and watched her freak out until you got bored. That last part might have just been me, actually.
Anyway, yeah – We had things like The Truman Show and The Majestic, and more recently The Number 23, but you just can’t compare it. Like Steve Carell in Sunshine, Carrey gives off a pathetic, beaten down feel of a man who only gives us a hint of something more – a silliness not unlike Carrey himself that only comes out in the absolute thickest blanket of familiarity and comfort. Check out his dry narration at the very beginning of the film:
4. Jackie Gleason in The Hustler
I’m rather surprised that this role doesn’t come up more in similar lists I’ve seen. Even though Jackie Gleason did take on his fair share of dramatic roles he is really only known for two things: Ralph in The Honeymooners and legendary pool player Minnesota Fats, who serves as Fast Eddie Felson’s white whale in The Hustler. His performance is rather stoic against Paul Newman’s hustler charm, showing only enough personality to interact with those in the pool hall as much as he is expected to interact. While Eddie is always looking for a challenge, Fats has the luxury of not having to go far to take on new blood, making him a fairly looming opponent throughout the film. Here’s Eddie and Fats’ first interaction of the film, setting the stage for incoming defeat our hero ensues:
3. Jay Mohr in Playing By Heart
Not only is Jay Mohr’s performance as a young gay man dying of AIDS in a hospital bed while slowly rebuilding his relationship with his mother an extremely hidden gem in this film, but the film itself – Playing By Heart – seems to be a gem of it’s own. Starring a ridiculous cast including Sean Connery, Ellen Burstyn, Angelina Jolie, Ryan Phillippe, Dennis Quaid, Gillian Anderson, and Jon Stewart in yet another serious performance. The movie follows a collection of romantic tales that eventually find themselves interweaved with one another. Mohr’s role in the entire mess of things is both significant and hard to watch as he comes to terms with the decisions he has made and his personal relationships while on his deathbed. This is the first we see of him:
2. Jon Lovitz in Southland Tales
I’ve heard mixed reactions to this film – personally I thought it was really fun. Donnie Darko director Richard Kelly’s downright odd casting – choosing to go with comedy or action film actors for relatively non-comedic roles, is personally my favorite feature of this film. While Cheri Oteri, Dwayne Johnson, Sean William Scott, and Kevin Smith come to mind as especially odd choices, the winner absolutely has to be Job Lovitz as the racist, corrupt cop Bart Bookman. His presence in this film, while somewhat laughable, is nonetheless oddly disturbing. It’s this weirdness that pushes him so far up this list for me.
1. Bill Murray in The Razor’s Edge
I never understood why people made such a big deal out of Lost In Translation. It’s a wonderful movie, but it always seems to get praised for Bill Murray’s dive into serious acting. Truth is, he actually made this dive nearly 20 years earlier when he did the film The Razor’s Edge. It was good to. Really good if you ask me.
The film was made in accordance with his contract when he did Ghostbusters – Murray had agreed to do the now classic comedy only if he was allowed to do this film as well, which was actually shot before but released after his iconic appearance as Dr. Peter Venkman. Watching just the preview below is enough to have a very surreal experience, let alone watching the entire film. His dramatic performance throughout, while genuine and quite good, still can’t subdue the smile I get just by looking at this man. There is seriously nothing that Bill Murray can do to make me anything but happy.