Top Ten Tuesday: Comedians Turned Actors
They make us laugh. They make us cry. Okay, maybe not so much. But they sure make us laugh. In honor of Judd Apatow’s latest film about stand-up comedians, we felt it was time to come up with our top 10 list of comedians turned actors. Some of them have found more success in one area over the other. Others have done a fine job walking the line between the two. Regardless of how the success is dispersed, each individual on this list has reached it at some point in their career.
10. Chris Farley
One of the most successful SNL stars to branch out into the film world, Chris Farley is a legend in the comedy world. Imagine if he had survived longer than his 33 years. One of the most iconic images in the last 20 years of SNL is Farley dressed as a Chippendale’s dancer along with Patrick Swayze. However, as funny and as successful as Farley was on SNL, it was his movies that really made him a star. After small roles in WAYNE’S WORLD, CONEHEADS, and BILLY MADISON, he had his breakout performance in 1995′s TOMMY BOY. Along with fellow SNL star David Spade, Farley hit a one-two punch with that film and BLACK SHEEP the next year. While it wasn’t much of a critical success, 1997′s BEVERY HILLS NINJA was a financial one, and Farley’s star was looking to continue to rise. Sadly, Farley died at the end of 1997. At the time of his death, he had been working on vocals for the lead role in a DreamWorks animated film. After his death, Mike Myers took over the duties of voicing the character. Had Farley survived, SHREK surely would have been a different film, and it would have solidified Farley’s legendary status that much more.
9. Whoopi Goldberg
There’s no question that Whoopi is a funny lady. Having started her career with a brief stint on Broadway and then moving on to improv and success as a stand-up comedienne, Whoopi eventually used her humorous tactics along side other great comedians to support great causes like Comic Relief. Whoopi also became a household name with sci-fi fans with her run as Guinan on STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION. Whoopi’s list of well-received comedies include JUMPIN’ JACK FLASH and the SISTER ACT films, but her crowning achievements as an actress are her roles in THE COLOR PURPLE and GHOST, for which she won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar in 1990. Whoopi is an under-appreciated actress and, while other names like Tina Fey and Sarah Silverman just barely missed this list, Whoopi continues to prove comedy and isn’t just a man’s game.
8. Adam Sandler
It’s hard to say which of the people on this list is considered the most successful SNL star to come out of the late-night program. So many of these comedians got their bridge to the world of cinema from the show, but Adam Sandler is surely one of the biggest. While he never really had much success as a stand-up comedian, but, between 1990 and 1995, he grew into a huge part of that generation of SNL alumni. After hitting it big on the show, Sandler went on to star in a number of highly successful films. Films like BILLY MADISON, HAPPY GILMORE, THE WEDDING SINGER, and THE WATERBOY are only a few of the films that have made Sandle one of the biggest stars working today. Even when he turns in more dramatic roles like PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE and REIGN OVER ME, Sandler hits it out of the park. He continues to make waves in the film world even today, and, with the collaboration of Judd Apatow and Seth Rogen, FUNNY PEOPLE could end up being his biggest success, both financially and critically, to date.
7. Eddie Murphy
If you look at this list and everyone on it, and you begin to think about which comedian turned actor has had just as much success in the acting world as they did in the world of stand-up, you shouldn’t look further than Eddie Murphy. Not only was he a regular on SNL from ’80 through ’84, his shows DELIRIOUS and RAW are considered some of the best stand-up comedy has to offer. Even more than that, Murphy has been in some of the biggest and best comedies in history. BEVERLY HILLS COP, 48 HOURS, COMING TO AMERICA, and TRADING PLACES are just a few of his R-rated movies. Sure, in later years, he went the politically correct route with his safe, family movies. Movies like THE NUTTY PROFESSOR and DOCTOR DOLITTLE were major successes. Unfortunately, his acting career has grown stagnant in recent years. It’s movies like DADDY DAY CARE, MEET DAVE, and IMAGINE THAT that keep him from being higher on this list. Regardless, you can’t deny the success Murphy had in his early career both on and off the stage.
6. Robin Williams
Surprisingly, Robin Williams didn’t ultimately make a bigger impression on this list, but still deserves to have his place without a doubt. From his seemingly drug-induced hilariously random stand-up routine that traveled faster than a speeding bullet to his long and popular run as an alien on MORK & MINDY, Robin had a good thing going from the start. Along with Whoopi, Robin would also donate his comedic talents for Comic Relief. From POPEYE to NIGH AT THE MUSEUM, moviegoers would have mixed opinions on his films, but one thing is for sure… Robin can be very funny, but he can also perform dramatically when called upon. All the way back to 1984, Robin first revealed his dramatic bones in MOSCOW ON THE HUDSON. His role in GOOD MORNING, VIETNAM reveals both sides of the talented man, leading to more distinguished roles in DEAD POETS SOCIETY, THE FISHER KING and GOOD WILL HUNTING. Recently, Robin has teamed with long-time friend and comedian turned director Bobcat Goldthwait for the darkly humorous but oddly serious WORLD’S GREATEST DAD.
5. Zach Galifianakis
Zack Galifianakis may seem like the rookie of the bunch here, but he’s been doing TV series and comedy features since the mid-1990′s. Zach began performing his unique style of comedy in the back of a burger joint, but soon found himself traveling the country performing to sold-out shows. Zach held a decent run on the TV series TRU CALLING and will soon be appearing in a new HBO comedy series with Jason Schwartzman called BORED TO DEATH. While his filmography is still a bit light, including comedies like CORKY ROMANO and OUT COLD, Zach also jumped to drama with INTO THE WILD. His big cinematic breakout however, would undoubtedly be his role in THE HANGOVER, making a huge impression on huge audiences and securing his name in the Hollywood studio casting handbooks.
4. Richard Pryor
While his jump from the stand-up stage to the silver screen was a successful one, there is not doubt that Richard Pryor had much more success as a comedian than he did as an actor. Beginning in 1967, Pryor began his career as a stand-up comedian, and he is considered by many as one of the greatest who ever took the stage. Bob Newhart even considered Pryor the “seminal comedian of the past 50 years.” While he had major success in the world of stand-up, he also appeared in several successful films. Films like SILVER STREAK, STIR CRAZY, and SEE NO EVIL, HEAR NO EVIL made Pryor and Gene Wilder one of the greatest comedy duos to ever appear in films. However, Pryor also had great success with films like THE TOY, BUSTIN’ LOOSE, and HARLEM NIGHTS, where Pryor finally appeared with his next generation counterpart, Eddie Murphy. And, while it is considered one of the worst superhero films in history, you cannot deny the financial success Pryor helped bring to SUPERMAN III. Sadly, Pryor passed away in 2005, making him one of only two people on this list to have died. However, his legacy stands hold, and Pryor will forever be considered one of the greatest stand-up comedians who ever walked on the stage.
3. Jim Carrey
Pretty much the opposite of Richard Pryor is Jim Carrey, whose success in film far outweighs his success as a stand-up comedian. While he did have nominal success in the world of stand-up, it wasn’t until his breakout performance in 1994′s ACE VENTURA: PET DETECTIVE that Carrey became a star. And become a star he absolutely did. With 11 films that have broken the $100-million mark (two of which broke the $200-million mark), Carrey’s success in the world of film began instantly and it has held true all the way to today. He’s had his valleys along with peaks. THE CABLE GUY in 1996 was considered the first Jim Carrey flop, though it still holds as one of the funniest films he’s done, and some of his more dramatic roles haven’t been readily accepted by his fans. His dark turn in THE NUMBER 23 is out-and-out atrocious. However, there is no denying the success Carrey continues to pull into any project he deems worthy of jumping on board.
2. Steve Martin
Steve Martin may have been a “wild and crazy guy” back in his days with SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, but he’s proven he’s a man of many talents. Steve did his time as a stand-up comedian, which initially influenced films like THE JERK and THE MAN WITH TWO BRAINS. His real popularity in film would get a boost in late 1980′s with a string of consecutive hits including PLANES, TRAINS & AUTOMOBILES, DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS and PARENTHOOD. Steve’s films, much like Robin Williams’, would be hit and miss with moviegoers, but he began to show his diversity in David Mamet’s THE SPANISH PRISONER followed later by SHOPGIRL, which he himself wrote. Steve Martin has become just as much a talented writer as he is a comedian and actor, having written novellas, stage plays and screenplays as well as having written extensively for television. Steve martin is a compelling character, both onscreen and off and has likely only just begun his best work, even if he is doing more off screen these days.
1. Bill Murray
Bill Murray’s stand-up career may not be well-known by many, but there’s no question about his comedic talents. Having paid his way in the beginning as a caddy, clearly an inspiration for a film we all know and love, Bill went on to join the National Lampoon Radio Hour, later followed by a run on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE. His early comedic successes in the 80′s include the afore eluded to CADDYSHACK, STRIPES and the GHOSTBUSTERS films to name a few. Bill’s career never really seemed to slow down, barreling through the 90′s and becoming one of the most sought-after cross-over talents in the biz. Still as funny as ever, Bill Murray has also started showing his serious side with more dramatic and refined comedic roles for Wes Anderson and Jim Jarmusch, including RUSHMORE, ROYAL TENENBAUMS and BROKEN FLOWERS. Murray’s marquis accomplishment thus far has been his role in Sofia Coppola’s LOST IN TRANSLATION, for which he was nominated for a Best Actor Academy Award in 2003.