Six (More) Comedians Who Kill As Dramatic Actors

Six (More) Comedians Who Kill As Dramatic Actors

Stand-up comedians dream of landing a sitcom to call their own.

Think “Seinfeld,” “The King of Queens,” “Everybody Loves Raymond,” “The Jamie Foxx Show” and many more. Others set their sights on a more illustrious prize.

An Academy Award.

That means leaving some of their comedy tics behind to fully inhabit a role. We’ve noted a half-dozen comedians who did just that, but the list of funny-people-turned-serious is longer than one article can convey.

The following stars have yet to take home a coveted Oscar, but for some it’s only a matter of time.

Steve Carell

The “Daily Show” alum struck comedy gold with 2005’s “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” which he co-wrote with former comedy king Judd Apatow. That same year he began anchoring the American version of “The Office,” making Michael Scott the embodiment of corporate foolishness.

He could have kept making us laugh. Instead, he veered into more dramatic fare with sublime results. His performance in 2014’s “Foxcatcher,” based on a chilling true story, shocked longtime fans. He earned his first Oscar nomination for the startling career shift.

The victory fueled Carell’s cravings. So, in between a disappointing two-season run of Netflix’s “Space Force,” he brought a Matt Lauer-like figure to life in “The Morning Show,” Apple TV+‘s most celebrated drama.

Now, Carell is part of “The Patient,” FX’s pitch-black drama following the star’s character, a therapist, who is kidnapped by a serial killer.

Bill Murray

The “Saturday Night Live” superstar hungered for dramatic work early in his career. Fans weren’t ready for it, though, and his turn in 1984’s “The Razor’s Edge” failed to light the box office aflame. The culture wasn’t ready to stop laughing at him, nor were film critics of the time.

So Murray went back to funny business, carving out an impressive run of hits courtesy of “Ghostbusters,” “What About Bob?” and, of course, “Groundhog Day.”

That dramatic itch never went away, though. He dove headfirst into sobering fare with 2003’s “Lost in Translation,” playing a fading star who makes a soulful connection with a young woman (Scarlett Johansson).

The film’s raucous reception, including a nomination for Best Actor, gave him the opportunity to finally embrace a two-track career – serious work like “Get Low” and “Broken Flowers” and films that play to his comedic strengths like “St. Vincent,” and “Zombieland” along with several Wes Anderson features.

Melissa McCarthy

This “Gilmore Girls” standout stole the 2011 ensemble comedy “Bridesmaids,” no mean feat given she shared the screen with Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, and Rose Byrne. That sparked McCarthy’s solo career, which began with promise (“Spy,” “The Heat”) before sputtering (“Thunder Force,” “Life of the Party”) in recent years.

She shrewdly sought and snagged meatier roles to hedge against comic failure and the industry’s woke revolution. “The Kitchen” proved a late 2019 flop, but “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” earned McCarthy a well-deserved Oscar nomination.

Her subsequent turn in “The Starling” showed that her ability in performance was no fluke, but the Netflix original packed too many cringe moments for McCarthy to shine.

Eddie Murphy

“Delirious.” “Raw.” 

Two iconic comedy specials, one 20-something genius. Naturally, the “Saturday Night Live” alum took his skills to the big screen, and in a short span delivered an impressive of blockbusters: “48 Hrs.,” “Trading Places,” and “Beverly Hills Cop.”

Murphy had talent to burn, but he only used a fraction of it in careful script curation over various career stretches. Mediocre fare like “Daddy Day Care,” “The Adventures of Pluto Nash” and “Dr. Dolittle” hardly deserved a comedy icon’s attention, to be kind.

His career got the turbo boost it needed in 2006 with “Dreamgirls.” Murphy snagged his first and only Oscar nomination for the film, showcasing the full range of his dramatic repertoire. He has renewed his devotion to comedies since then, but delivered powerful turns in the otherwise generic “Mr. Church” as well as in “Dolemite Is My Name”’s introspective scenes.

Michael Keaton

Tim Burton selected “Mr. Mom,” of all actors, to play the Dark Knight in 1989’s “Batman.” The analog version of Comic-Con Nation lost its collective mind. It obviously hadn’t seen “Clean and Sober” the previous year.

Keaton set the funny shtick aside to play an addict trying to kick his deadly habits. The part showcased his range, and rage — two qualities that made his Bat films memorable.

That DC Comics pivot sustained him for a spell before he faded from the A-list. He came roaring back in films like “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance),” his first Best Actor nomination to date, and “Spotlight,” but even his lesser-known dramas (like “The Founder”) deserve audience attention.

Bill Burr

He’s one of the funniest stand-ups alive, an apolitical jester who calls out the woke mind virus. Burr isn’t satisfied with being in comedy’s rarefied air, though. He’s been landing small parts for a while now, a thug here (“Breaking Bad”), an anti-hero there (“The Mandalorian”).

His best role, to date, came via “The King of Staten Island.” Yes, it’s technically a comedy from fading superstar Judd Apatow, but Burr’s character offers a serious arc that steals the show from star Pete Davidson.

Burr’s Boston upbringing gives the character, a firefighter trying to woo Marisa Tomei, a welcome brew of grit and wisdom.

Christian Toto is an award-winning journalist, movie critic and editor of He previously served as associate editor with Breitbart News’ Big Hollywood. Follow him at @HollywoodInToto

The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.