Comedies rarely get credit for how hard it is to be funny—look at how little respect comedies get from The Academy at the Oscars. So for some comedians, jumping from silly to serious roles can often be a rewarding experience. Comedian Melissa McCarthy is trying her hand at drama in the recently released Can You Ever Forgive Me? Earlier this month, A Star is Born opened with serious cameos from Andrew “Dice” Clay and Dave Chappelle. They join a long tradition of comedians doing serious performances for serious films. We have rounded up our top 10 funny people who took on dramatic roles.
Steve Carell – Foxcatcher (2014)
In 2006, Steve Carrell proved his acting chops in the dark comedy Little Miss Sunshine playing a suicidal, gay uncle. In the years after, Carell has flirted with drama in The Way, Way Back, Dan in Real Life and the recent release Beautiful Boy, but his most impressive role was in 2014’s Foxcatcher as murderer, John du Pont. The film debuted at Cannes and earned Carell an Oscar nomination for Best Actor.
Robin Williams – Good Will Hunting (1997)
Robin Williams earned an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor and a Golden Globe nomination for playing Matt Damon’s therapist. The film turned Damon and Ben Affleck into stars and cemented the Mrs. Doubtfire star’s reputation as a versatile actor. Williams had already been mixing drama with comedy in Oscar-nominated roles for Good Morning Vietnam and Dead Poets Society. He continued to flex those muscles until his death in 2014, including his posthumous role in The Angriest Man in Brooklyn.
Marlon Wayans – Requiem for a Dream (2000)
The Wayans family name is synonymous with comedy, but with Marlon Wayans role in Requiem for a Dream shows that he can go intense. Wayans plays a heroin addict whose life spirals into madness after his addiction causes him to slide into worse and worse situations. The role is extremely gritty for the usually upbeat Wayans showing a new level of acting skill from the comedian.
Roberto Benigni – Life is Beautiful (1997)
Roberto Benigni might be best known in America for his 1997 holocaust film, Life is Beautiful, but in his home country of Italy he is known for his comedy work. He got his start on a satirical TV show called Onda Libera. Life is Beautiful won an Oscar for Best Foreign film and Benigni took one home for Best Actor. While the film has been called a Comedy-Drama, the weight of the subject certainly categorizes the role as a serious one.
Kristen Wiig – Girl Most Likely (2012)
Kristen Wiig often blends comedy and drama in films like The Skeleton Twins and Welcome to Me, but her most dramatic turn is in Girl Most Likely. The performance cemented Wiig as an indie darling and an actress that wasn’t going to shy away from hard topics. While her performances always have elements of comedy, she approaches depression and mental health in powerful ways in her more serious roles.
Andrew “Dice” Clay – Blue Jasmine (2013)
Andrew Dice Clay shows surprising acting chops in this retelling of A Street Car Named Desire from director Woody Allen. Clay is not the only comedian to appear in this film—Louis C.K. plays a philandering husband. Clay, who plays the main character’s brother-in-law, gives a nuanced and grounded performance as a working-class San Franciscan.
Adam Sandler – Reign Over Me (2007)
Adam Sandler hasn’t shied away from tackling dramatic roles in movies like Punch Drunk Love and Funny People, but Reign Over Me is certainly his most profoundly deep work to date. Playing a man that had a mental break down after his entire family died in one of the planes on September 11th, 2001. The character hinges on grieving and the loss of sanity that comes with such trauma. The film has funny moments, but most of them are given to Don Cheadle who plays Sandler’s former college roommate.
Mo’Nique – Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire (2009)
The former stand-up plays the titular character’s abusive mother. In a movie full of sadness and pain, one of the most arresting scenes is a monologue delivered by Mo’Nique to Precious (played by breakout star Gabourey Sidibe) and their social worker (a similarly surprising great performance by singer Mariah Carey). The monologue reaches a crescendo with the line, “who was gonna love me.” The monologue is heart-wrenching and often cited as the reason she won the Oscar for the performance.
Jonah Hill – Moneyball (2011)
Jonah Hill has come a long way from when he rocketed onto the scene as the funny fat kid in Apatow films. Hill has proven over the years that he can play a more multi-faceted character than some might expect from the Superbad star. And it all started with Moneyball. The movie follows the true story of the Oakland Athletics 2002 season. Hill plays assistant GM Peter Brand, who tries to use math to make the team great on a small budget. The role earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
Whoopi Goldberg – The Color Purple (1985)
Whoopi Goldberg got her start with one-woman show, but her first-ever film role was 1985’s The Color Purple. Her portrayal of Celie—a mistreated black woman in early 1900s Georgia—would earn her a Golden Globe for Best Actress and an Oscar nomination. Later in her career, she would win an Oscar for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for the film Ghost, where she offered some iconic comic relief.