The 8 Best Dramatic Roles Played By Funny People

Most of the Oscar buzz surrounding Alexander Payne’s latest film, Nebraska, is being heaped on the resurrection of '70s icon Bruce Dern and his tour-de-force performance as a curmudgeon who travels across the country in search of a big payday. But, it’s his-co-star Will Forte, a.k.a. MacGruber, whose portrayal of a nondescript man attempting to reconnect with his father that’s really raised eyebrows. Forte, best known for his eight-year stint on SNL and his failed attempt at movie-stardom with the criminally underrated MacGruber, is the latest in a long line of funnymen and women who’ve succeeded in shelving the fart jokes — if only for a minute — and shown us what they can do with much weightier fare. Ahead, see eight more comedians who’ve made us laugh 'til we cry — and then caused us to cry some more.
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Jamie Foxx, Ray
When Jamie Foxx decides to pen his memoir, we’re hoping he calls it From Wigs to Wayfarers: The Jamie Foxx Story. It’ll be an inspirational account of the actor’s incredible journey, which began in 1991 with him playing the drag nightmare Wanda on the cult sketch show In Living Color and culminated in his career-altering, Oscar-winning performance as Ray Charles 13 years later. The “Kanye n’ Me” chapter will be the best, though.
Photo: Courtesy of Focus Features.
Adam Sandler, Punch-Drunk Love
Only Paul Thomas Anderson could extract the rage, hostility, and sadness that helped make Hollywood’s resident man-child one of the highest paid actors on the planet and turn it into something beautiful. As Barry Egan, a damaged executive looking for love, Sandler still relies heavily on his trademark inflection and mannerisms, but he also reveals a previously unseen depth and nuance as a performer, which got us all very excited for his future dramatic pursuits. In other news, Grown Ups 2 is now available on Blu-Ray.
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Whoopi Goldberg, The Color Purple
When Steven Spielberg handpicked Whoopi Goldberg to play Celie, the abused and frightened woman at the center of his epic period drama, she was starring in her crude, one-woman The Spook Show on Broadway, and her casting took all of showbiz by surprise. No one knew if the raw and raunchy comedian had the skills to pull off the complex role, despite her own painful history as a victim of abuse. Goldberg, of course, killed it, earned her first Oscar nod, and proved why everyone should just listen to Steven Spielberg.
Jim Carrey, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
In The Truman Show, Carrey’s first attempt at a straight-up weepy, he only partly ditched the elasticity theatrics that made him famous. Here, he loses them entirely. As Joel Barish, a man struggling to hold on to the memories of his ex, Carrey shows unusual restraint in portraying a character who’s perpetually sad, anxious, quiet, and introverted — not hallmarks of a typical Jim Carrey performance. Perhaps that’s why it’s his best.
Mo’Nique, Precious
Mo’Nique’s caught a lot of flack for her refusal to play the Oscar-campaign game in 2010, when the comic and talk-show host was the consensus favorite to win the award for her searing portrayal of the world’s worst mom in Lee Daniels’ Precious. And, yeah, she won anyway, because no one can pull off a character that enables incest, drops babies, and chucks TVs down stairwells quite like Mo’Nique.
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Bill Murray, Lost in Translation
His performance as a middle-aged movie star in full-on existential-crisis mode may not have been much of a stretch for the, well, middle-aged movie star. But, here Bill Murray manages to infuse his usual acerbic delivery with a profound melancholy that was so effective, it not only earned him his first Oscar nod, but it became the linchpin of his career’s incredible second act.
Patton Oswalt, Big Fan
Oswalt has owned the Internet this past year thanks to his wicked standup/Tweets/essays/rants/cameos, but many of his newest disciples don’t realize that the gifted comic also has some serious dramatic chops. Case in point: Big Fan, a pitch-black study of an obsessed sports fan who lives — and nearly dies — for his beloved New York Giants. IRL, Oswalt, a noted super-geek, has zero interest in sports, which makes his performance all the more startling.
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Robin Williams, One Hour Photo
A string of schmaltzy tearjerkers like Patch Adams and What Dreams May Come helped ignite a minor Robin Williams backlash in the late '90s. So, the manic funnyman wisely decided to explore the darker side of his psyche, first with Insomnia and then as a super-creepy photo processor who becomes dangerously obsessed with a family in this, Mark Romanek’s chilling directorial debut.
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