Arts & Entertainment, Pop Rhetoric

While some see comedic actors as uncut for drama, their performances can become gems

Comedy is said to stem from tragedy, so it isn’t too far of a stretch to suggest that a great comedic actor could be an equally great dramatic actor. In fact, many performers have proved this hypothesis, from Adam Sandler’s tremendous performance in Uncut Gems to Steve Carell’s captivating role in Little Miss Sunshine. While some would expect skilled comedy actors to have little talent when it comes to serious dramas, many have delivered phenomenal performances that would rival some from the all-time greats. When artists subvert expectations in their performances, it demonstrates how creative labels can block actors from breaking out into great roles in different styles of film.

While not all of the more serious performances from comedy actors are successful—see Amy Schumer in Thank you for Your Service—others have surprised audiences with their impressive dramatic acting. Like Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting, some of comedy’s biggest names have prospered and been warmly received by critics and audience members alike. But this should not be surprising: Comedians and comic actors often make light of their own tragedies or suffering to fuel their comedic work. This, in combination with the need for a strong sense of performance timing and awareness, makes many comedic actors particularly adept at working in more dramatic settings. The natural instinct for knowing when a comedic beat will hit parallels a seasoned actors’ instinct for recognizing where a particularly tense emotional beat should land. Many comedy actors also have a deep commitment to their bits, no matter how ridiculous or melancholy the subject matter. Translating that into a dramatic performance creates mesmerizing characters that are often magnetic to watch. 

However unsuccessful some may be at transitioning into dramatic roles, comedic actors seem to do drastically better than one group in particular: Musicians. Countless musicians have found their way onto the big screen, with varying levels of success. Occasionally you end up with electric performances like those from Lady Gaga in A Star is Born or Justin Timberlake in The Social Network. These musicians play off of their strengths as stage performers to deliver exhilarating performances on screen. Although they are by no means the same thing, the ability to entertain an audience at a concert can translate well to charming audiences on the big screen. However, for every good transition into Hollywood, there are a thousand bad ones: Artists like Taylor Swift in Cats and Adam Levine in Fun Mom Dinner maybe should’ve just stuck to working on their next albums. Some musicians, even with prior acting experience, seem almost too famous to play anyone other than themselves—a category that doesn’t really have a comedic counterpart. Ariana Grande’s appearance in Don’t Look Up and Harry Styles’ in Dunkirk, although not necessarily bad, could sometimes distract from the plots of their respective films.

Although many actors could be considered mixed bags, comedic actors generally fare better than dramatic ones in delivering powerful performances against type. With such great roles in multitudes, it is beyond time to stop putting performers in creative boxes and put more faith in their varied talents. Although seeing one act against their usual type can be a wonderful surprise, imposing unnecessary labels can prevent them from accessing breakout roles in different genres. Audiences are missing out on fresh and innovative performances by pigeonholing and typecasting artists as either funny or serious, rather than a more important trait: Talented.

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