From Delivering Punchlines to Packing a Punch in Serious Roles: Comedians Who Emerged as Actors
From punchlines to powerful performances, these comedians smiled their way to the bank
Stand-up comedy opens the doors for witty content creators, who can secure their own specials and tours that catapult them to millionaire status and pave the way for stardom. Many A-list Hollywood actors and blockbuster draws have their roots in stand-up, sketch, or improvisational comedy, leading to incredible career trajectories.
Decades before Ben Affleck, Keaton's casting as Batman seemed a bit off and raised some doubts among fans because he was primarily recognized as a stand-up comedian in the 1980s. Despite not being perceived as a serious dramatic actor at the time, Keaton had honed his skills on the comedy club circuit to make the most of his major breakthrough. While his comedic background made sense when viewers saw him in "Beetlejuice," fans remained skeptical about his ability to handle the role of "Batman." However, he ultimately disproved all doubts and established himself as one of Hollywood's most respected actors with his iconic portrayal of Bruce Wayne. Keaton didn't shy away from returning to comedy, as evidenced by his supporting role in Adam McKay's The Other Guys. He later went on to deliver critically acclaimed performances in movies such as "Birdman," and switched to the Marvel universe as a villain in the "Spiderman" franchise.
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The renowned singer and actor began his career in stand-up comedy as well and had spent some time touring the stand-up circuit before auditioning for a role on the 90s sketch comedy show In "Living Color," which also launched the acting career of another comedian, Jim Carrey. Thanks to his stint on In Living Color, Foxx eventually transitioned into prominent Hollywood blockbuster films, including "Collateral" alongside Tom Cruise, "Miami Vice" with Colin Farrell, and a lead role in Quentin Tarantino's "Django Unchained." Foxx still manages to seamlessly switch between genres, appearing as a baddie in the Marvel universe and in dark comedies such as Netflix's "They Cloned Tyrone."
Funny man Seth Rogen's early Hollywood career was indeed marked by stoner comedies like "Knocked Up," and prior to that, he was part of Judd Apatow's cult classics such as "Undeclared" and "Freaks and Geeks." However, it's worth noting that Rogen was discovered while performing on the comedy circuit. In a way, he later revisited his stand-up roots when he starred in Judd Apatow's film about stand-up comedians, Funny People, alongside Adam Sandler.
It may come as a surprise to many that Emma Thompson, who has earned both an Academy Award for Best Actress and Best Adapted Screenplay, began her career performing crude stand-up comedy and improv. An elegant actress known for nuanced performances in the drama genre, Thompson first gained prominence in England as a member of various comedy troupes, featuring in BBC shows. She collaborated with fellow comics and future luminaries such as Rowan Atkinson, Hugh Laurie, and Stephen Fry on short-lived sketch programs like "There's Nothing To Worry About."
Whoopi Goldberg has an impressive career arc that includes her stint as a host on "The View," appearances in "Star Trek," and major roles in numerous films, before her foray into the cannabis industry. But it's important to note that her journey began with stand-up comedy, before she transitioned into more serious roles, partially thanks to her portrayal of Guinan, the wise and immortal bartender on "Star Trek: The Next Generation." In a thrilling return, Goldberg has reprised this iconic character for the new "Star Trek" spin-off series, "Picard." Over the years she has continued to appear in comic roles for films such as "Sister Act" and "Ghost."
The bulked-up star known for his roles in Steven Spielberg's "Munich," the epic flick "Troy," and other Oscar-nominated movies, initially began his career as a stand-up comedian in Australia. He even had his own sketch comedy show titled "The Eric Bana Show Live," before transitioning from comedy to drama in 1997 with the film "The Castle." Since then, the former funny man has largely picked up roles in the drama and action genres, including a short-lived stint as "The Incredible Hulk."
The actor known for his roles in "House of Cards" and "The Usual Suspects," as well as his eventual fall from grace following grim allegations of sexual harassment, began his career as a stand-up comedian. While making a mark as a comedian and theatre actor, Spacey displayed a talent for impressions, a skill that proved valuable in his acting career. His most noticeable roles came in "American Beauty" and in "House of Cards," which required him to use different accents. In a memorable interview with Jimmy Fallon, Spacey even revisited his old stand-up comedy impressions. In a major departure from his comical roots, Spacey also delivered a shocking performance as serial killer John Doe in "Se7en."
Known for his roles in "Hellboy" and "Sons of Anarchy," Perlman had a brief stint as a comedian, although there is limited information on that phase of his life. Perlman's distinctive appearance and imposing presence quickly landed him roles in Hollywood action flicks. It's hard to imagine how comedy club audiences reacted to someone with Perlman's persona delivering punchlines before he eventually packed a punch in action and superhero films.
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