From Gervais to Azaria, these comedians are still in search of a big laugh on the big screen.
Some just can’t exhibit that stage presence on a screen; others have been given nothing but bad roles. Here are some of the greatest comics working today, whose comedic film work is either hard to stomach or just hard to find. Some of these faces have graced some well received releases and even embraced some interesting roles. This list, however, is just for those whose ability to get the room laughing has been mishandled or ignored completely by Hollywood.
With plenty of stand-up releases under his belt, frequent appearances on The Tonight Show and more hours than you can count of great material provided as 3rd mic on The Opie and Anthony Show, Jim Norton has proven that he has a huge wealth of comedic talent to draw from whenever he’s called upon. It’s a shame then that Hollywood rarely comes calling for Jim, and when it does the results are usually very brief and often inconsistent with both his skills and his persona. When a man best known for disgusting jokes and controversial opinions winds up with his biggest film role to date watching Brendan Fraser bumble around with some cutesy animals in kids’ film called Furry Vengeance, it’s clear that something isn’t right.
Anybody who’s seen an awards show since The Office made its debut in 2001 should be familiar with the waves of critical adulation that follow just about everything Ricky Gervais touches. Although an argument of decline is debateable even in regards to his work on the small screen (The Office and Extras are generally his most celebrated works), it’s difficult to argue that his film work has reached anywhere near the peaks of his TV career. Ghost Town and The Invention of Lying are fun enough, but ultimately lack the finely tuned observations of Gervais’s previous work. It’s hard to imagine at this point that Gervais will ever offer us a big screen character as layered and endearing as David Brent.
Norm Macdonald has always been a divisive figure. He has an offbeat style and unique delivery that sail comfortably over the heads of many viewers. His fame peaked presenting the Weekend Update segment on SNL for several years, where he took Dennis Miller’s lead and performed on the show as a pure stand-up, rarely appearing in sketches or as characters. Perhaps this will explain the lacklustre nature of his film career – Macdonald seems to struggle doing anything but talking to the camera, and his flawed attempt at a self penned feature, Dirty Work, was gutted by the studio. We’ll welcome another attempt though – there’s never too much Norm Macdonald in the world.
Chris Rock is a fearless and explosive live performer. His material is almost unmatched in its wit, intelligence and acute social awareness. It is a shame, then, that his film career has left so much to be desired, his energy tending to feel somehow restricted on screen and his intelligence often buried beneath stupid characters. The thing is, Rock is far from a bad actor and has proven himself consistently over the years on TV, with roles in such diverse shows as Saturday Night Live, In Living Color and even a brief turn in Homicide: Life on the Street. Chris needs the right roles for him; unfortunately they are unlikely to come from the likes of Kevin Smith and Adam Sandler any time soon.
Amy Schumer has some seriously impressive TV credits: Curb Your Enthusiasm and 30 Rock alone are arguably two of the greatest sitcoms in recent history. Her own show, Inside Amy Schumer, is also doing brilliantly and is well worth a watch – it’s time to see what she can do on the big screen.
Louis CK is the current golden child of American stand-up comedy. He has his own show, many stand-up specials (some self-released) and has even been in some really good movies. Working with Woody Allen and David O Russell one after the other is nothing to be sniffed at, and CK’s actually evolved into a pretty good serious actor. His career is still sorely lacking one thing though: a laugh-out-loud moment on the big screen. The likes of Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins and a tiny part in Role Models aren’t enough for one of the best comics working today.
Johnny Vegas has a gigantic stage presence that extends far beyond his enormous physical stature. Even for his detractors, his loud and confrontational stage show has always been impossible to ignore for any comedy fan. It’s a shame then that his most notable film role to date is famed mostly for being one of the most universally detested movies ever made, Sex Lives of the Potato Men. His stand-up act boasts surprising intricacies under the brash surface, and his talent demands a film role that can reflect it.
Hank Azaria’s incredible voice work is an integral ingredient in what makes The Simpsons great; at the show’s peak in the earlier seasons, Hank delivered many of the greatest lines in the history of animated comedy. Hank’s seen a few funny moments in film too – Dodgeball and The Simpsons Movie come to mind – his diversity and brilliance as a performer has however never reached its potential on the big screen. Having helped to create some of the most memorable TV characters of all time, you would hope that far more of his many film roles would present some memorable comic moments.
Stand up veteran, co-creator of the brilliant Mr Show, one of the stars of the adored Arrested Development…and those Chipmunk movies. Sure, David Cross had a nice role in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but this is not enough for a man with the creative talent to seriously impress audiences in a large comedic role.
A beloved stand-up without the roles to match his talent, Bill Burr had a fun recurring part on Breaking Bad and could recently be seen alongside Al Pacino in Stand Up Guys, proving in these roles he has some decent acting chops. We have yet to see what this man can do with a funny line or two on the big screen, but anyone smart enough to match a character to his angry yet relatable persona would surely see big results.
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