It is a universally acknowledged fact that comedy is hard. The best comedians might make it look effortless, but truly great witticism exists only in the sweet spot where the art and science of humour overlap. The most successful artists in this arena spend years honing their craft – training, performing, and perfecting their skill-set, so we can have a moment or two of levity, and they can have their voices heard.
This is, perhaps, why the comedic greats are beloved. They provide comfort and reassurance when we need it, by generating laughter that skewers the familiar. For comedy to work, it often needs to be relatable in some way – so that sense of connection we have to our favourite comedians can be incredibly strong. For this reason, when a beloved comedian suddenly delivers a dramatic role, it can be even more affecting than if it were performed by a celebrated dramatic actor.
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Take, for example, Patton Oswalt. Here is an artist skilled in stand-up comedy, and renowned for his supporting comedy roles in many projects, such as Observe And Report and Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World. But, when he turned in a dramatic role in Jason Reitman’s Young Adult, we suddenly caught a glimpse of an actor who could carry the weight of dramatic acting with aplomb. Likewise, Bill Murray in Lost In Translation and Steve Carell in Foxcatcher.
But, those examples were hardly a surprise. We knew of the ability of those comedians to tackle more serious fare, and when they knocked it out of the park, it was to be expected. It is those funny people that have been previously untested, dramatically, that really grab the attention – at least, those that have been untested in a film project that a larger audience has seen. Here, then, are seven times comedians went dark, and surprised us all.