There is a misconception that comedy is harder than drama. It’s not true. If anything, comedy is substantially harder. The material has to be tight and on point. Jokes must be carefully crafted. Scenarios have to build and build to earn the comic payoff. The delivery of a gag, be it physical or verbal, has to come with precise timing. Think of the least funny comedic performance you’ve ever seen someone give. That’s how tough comedy is.
A lot of talented people fall victim to the “comedy is easy” myth. That’s why so many genuinely funny performers tackle dramatic roles in order to be “taken seriously.” They can hone their comedic skills to perfection, but the business doesn’t give them full acknowledgement until they show that they can do more than just make people laugh (a talent, incidentally, that is one of the greatest gifts an actor can possess). Other times, the star simply opts to walk away from comedy for personal reasons. Either way, it’s the audience’s loss.
Below are a number of actors who started off quite successfully in comedy, only to essentially leave it behind for one reason or another. We’re always happy to see them onscreen, but we really wish they’d make us laugh again.
Here are 12 Actors We Wish Would Return to Comedies.
12. Tom Hanks
Tom Hanks made the world fall in love with him through his comedic turns on the sitcom Bosom Buddies and in blockbuster movies like Splash, The Money Pit, Big, and Sleepless in Seattle. He could do physical comedy. He could drop a punchline with devastating wit. He could be charming, goofy, humorously manic, or sweet. He could do it all. Then he won back-to-back Oscars for Philadelphia and Forrest Gump and largely left comedy behind. Suddenly, Hanks got all serious, playing a real-life astronaut in Apollo 13, a WWII soldier in Saving Private Ryan, and an emaciated desert island inhabitant in Cast Away. Most recently, he starred in the Somali pirate drama Captain Phillips and the Cold War thriller Bridge of Spies. Far cry from Turner & Hooch, huh?
Don’t get us wrong – we love Hanks in those movies. The man is a doggone national treasure, after all. We just wish he’d occasionally dip a toe back in the comedic waters. The only time he does so anymore is when he gets to work with prestige filmmakers like Steven Spielberg (The Terminal) or the Coen brothers (The Ladykillers). For that reason, they don’t really count. That veneer of “serious” comedy is still there. We want to see Hanks tackle a big old goofball mindless comedy. Our recommendation: a buddy-cop movie alongside Will Ferrell, directed by Adam McKay.
11. Whoopi Goldberg
Whoopi Goldberg first made a name for herself with a one-woman Broadway show in which she did monologues as different characters. It was a stunning display of her talent, showing that she could mix hilarious comic observations about life with genuine pathos. She had an ability to fully become her fictional creations. Hollywood quickly came calling. The studios didn’t really know what to do with a brilliantly funny female African-American comedian, so they tried to turn her into the next Eddie Murphy, putting her in the action-comedies Jumpin’ Jack Flash, Burglar, and Fatal Beauty. None of those pictures really worked, but she brought a spark of life to them nonetheless.
Goldberg found her footing in the early ’90s with the wildly successful Sister Act movies, plus an Oscar-winning supporting turn as the riotously funny psychic medium in Ghost. Apparently, winning an Academy Award convinced her to pursue more dramatic material. Boys on the Side was about AIDS. Ghosts of Mississippi was about civil rights and the murder of Medgar Evers. Girl, Interrupted was about mental health issues. To be fair, Goldberg did scatter some comedies in there, but they were either flops (Eddie and The Associate) or never released theatrically (Theodore Rex). It’s no wonder she was reluctant to make more.
Still, this doesn’t mean Whoopi Goldberg isn’t a truly funny person. She is, and we’d love to see her walk away from her hosting gig on The View and get back to the business of making comedy movies, preferably ones that play to her strengths. She would be well-served to work with an indie director who could help craft a vehicle that plays specifically to her skills.
10. Nicolas Cage
Nicolas Cage has always been an odd duck, and that’s what makes him so beloved. His energy, his speech cadences, and his no-holds-barred approach to acting are unique. Early in his career, directors loved to use these qualities in comedies. Francis Ford Coppola cast him as a lovestruck 1960s high school student in Peggy Sue Got Married. Norman Jewison made him an offbeat romantic lead opposite Cher in Moonstruck. Cage also did comedic roles in Honeymoon in Vegas, It Could Happen to You, and Guarding Tess. Perhaps his funniest role was as the hapless dimwit H.I. McDonnough in Joel and Ethan Coen’s madcap Raising Arizona. Cage’s quirkiness mixed well with the Coens’ exaggerated style, resulting in a movie that many consider to be a comedy classic.
After winning an Oscar for Leaving Las Vegas, Cage generally left comedy behind and morphed into an action hero in the mid-to-late ’90s. The Rock, Con Air, and Face/Off were among his notable efforts. In the 2000s, he made the National Treasure pictures, but seemed to tire of doing just one thing, opting to mix it up with drama (World Trade Center, The Weather Man), romance (Captain Corelli’s Mandolin), and science-fiction (Knowing). Then he had some well-publicized tax problems that left him in debt. Suddenly, Cage seemed more than ready to cash an easy paycheck in low-budget action garbage like Rage, Pay the Ghost, and Stolen. His career has largely been stuck here for the last five or six years.
Cage proved on many occasions – but especially in Raising Arizona – that he can be an incredibly funny actor with the right material. We wish he would find an over-the-top comedy like that to star in once again. One solid comedy could put his career back on track in an exciting new way.
9. Bruce Willis
If you weren’t around in the 1980s, it would be difficult to explain just what an impact Bruce Willis made when he came on the scene. The unknown actor was cast as David Addison on ABC’s Moonlighting, a ratings smash that thrived on his kooky sexual chemistry with costar Cybill Shepherd. Willis had electrifying live-wire energy onscreen. Every line of dialogue, every facial expression, and every bit of physical comedy was delivered in hysterically manic style. Willis was like a wild animal, uncaged and allowed to run amok. It was amazing to behold. He became a huge star so quickly that they let him do whatever he wanted, including record an album of soul music.
Movie comedies like Blind Date and Sunset followed, as did a job voicing the baby in the popular Look Who’s Talking series. But perhaps the thing that had the biggest impact on the actor’s career was getting cast as John McClane in 1988’s Die Hard. Willis was so identified with comedy at that point that news of his casting was greeted with jeers by the public. He won everybody over, of course, in the process establishing himself as a viable action star. And that’s generally where he stayed. Occasionally he’d toss a comedy in there (Death Becomes Her, Hudson Hawk), but Willis has overwhelmingly remained in action mode ever since. These days, when he does agree to appear in a comedy, he’s usually playing straight man, as he did opposite Tracy Morgan in Cop Out.
The thing is, we know what Willis is capable of. It would make us so happy to see him find a full-on comedic role again, one where he can bring some of the insane energy that he brought to Moonlighting. He’s got nothing to lose, because he’s always got action to fall back on.
8. John Cusack
John Cusack didn’t want to be a teen star. His earliest roles were in teen comedies like The Sure Thing, Better Off Dead (a picture he famously hated), and Say Anything… As good as those films were, he recognized that getting typecast wasn’t going to help his career much, so he switched over to drama. Cusack seemed to prefer playing dark characters, earning raves as a con man in The Grifters and a tormented writer in 1408. Between 2001 and 2010, it looked like he might be planning a permanent return to comedy, starring in the rom-coms Serendipity and Must Love Dogs, plus the goofball romp Hot Tub Time Machine. Since then, though, it’s been dramas and action movies.
A lot of Cusack’s recent projects — including Drive Hard, Dragon Blade, and The Numbers Station – only got minimal releases. It therefore seems like an ideal time for him to try comedy once more. The actor always had a gift for bringing humanity to even the most exaggerated of characters (see Better Off Dead), coupled with skill playing comic bewilderment. Few actors register disbelief in as funny a manner as he does. Cusack would kill it in a Wes Anderson film or, even better, re-teaming with Say Anything… director Cameron Crowe for a new project.
7. Rick Moranis
Rick Moranis was one of the hottest names in screen comedy during the 1980s. He starred on the hit sketch series SCTV. Together with colleague Dave Thomas, he created the famously sterotypical Canadian characters Bob and Doug McKenzie. The McKenzie Brothers spun off that show into their own movie, Strange Brew, and a smash comedy album, Great White North, that yielded the Top 20 pop hit Take Off. In movies, Moranis was one of those solid, ever-dependable actors, whether he was a supporting player (Ghostbusters, Parenthood) or a lead (Spaceballs or Honey, I Shrunk the Kids). Moranis specialized in playing somewhat nerdy characters, but really, he could do anything.
Whereas many of the actors on this list left comedy for drama, Moranis’ case is different. He walked away from show business to focus on his family. The actor’s wife Ann passed away from breast cancer in 1991. Several years later, realizing that it was too difficult to care for his children and juggle a career, he decided simply to take a hiatus. As of this writing, that hiatus continues. Moranis has explored other interests, releasing several acclaimed comedy/music albums, most recently 2013’s My Mother’s Brisket & Other Love Songs. Fans of this versatile comedian will be glad to know that he gave a rare interview to the Hollywood Reporter last year, saying that he would definitely consider a return to movies if the right project came along. Let’s all hope it does.
6. Kim Basinger
When you think of Kim Basinger, you might think of her steamy work in 9 1/2 Weeks, or her Oscar-winning turn in L.A. Confidential, or her acclaimed performance as Eminem’s mother in 8 Mile. You probably don’t think of comedy, though, and that’s the problem. Most people have forgotten that some of the actress’s earliest roles were funny parts in Blind Date, Nadine, and My Stepmother Is an Alien. Even when the movies themselves weren’t great, she showed solid comedic chops. Basinger was willing to play off her glamorous looks, portraying an intoxicated dream girl or a sultry creature from space struggling to understand our world. She was game for some fun.
Hollywood has never quite known what to do with Basinger. Every once in a while, a director like L.A. Confidential‘s Curtis Hanson understands how to utilize her talents. Most of them do not. Consequently, her resume is flooded with bad movies that give her little of substance to do. She continues to work regularly, although these days she’s more likely to turn up in obscure stuff like Black November, The 11th Hour, and 4 Minute Mile. Finding a strong supporting role in a killer comedy could turn that around. It would be fantastic to see Basinger show her skills alongside Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, or any of the other myriad awesome comediennes gracing movie screens these days. We could all use a reminder of how witty she can be.
5. Vince Vaughn
Okay, let’s be honest. One glance at Vince Vaughn’s filmography shows that he’s made comedies almost exclusively throughout his career, a recent stint on HBO’s True Detective and one or two dramatic movie roles notwithstanding. The reason we’re including him on this list is that he really hasn’t been funny in a very long time, but there’s no doubt that he’s still got it in him to make audiences double over with laughter again.
One of the biggest comedy stars of the ’00s, Vaughn scored one hit after another: Old School, Starsky & Hutch, The Break-Up, Wedding Crashers, Dodgeball. Heck, even that dopey Four Christmases was a hit based on his appeal. Vaughn got caught up in typecasting, though, which was his downfall. Maybe studio executives only thought he could do one thing, or perhaps he mistakenly thought audiences only wanted to see him do one thing. Either way you slice it, he got stuck repeating his patented “slick motormouth” routine, and it got old fast. Vaughn’s movies started flopping hard. Remember Fred Claus? How about The Dilemma? Delivery Man? The Internship? Unfinished Business?
Thankfully, there is a potential solution. Vaughn did cameos in the Anchorman pictures, which were produced by Judd Apatow. The two should work together on a project that would find a new way to present his very specific gifts to moviegoers. Such an approach could put him back on top.
4. Keanu Reeves
Goofy as it is, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure remains popular, thanks in part to star Keanu Reeves’ spot-on portrayal of a lovable but dim-witted doofus. The actor’s occasional spaced-out quality was well used in the film and its sequel, Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey. Ron Howard also capitalized on the trait, casting Reeves as a slacker in his 1989 comedy Parenthood. Reeves could have had a comedy career, but like a lot of people on this list, he moved over to action roles, appearing in Point Break and the Matrix trilogy.
Although Reeves really doesn’t do straight comedy anymore, he often gets laughs in his action pictures through droll line delivery. This is especially notable in his recent cult hit John Wick, in which he sets out on a killing spree to get the thugs who killed his puppy. Moments of humor scattered throughout his work underlines the fact that he’s a funny guy who absolutely should make a full-fledged comedy again. A third Bill & Ted installment has long been in the works. Here’s hoping it happens. And if not, Reeves should totally find something along the same silly lines.
3. Eddie Murphy
In the annals of cinematic history, one of the greatest unanswered questions is, “What the heck happened to Eddie Murphy?” The comic hit like a bombshell in the 1980s as a cast member on Saturday Night Live, before making a nearly unparalleled string of major hit films like 48 HRS, Trading Places, Beverly Hills Cop 1 and 2, Coming to America, and The Nutty Professor. And then his career derailed. Murphy started appearing in PG-rated kids’ movies, one right after the other. This went on for years. There’s nothing wrong with actors occasionally making a film their children can see, but it’s hard to deny that Picture This and Daddy Day Care were not the stellar showcases for Murphy that the role of Axel Foley was.
There’s no doubt that Murphy knows how to access that old magic. While not a great film, his supporting turn in 2011’s Tower Heist found him tapping into those vibes again. He was by far the best thing in the movie. Perhaps he would have continued on this path had it been a hit. As of this writing, Eddie Murphy hasn’t appeared onscreen in four years, 2012’s kiddie flick A Thousand Words being his last project. His next picture, Bruce Beresford’s Mr. Church, is scheduled for release later this year, but it’s a drama. Beyond that, there are merely rumors that he might do this or that, but nothing is confirmed.
2. Chris Tucker
It’s amazing that Chris Tucker hasn’t had his face plastered on the side of a milk carton. The popular comedian was on a trajectory to super-stardom when he abruptly disappeared. A breakout role next to Ice Cube in Friday had his name on everyone’s lips. The smash Rush Hour series solidified his fame, as did supporting parts in The Fifth Element and Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown. Tucker’s fast-talking shtick and smooth attitude marked him as a true original.
After the last Rush Hour, for which he was paid a reported $25 million, Tucker walked away. Part of it was said to be because his status as a born-again Christian gave him second thoughts about the material he was involved with. Needing time to sort out some well-publicized tax problems may also have played a part. In interviews, Tucker said that he was simply looking for a project he could really connect with. Regardless, he’s only popped up once since 2007, playing a small role in David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook in 2012. Tucker is next set to appear in Ang Lee’s upcoming drama Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. So the question remains: Will Chris Tucker ever return to the kind of comedy that made him famous? Only time will tell, but our fingers are crossed.
1. Albert Brooks
He’s a writer. He’s a director. He’s a performer. He’s a filmmaker. Albert Brooks is everything. While he never achieved the kind of mainstream public adoration that, say, Harold Ramis did, Brooks earned the undying love of critics and cinephiles everywhere with wry, witty movies like Modern Romance, Defending Your Life, and, especially, Lost in America. (If you have never seen this last film, rectify that situation immediately.) Brooks possesses one of the most singular and well-defined comic voices ever.
Given that, it’s disappointing that he has not made his own film in more than a decade. Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World, released in 2005, wasn’t his best work, but the worst film by Albert Brooks is still better than the best film by a lot of comedy directors. Since then, he has kept himself busy as an actor for hire, but mostly in dramas. Drive, A Most Violent Year, and Concussion are among his recent projects. He’s great in them, and we’d happily watch Brooks in literally anything. But with all the pure comic talent he has, why on earth isn’t he writing, directing, and starring in his own movie again? He’s long overdue.
Which other actors would you like to see return to comedy? Let us know your picks in the comments.