29+ Comedic Stars Who Got Serious for Dramatic Roles
| LAST UPDATE 11/16/2022
From Adam Sandler to Kevin Hart and Melissa McCarthy, our favorite comedic legends know how to get a chuckle or two. Perhaps that's why they left audiences (and us) stunned after these incredible dramatic performances…
We know him as the most famous boss in the world: Steve Carell's Michael Scott in NBC's The Office amused fans for years. Yet, there is a much deeper side to Carell he has recently been showing viewers.
Carell began exploring a more dramatic side when he played Frank Ginsburg in Little Miss Sunshine. However, he really upped the ante when he played Mark Baum in The Big Short, which details the real-life events of the 2000s housing bubble crisis. Not only did he don a wig and an extra 20+ pounds, but his acting left viewers hypnotized.
Robin Williams is considered one of the greatest comedians of all time. The late actor was well-known for his stand-up routines and his out-of-this-world characters. From rising to fame as the alien Mork in the sitcom Mork & Mindy to voicing the Genie in Disney's Aladdin, Williams proved his comedic skills repeatedly.
Yet, his more dramatic roles have resonated with audiences perhaps even more. His role as the therapist Dr. Sean Maguire in Good Will Hunting brought audiences to tears and earned Williams an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. He also became everyone's favorite teacher in Dead Poets Society. Carpe Diem!
Sandler is synonymous with silly. He is known for his quirky characters, like the hockey player turned golfer, Happy Gilmore, and the spoiled child who wants to prove something to his dad, Billy Madison. Over the years, he has become famous for his hilarious movies and love for oversized basketball shorts.
But the SNL alum truly stunned audiences when he starred in the drama Uncut Gems. The story follows Howard Ratner, played by Sandler, as he tries to obtain a gem to pay off his debts. Critics loved his dramatic performance in the thriller, many of them calling it his best role yet. It looks like Sandler has a few tricks up his sleeve.
Whoopi Goldberg is a comedy icon with her trademark smile and boisterous laugh. In fact, it was her comedic skills that got her noticed for one of her most dramatic roles. When she was performing at the Comedy Store, Steven Spielberg saw her and decided to cast her in his movie, The Color Purple.
Goldberg starred as the lead character in The Color Purple and won a Golden Globe for the role. Not only does she have a Golden Globe, but Goldberg is one of a few entertainers with an EGOT, meaning they have an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony awards. Talk about a quadruple threat!
From Superbad to 21 Jump Street, Jonah Hill has been making people laugh for over a decade. The Los Angeles native first hosted Saturday Night Live when he was only 25. Since then, he has dominated the comedy scene, appearing in some of the greatest comedic movies of this century! It doesn't stop there, though.
Hill has since expanded into more serious roles. His first venture into drama was portraying Peter Brand in Moneyball alongside Brad Pitt and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Hill received his first nomination for an Academy Award for the role. And since then, he has continued acing more dramatic roles, like in The Wolf of Wall Street.
Over the years, Eddie Murphy has created some of the most iconic characters in film and television. For example, Gumby from Saturday Night Live, Donkey from Shrek, and Prince Akeem from Coming to America. That is not all this comedian can do. Murphy has been known to get more serious when duty calls.
In 2007, he starred as James "Thunder" Early in the drama Dreamgirls, based on the Broadway musical. The former SNL cast member got to show off his dramatic acting skills and musical talents. For his role as "Thunder" Early, Murphy won a Golden Globe and was nominated for an Academy Award.
Sacha Baron Cohen
Sacha Baron Cohen is one of the more over-the-top comedians. His outrageous characters have delighted and shocked audiences for decades. From his rise to fame on Da Ali G Show to becoming a household name in Borat, there is nothing that is out of reach for this British comedian, including taking on more serious roles.
Cohen portrayed the real-life spy Eli Cohen in the Netflix series The Spy. He also starred in Aaron Sorkin's The Trial of the Chicago 7, which is based on a true story about a group of anti-Vietnam war protestors. Baron Cohen even received an Academy Award nomination for his role as Abbie Hoffman. Very nice!
Jim Carrey has been an iconic comedian for decades. His crazy energy levels and wacky characters have become staples in the comedy genre, like Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and Dumb and Dumber. While comedy may be his bread and butter, he wowed audiences with his dramatic role in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
Immediately upon release, the film received critical acclaim and earned Carrey a nomination for a Golden Globe. While it is a major departure from his typical goofy characters, it is a movie that still resonates with audiences today. Carrey has the unique ability to make audiences cry both happy and sad tears.
He is an anchorman, an ice skater, an elf, a Eurovision singer, a race car driver, a stepbrother... and so much more. Will Ferrell has helped make the greatest comedies with some of the most iconic lines ever. That is not all this Saturday Night Live alum can do, though.
Ferrell starred as Harold Crick in Marc Forster's Stranger Than Fiction. He showed off his dramatic acting talents as an IRS agent who begins to hear someone narrating his voice, and upon hearing he is going to die soon, he tries to change the story to prevent his death. No more cowbell is needed here.
Unlike many people on this list, Bob Odenkirk got his start differently. He began as a writer on Saturday Night Live and worked there for several years before parting ways to focus more on performing. After, he joined a live sketch comedy show, Mr. Show with Bob and David, with David Cross. But his biggest role was yet to come...
Ironically, this comedian's most famous and well-known role is also his most dramatic. Odenkirk was cast as Saul Goodman, a corrupt lawyer on Breaking Bad. What was only supposed to be three episodes turned into a series-regular role and a spin-off titled Better Call Saul.
Melissa McCarthy is a queen of comedy. She was a fan-favorite on Gilmore Girls as the klutzy best friend to Lorelai, then she was the lovable lead of the sitcom Mike & Molly. It wasn't until Bridesmaids, though, that McCarthy shot up to stardom. Since then, the Illinois comedian has taken the comedy world by storm.
McCarthy portrayed Lee Israel in the movie Can You Ever Forgive Me? The film follows the true story of Israel's attempt to revive her failing career by impersonating dead writers. The movie was a critical and commercial success, and McCarthy received an Academy Award nomination for the role. This comedy queen can do it all!
Donald Glover got his first job in comedy at age 23 when Tina Fey hired him to write for her television show 30 Rock. Previously, Glover had done stand-up and was part of a sketch comedy group called Derrick Comedy. Then, he rose to fame as Troy Barnes in Community. This was only the beginning.
He also had a rapping alter-ego, Childish Gambino, under which he has released several albums. Glover also took his acting to the next level in his own television show, Atlanta, where he plays Earl, who is trying to manage his rapper cousin. He has earned several awards and nominations for the series. We'd say Glover deserves an A+.
This funny guy has defined a generation. Seth Rogen co-wrote Superbad with his best friend, Evan Goldberg, and even had a small role in the film. Rogen was Judd Apatow's leading man for one of his best films, Knocked Up. Since then, he has sky-rocketed in comedy.
While excelling in comedy, Rogen has also ventured on other paths. He was cast as Steve Wozniak, the co-founder of Apple, in the biopic Steve Jobs. Even Wozniak said about Rogen portraying him, "I thought he did an excellent job." Clearly, the Canadian native known for his boisterous laugh is also an excellent dramatic actor.
Bill Murray is a comedic legend with hits like Caddyshack, Tootsie, and Meatballs, and he is a regular in Wes Anderson films, sporting his signature deadpan humor. But he is just as famous for his public antics, like crashing a bachelor party or stealing french fries from a tourist. It is impossible to find something he won't do!
But he is also an excellent dramatic actor. He showed his more serious side in Sofia Coppola's Lost in Translation, where he earned him a Golden Globe award and a nomination for an Academy Award. Murray starred as Bob Harris, a fading movie star who makes an unlikely connection with a young girl, played by Scarlett Johansson.
Her journey began by bursting into a coffee shop in a bridal gown. And since then, the Friends fan-favorite has become an American and comedic superstar. She even inspired a haircut named after her character, Rachel, and went on to become a leading lady in comedies - like Just Go With It, Along Came Polly, and The Break-Up.
Except that is not all. Jennifer Aniston took a break from comedy to show off her dramatic talents in the 2014 film Cake. Her emotional performance got her a nomination for a Golden Globe. She has continued her foray into drama as one of the stars of The Morning Show, for which she was nominated for an Emmy.
Jamie Foxx's career started because of a dare from a girlfriend to go up on stage during a comedy club open mic. And the rest is history. He joined the cast of the sketch comedy show In Living Color, where he really showed off his comedic chops. He also had his own sitcom, The Jamie Foxx Show, which ran for six years.
Although he is a comedian through and through, Foxx's dramatic roles have earned him praise and accolades far beyond anyone could imagine. In the film Ray, Foxx portrayed the music genius Ray Charles, and he won an Academy Award for the role. He has also appeared in Dreamgirls, The Soloist, and Django Unchained.
At first, the "one who knocks" was just a sitcom guy. The world was first introduced to Bryan Cranston in his recurring role as Jerry's dentist on Seinfeld. Then, he landed a leading role on the sitcom Malcolm in the Middle as Malcolm's dad, Hal. He continued to guest star in various sitcoms.
Then, Cranston took on the role of Walter White in Vince Gilligan's television series, Breaking Bad. The drama was an instant hit, and Cranston won three Emmy Awards for his portrayal of the high school teacher gone bad. It is a far cry from being a sitcom dad, but Cranston certainly showed what he can do.
For twelve seasons and 279 episodes, Jim Parsons played the brilliant and sometimes socially unaware physicist Sheldon Cooper in the sitcom The Big Bang Theory. Parsons became a cultural icon and a comedy hit, winning four Emmy Awards for Oustanding Lead Actor.
So Parsons gave audiences a real bazinga when he began to take a dramatic turn with his acting. He had a supporting role in the film Hidden Figures. Parsons wowed audiences in the play and movie versions of The Boys in the Band. He played the lead, Michael, who incites most of the drama. Safe to say, has had a big bang of his own.
John Goodman has been all over the comedy map throughout his career. He starred in the longtime sitcom Roseanne and its revival, The Conners. He voiced iconic characters, including Pacha in The Emperor's New Groove, Sulley from Monsters, Inc., and Baloo in The Jungle Book 2. And that is not all.
He is a regular in Coen brothers' movies, like The Big Lebowski, and the actor has also made an impact in more dramatic roles. For example, he shocked audiences as (*spoiler alert*) the villain in Dan Trachtenberg's 10 Cloverfield Lane. It is a ten out of ten for Goodman.
Matthew McConaughey was the man of the rom-com era. From playing Jennifer Lopez's love interest in The Wedding Planner to Kate Hudson's in How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days and Fool's Gold, McConaughey stole the hearts of viewers everywhere with his Texan charm.
McConaughey took a two-year break from acting, and upon returning, he showed the world his dramatic side. He starred as Rust Cohle in HBO's True Detective and received a nomination for an Emmy. He also impressed critics in dramas like The Lincoln Lawyer and Dallas Buyers Club.
Now, this is a story all about how this one comedian proved to be more than a witty troublemaker: Will Smith starred as a fictionalized version of himself in the sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Smith has since established himself as a leading man in action-comedy series like Bad Boys and Men in Black.
He first tried dramatic acting in Ali, where he portrayed boxer Muhammad Ali, and in The Pursuit of Happyness. But he truly cemented himself as a dramatic actor for his portrayal of Richard Williams in the biopic King Richard, for which he won an Academy Award, a BAFTA Award, a Golden Globe Award, and a Screen Actors Guild Award!
Kristen Wiig is a comedian superstar. She was a cast member on Saturday Night Live for seven years. During her time, she created some of the most memorable characters, like Target Lady, Sue the Surprise Lady, and Kat, the singing partner of Fred Armisen's Garth. Wiig also co-wrote and starred in one of the greatest comedies, Bridesmaids.
Since then, Wiig has also starred in dramas - like Welcome to Me, where she plays Alice Klieg. The story centers around Alice, who has borderline personality disorder and uses the money she won from the lotto to create a talk show. Wiig received critical praise for her dramatic portrayal.
This funny guy has been in the game for decades. Jack Black got his start in minor television roles until he made it big with his breakout hit, High Fidelity. Since then, he has been a leading comedy man, appearing in movies like Shallow Hal, School of Rock, and Kung Fu Panda.
Even though his roots may be in comedy, Jack Black has the makings of a dramatic actor, too. In Peter Jackson's 2005 remake of King Kong, Black starred as Carl Denham. He showed what he is capable of as the film director in debt who ends up bringing the group to Skull Island and King Kong. Black is ready to rock on.
Emma Stone has been a comedy gal since she was a teenager. Stone began her career in movies like Superbad, Zombieland, and Easy A. She instantly became a fan favorite and continued to be one as she continued to be cast in memorable films like Crazy Stupid Love and The Amazing Spider-Man.
Stone first showed audiences her talent for dramatic acting when she played a recovering addict in Birdman. Then, she really dazzled as the leading lady in the film La La Land, for which she won the Academy Award for Best Actress. Since then, she has continued to play comedic and dramatic roles.
Monique Hicks, better known by her stage name Mo'Nique, is a force to be reckoned with. She began her career in stand-up comedy, gaining popularity steadily. Then, Mo'Nique starred in her first television show, The Parkers. She continued to have various guest roles on television shows.
Mo'Nique later turned heads when she appeared in Lee Daniels' film Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire. Critics were enamored by her portrayal of the problematic mother to Precious. Mo'Nique won several awards for her role, including an Academy Award, a Golden Globe Award, and a BAFTA Award.
Kevin Hart is, without a doubt, one of the funniest men in Hollywood. He has three hour-long stand-up specials and is a leading man of comedy. He has starred in films like Central Intelligence, Ride Along, The Secret Life of Pets, and much more. In 2015, Time Magazine even named him one of the 100 most influential people in the world.
He recently showed off his dramatic acting skills in the movie Fatherhood. It centers around a new father who must raise his daughter solo after his wife's sudden passing. Critics praised Hart's performance as he ventured into a more dramatic area. Hopefully, Hart will show more of this side.
Dane Cook has checked off a lot on the list. He has released six comedy albums, performed an HBO special, starred in numerous films, and sold out Madison Square Garden. This Massachusetts comedian has reached the ultimate heights of comedy - and that is not all.
Cook showed a darker side when he starred in the psychological thriller, Mr. Brooks. He starred alongside Hollywood powerhouses Kevin Costner, Demi Moore, and William Hurt. This was the comedian's first dramatic role, and he wowed audiences and critics with his skills.
It all started for Vaughn when he was cast in a television commercial for Chevrolet. He continued to grab roles here and there, but it was the raunchy comedy Old School that sent him rocketing into fame. He became a comedy staple starring in films like Dodgeball, Starsky & Hutch, Wedding Crashers, The Break-Up, and more.
Vaughn has also dabbled in some dramatic roles, like a supporting role in Into the Wild. But his season on True Detective truly displayed his range as an actor. This dramatic role showed how much he is capable of, and he has continued to work in more serious roles since.
Chris Rock has been rocking the comedy scene since he began stand-up. From being a cast member on Saturday Night Live to being listed as one of Rolling Stone's 50 Best Stand-Up Comics of All Time, Rock has done it all. He even wrote and narrated a show based on his life, Everybody Hates Chris.
This comedic star has been in movies like Grown Ups, Death at a Funeral, and the Madagascar series. Rock also took on a more dramatic role in the television series Fargo, where he plays Loy Cannon. Cannon is the head of a crime syndicate trying to overthrow another crime boss. And it was a role that showed off Rock's talents.
Olivia Colman has been making British audiences laugh for decades. She got her start on the sitcom Peep Show and has continued to star in hilarious British comedies, like Green Wing, That Mitchell and Webb Look, Fleabag, and more. She even appeared in an episode of Doctor Who.
Perhaps it was no surprise that when she took on more dramatic roles, she also excelled. She gained acclaim for her dramatic role in Broadchurch. However, it was her portrayal of Queen Anne in The Favourite that stunned audiences and critics. She received many awards, including an Academy Award, for the role. Talk about a true queen!