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Trading Laughs For Gasps: Comedians Who’ve Shed Their Funny Personas For Dramatic Roles

Comedy/Drama Theater Masks
Comedy/Drama Theater Masks

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In this week’s new film “The Farewell”, comedian Awkwafina steps away from her comic persona and plays a complex, three-dimensional character.

She follows the likes of Lily Tomlin, Richard Pryor and Sarah Silverman -- just a few of the many stand up comics who’ve surprised audiences with critically acclaimed performances in non-comedic films. Monique and Robin Williams went on to win Oscars for their respective dramatic turns in “Precious” and “Good Will Hunting”.

It’s not always a smooth transition from silly to serious. Comedians must shake the iconic comedy roles with which audiences associated them. One way is to change themselves completely, both in mannerisms and physical appearance, like Steve Carrell in “Foxcatcher” or Melissa McCarthy in last year’s “Can You Ever Forgive Me”. For others, playing grounded, ordinary people helps them pull off dramatic roles, like Maya Rudolph in “Away We Go” and Molly Shannon in “Other People.” 

Today on FilmWeek, Larry and the critics discuss their favorite dramatic performances from comedians. Do you have a favorite film where a comedian took on a more serious role, or a notable performance by a comedian in a more serious role? Join the conversation at 866-893-5722.


Christy Lemire, film critic for KPCC, and co-host of the ‘Breakfast All Day’ podcast; she tweets @christylemire

Wade Major, film critic for KPCC and