Funny How? Jack Lemmon specialised in one thing: being Jack Lemmon. It was his role as one-man psychiatrist sweatshop Felix Unger in The Odd Couple that defined him – playing a man so uptight even his hair was clenched.
But whether it was swanning satirical as CC Baxter in The Apartment or cross-dressing with gay abandon in Some Like It Hot , Lemmon showed he could do the lot: the Everyman’s Everyman, the worrier’s worrier, the lovable loser. Jack.
Funny How? For 30 made-for-TV years, he was razor-straight and prancy-free. Cocky cops, grizzled rent-a-heavies, louche lotharios, the odd nature-film voice-over...
And then, in 1980, no more Mr Sensible Guy - booked on-board the Zuckers’ gag-blizzard farce Airplane! as the deadly deadpan Dr Rumack. After that, Nielsen slapstick-bungled his way through three (and a third) Naked Guns before... Dracula: Dead And Loving It .
Okay, so everything sagged when he wasn’t suckling at the Zucker-teat, but there was never anyone keener with a poker-faced groaner.
Funny How? Diane Keaton’s real surname is Hall and family and friends have always called her Annie... So it’s fairly safe to assume, then, that she was the inspiration behind the character.
But even before changing the dress sense of a generation, she had already inspired Allen. The two hooked up in 1970 and Keaton proved the perfect companion in some of the nebbish New Yorker’s funniest work – Play It Again, Sam , Sleeper , Love And Death .
Of course, she’s had comedy hits away from Woody – Baby Boom , Father Of The Bride , Something’s Gotta Give – plus a fair few heavyweight roles, but it’s as Allen’s muse that she cemented her comic legacy.
Funny How? Hitchcock said he was the only actor he’d ever loved, Ian Fleming claimed to have based James Bond on him and Howard Hawks said he was the best comic actor that had ever lived.
Never bothered by Oscar, the debonair Grant defi ned a genre: the screwball comedy where high farce combined with words so polished that lesser actors would slip and fall even trying to traverse them.
Not Grant – who managed goggle-eyed pratfalling ( Arsenic And Old Lace ), leopar-taming ( Bringing Up Baby ), and hard-hack sparring ( His Girl Friday ) all with an easy, impulsive grasp of physical comedy and a knowing wit so dry you could dehumidify fruit on it.
Robert De Niro
Unsung king of comedy
Funny How? Sure, Bobby’ll be best remembered as the meticulous Method man who’s dug deeper than anyone into the ulcerating underbelly of the male psyche. But hell, the guy likes a giggle too, revealing comic chops from the career get-go in Brian De Palma’s Godardian gag-pile Greetings .
Since then, he’s slipped a few times ( Showtime , Rocky & Frickin’ Bullwinkle ), but soared just as often, hanging his hat on slapstick ( Meet The Parents ), satire ( Wag The Dog ) and squirming social embarrassment ( The King Of Comedy ).
Also proved he could juggle lightness of touch with the heavy stuff in glorious buddy-com Midnight Run . Hell, he even raised a few – unintentional – laughs in Hide And Seek .
Master of mockery
Funny How? As well as being the fifth Baron of Saling, Essex, Guest is the undisputed monarch of the mockumentary. The ascension started with his scripting/starring/scoring contributions to Rob Reiner’s timeless metal mickey-take This Is Spinal Tap .
Unsurpassed, perhaps, but over the last decade no one’s satirised Middle-American mores with greater savvy or subtlety than Guest, going three-for-three with Waiting For Guffman , Best In Show and A Mighty Wind .
His winning formula is an eagle eye for throwaway detail and a sharp sense of melancholy amid the mirth. Oh, and, the best rep company in the biz (McKean, Shearer, Levy, Coolidge, etc)...
Man-child on fire
Funny How? Williams’ yo-yo-ing career has seen good times ( Aladdin ), bad times ( Popeye ) and downright ugly times ( Bicentennial Man ). But he remains one of America’s funniest men, thanks to a super-keen intelligence married to an elastic larynx fuelled by atomic stamina.
The mischievous boy-man persona we know and tolerate dates back to TV's Mork & Mindy ; his film career faltered until one-man-and-a-mic improve showcase Good Morning, Vietnam , the closest celluloid’s come to catching the freewheeling mania of his stand-up act.
Nowadays he strikes a happy balance between family fare ( Robots , RV ) and against-type turns as dark as his gorilla-like forearms ( Insomnia , One Hour Photo ).
Carry on king
Funny How? Sid James had the laugh, but it was Kenneth Williams who got the laughs. In reality, Williams was a troubled soul who could never accept his own talent.
On screen, though, no one timed a double-take or the switch from preening poshness to goggle-eyed shrieking better than the pointy-faced player with nostrils like train tunnels.
The Carry On series is notoriously patchy, but Williams himself never dropped down a gear, always revving up to a breathless, instinctive brilliance far beyond any of his co-stars.
The ‘dumb’ blonde
Funny How? In one of her first roles ( The One And Only, Genuine, Original Family Band ), Goldie Jeanne Hawn, some way down the credits, plays “Giggly Girl”. There’s an argument she’s being playing the same role ever since. But to be fair, no one’s done it better.
From her Oscar-winning turn in Cactus Flower to her hippy chick in Laugh-In , the comedies brighter for her been in them include There’s A Girl In My Soup (kooky), Shampoo (smart), Foul Play (dramatic), Overboard (wacky), Death Becomes Her (black) and, oh yes, Private Benjamin , her, ahem, tour de farce.
Hawn’s unlikely soldier runs the gamut from sorrow to slapstick in a smartly scripted laugh-fest that inspired both a TV series and, in all probability, Stripes .
Funny How? The funniest human-being to ever sprout from Blighty. Simple as that.
It’s fashionable to accuse Sellers of pissing his talent away, but just take a gander at his virtuoso trio-turn in Dr Strangelove (stiff-upper-lipped comedy, deadpan brilliance and amped-up slapstick all from one man in one film), his elegantly absent performance in Being There or his beautifully bolshy union man in I’m All Right, Jack .
Sure, he may have wasted himself in some dross ( Casino Royale , anyone?) but a quarter-century after his death, the man who gave the world Inspector Jacques Clouseau still sets the benchmark for slapstick/subtlety shapeshifters.