Funny How? Like Fred Astaire gene-spliced with Buster Keaton, comedy’s first $20 million man can move like no one else alive.
Carrey’s physical mayhem took him from TV goofball to Hollywood megastar in a single year: ass-talking in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective , rubber-faced in The Mask and minting the Farrellys’ humanist lunacy in Dumb & Dumber .
But the contortions went deeper still. The Cable Guy hinted, but middle-age, double-divorce and depression finally unmasked the pathos aching in his persona. There was something like genius in Man On The Moon and Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind .
Funny How? The specky auteur has made a career out of the clash between the nebbish hypochondriac he is and the intellectual love-god he yearns to be. It’s a trick that, between Sleeper in 1973 and Hannah And Her Sisters in 1986, produced one masterpiece after another.
Since then, the misses have outnumbered the hits – with occasional flashes of the old magic ( Deconstructing Harry , Mighty Aphrodite ). In his prime, though, he could do no wrong, brilliantly crafting wit, poignancy and New York scenery into films that made a virtue of his unapologetic parochialism.
Don’t count him out just yet though; he’s just scored the biggest commercial hit of his career with the charming Midnight In Paris .
The dumb blonde
Funny How? “I’m not an erotic freak,” insisted Marilyn. “I don’t want to be sold to the public as a celluloid aphrodisiac.” But of course, that’s exactly how she was packaged, her pyromaniacal sex appeal always preceding her comedic talent.
She was funny, though, reinventing the breathless blonde in All About Eve and Monkey Business , fleshing it out in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and The Seven Year Itch and, best of all, simmering her particular soup of coy vulnerability and raw sexuality into something approaching art by the time of all-time comedy classic Some Like It Hot .
Funny How? There are two Murphys. One is Nice Guy Eddie, the family entertainer who talks out of his ass in the Shrek series. Then there’s the earlier, filthier Richard Pryor fan who stinted on Saturday Night Live aged 20 before supersizing his stardom in three ’80s dazzlers: 48 Hrs. , Trading Places and Beverly Hills Cop .
The latter’s aged especially well, building around Murphy’s hiccup laugh, sensational swearing (the muddyfunster count was off the scale) and gift for mimicry. If you can stomach the sexism, his stand-up work ( Raw ) is slicker than an oil spill.
World’s Funniest Man
Funny How? We chose Ferrell for the top spot because, while a lot of the other players on this list make us smile or smirk or snigger, Ferrell always makes us laugh .
The jolly green jingle-bells get-up as Santa’s disturbingly clad little helper in Elf hinted at his ye olde direction: the festooned buffoon, prancing like a tit for the grudging amusement of a keeper. See also his nekkid antics in Old School .
But since then, that blaring comic charisma has stealthily evolved with each film. Some old drama critic we found on the internet said, “The test of a real comedian is whether you laugh at him before he opens his mouth.” That’s Ferrell.
He just has the poise, the stare, the smarts... the look. He’d have made a lousy undertaker. Like Steve Martin, he knows how to slightly overcook an idea for physical effect – the closer to too-far, the funnier it gets.
Like Steve Coogan, he’s a gifted character comedian, but with an extra layer of slapstick absurdity fleshed on to the funny bones. And while Coogan’s characters sparkle because they’re painstakingly crafted exaggerations of real, recognisable types, Ferrell’s improve background (comic theatre, Saturday Night Live ) keeps his style raw and reactive; less actor, more performer.
Head here to read our interview with Will Ferrell
This feature was originally published in Total Film magazine. To subscribe, click here .