30 Funny Comedians Turned Actors

Mel Brooks

The Comedian: Brooks started out doing movie star impressions as a stand-up at the Catskill Mountains before retreating behind the scenes to write for TV.

The Actor: Though Brooks has favoured directing over acting, he’s made appearances in many of his own films ( Blazing Saddles , Robin Hood: Men In Tights ) over the years.

Dramatic Chops?
Brooks set up his own company, Brooksfilms, in order to escape the baggage of being a comedian, and has used it to produce numerous ‘straight’ films – like The Fly, The Elephant Man and 84 Charing Cross Road .

Russell Brand

The Comedian: Eccentric, mad-haired wordsmith who finished fourth at the Hackney Empire New Act of the Year final in 2000. In turn he appeared in Edinburgh before going on to nationwide stand-up tours.

The Actor: Brand cropped up in St Trinian ’s and pig fairytale Penelope before rocking the world as rocker Aldous Snow in Forgetting Sarah Marshall . He picked up the character again for Get Him To The Greek.

Dramatic Chops? Er, no. Let’s leave it at that, shall we?

Ellen DeGeneres

The Comedian: Ellen’s influences were Woody Allen and Steve Martin during her time as a stand-up – and clearly those influences worked, as the young funny girl soon became emcee at Clyde’s Comedy Club in New Orleans. By 1982, she was named Showtime's Funniest Person in America.

The Actor: Ellen’s mostly stuck to TV (with her self-titled sitcom, which outed her as a lesbian), though Finding Nemo would be nothing without her (she voiced Dory), and she’s cropped up in everything from EDtv and Dr Dolittle to Coneheads .

Dramatic Chops? Ellen just can’t not be funny, and that’s reflected in her movie choices.

Rainn Wilson

The Comedian: Funny guy Wilson is best known as the real star of the US version of The Office , playing an eccentric intern at a funeral home.

The Actor: Wilson’s role in The Office got him noticed, though he’s also made numerous cinematic appearances as well – Almost Famous , Galaxy Quest , House Of 1,000 Corpses , The Rocker . His latest comes in the form of wannabe-superhero comedy Super .

Dramatic Chops? Wilson can do funny and serious, but generally he’s better at the former.

Dan Aykroyd

The Comedian: Like many of the best American comedians, Aykroyd got his break with Saturday Night Live , for which he wrote and acted over four years.

The Actor: Big screen gigs have slowed of late, with Aykroyd having his heyday in the ‘80s with The Blues Brothers, Ghostbusters and Trading Places.

Dramatic Chops? Well, he’s won numerous Razzies, but we still love him.

Jennifer Saunders

The Comedian: As part of French And Saunders (along with mate Dawn French), Saunders got her first break in the early ‘80s when the duo answered an ad in The Stage for comedy troupe The Comic Strip – and became regular contributors. Their own sketch show first aired on the BBC in 1987.

The Actor: Her acting credits are few, though Saunders memorably went villainous as the voice of the evil Fairy Godmother in Shrek 2 (later also providing the vocals for a character in Coraline ). She also appeared in Spice World (oof), and Muppet Treasure Island.

Dramatic Chops? Not so much; Saunders loves comedy. Full stop.

Rowan Atkinson

The Comedian: Rubber-faced Atkinson started out by not using his face at all, with 1978 radio sketch show The Atkinson People .

A few years later he landed Not The Nine O’Clock News , which became a massive success.

The Actor: Off the back of Nine O’Clock News , Atkinson made medieval sitcom Black Adder and confirmed his standing as a British comedy great. In the movie world, he’s made film versions of Mr Bean , as well as Bond spoof Johnny English.

Dramatic Chops? We’d love to see him try serious, but it just probably wouldn’t work.

Roseanne Barr

The Comedian: Big-mouthed Utah native, Barr put her motormouth to good use as a stand-up comedian from 1980 to 1986.

After landing her own HBO one-off, ABC commissioned her most famous showcase – sitcom Roseanne .

The Actor: She’s stuck mostly to TV, but Barr put in a memorable, uglified turn in 1989’s She-Devil before lending her voice to a baby in Look Who’s Talking Too .

She even had a role as ‘Childless Woman’ in the sixth Nightmare On Elm Street movie. Ooh-la-la.

Dramatic Chops? Barr’s commendably straight-faced in She-Devil , though with a face made up to look like that, who could blame her?

Steve Martin

The Comedian: Martin won an Emmy (aged just 23) along with the other writers of The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour .

He became a successful stand-up comedian The Tonight Show and The Gong Show.

The Actor: Martin’s earlier film work was edgy affair, with films like The Jerk and The Man With Two Brains tailored to an adult audience.

It was in the ‘90s that he found an audience in the family market ( Father Of The Bride ), where he’s stayed pretty much ever since.

Dramatic Chops? Even when he’s being funny, Martin’s as dramatic as they come.

Steve Coogan

The Comedian: Working as a mimic and a comic in Ipswich, Coogan went on to become a contributor to Radio comedy show On The Hour , where he came up with the character of Alan Partridge. He’s not looked back since.

The Actor: Coogan’s screen career has flourished in recent years, not least with the likes of A Cock And Bull Story , as well as roles in Tropic Thunder , In The Loop and The Other Guys. He was also memorably slimy as Hades in Percy Jackson And The Lightning Thief.

Dramatic Chops? 24 Hour Party People showed Coogan was more than just a man in a Pringle jumper.

Josh Winning has worn a lot of hats over the years. Contributing Editor at Total Film, writer for SFX, and senior film writer at the Radio Times. Josh has also penned a novel about mysteries and monsters, is the co-host of a movie podcast, and has a library of pretty phenomenal stories from visiting some of the biggest TV and film sets in the world. He would also like you to know that he "lives for cat videos..." Don't we all, Josh. Don't we all.