Best and worst standup comics turned movie stars

Robin Williams, Steve Martin and Roseanne Barr. (WENN.COM)

Robin Williams, Steve Martin and Roseanne Barr. (WENN.COM)

Jim Slotek, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:58 PM ET

And the winner for best transition from standup comedy to feature films goes to … Kevin Hart.

Hart’s comedy with Ice Cube, Ride Along, was a surprise box-office winner, grossing $100 million and knocking off highly hyped competition like the new Jack Ryan movie and Peter Berg’s Lone Survivor.

And he’s in theatres now in an African-American adaptation of the ’80s movie About Last Night.

In fact, it’s surprising anybody ever makes this jump, since the jobs of standup comic and actor are not exactly analogous.

The late Mitch Hedberg had his own wry take on comics being expected to go Hollywood. “They say, ‘OK, you’re a standup comedian — can you act? Can you write? Write us a script’... It’s as though if I were a cook and I worked my ass off to become a good cook, they said, ‘All right, you’re a cook — can you farm?’ ”

Jerry Seinfeld nailed it, when he noted that the job of a standup comic is to be himself, and the job of an actor is to be someone else.

Herewith, our picks for 10 best and worst transitions from the mike to the big screen.

THE BEST

ROBIN WILLIAMS

Love him or hate him, he wanted an Oscar and he got one (for Good Will Hunting), and his serious films (The Fisher King, Awakenings, One Hour Photo), are invariably better than the “funny” ones (Old Dogs, Death To Smoochy, RV). He’ll even allow himself to be utterly and insanely miscast if the movie looks like Oscar bait (Dwight Eisenhower in The Butler???). Still, points for trying anything.

JAMIE FOXX

From his Oscar-winning turn in Ray to to his Oscar-nominated turn in Collateral to Django Unchained, no one can accuse him of one-note performances. He also sings passably well, and he’s funny (he still does comedy tours). A complete talent package, fueled by swagger.

CHRIS TUCKER

OK, you can accuse him of one-note performances (Silver Linings Playbook notwithstanding). But box office doesn’t lie. For a while anyway, he was the highest paid actor in Hollywood on the basis of the Rush Hour movies. How you go from that to owing the tax-man a bazillion dollars beats me.

WOODY ALLEN

A half-century ago he was one of the smartest and coolest comics around (following his stint writing for the recently deceased Sid Caesar). Then he followed his dream to make movies. The rest is history (and lately, hysteria).

WHOOPI GOLDBERG

A standup who practically had Hollywood handed to her on a platter - The Color Purple, Ghost (and the Oscar therein), Sister Act, etc., and a lucrative day job on The View. Many of us prefer her as an actress (comic Andy Kindler famously has a standing offer of a million dollars “for video proof of Whoopi Goldberg being funny.”)

STEVE MARTIN

Never really liked standup, especially when he found himself playing arenas and having trouble making himself heard over the frat-boys’ screaming. His decision to quit the stage led to a career of some of my favourite comedies — some smart (L.A. Story, Roxanne, and the brilliant, cultish Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid) and some silly (The Jerk, The Man With Two Brains, Planes, Trains & Automobiles). We’ll cut some slack for Sgt. Bilko and Pink Panther.

EDDIE MURPHY

Cooled off of late (Please Eddie, no more fat suits), but a huge influence and the template for superstardom – even his concert films like Raw and Delirious made obscene amounts of money and influenced a generation of comedians.

JIM CARREY

Dumb, Dumber, Dumbest aside, the kid can act, and should have received Oscar noms for at least two films, The Truman Show and Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless mind. Even in so-so films like The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, he can give the only performance worth watching.

ADAM SANDLER

Kind of in the same category as Carrey-lite. Humongous box-office when sleepwalking through his alleged comedies, and critical love when he chooses to aim higher (Punch Drunk Love, Spanglish). Sadly, he hasn’t aimed higher in years.

BILLY CONNOLLY

A hilarious, foul-mouthed force of nature onstage (no one can tell a 15-minute circular story that ends up where it started like him). He’s also capable of amazingly affecting performances in movies (Mrs. Brown, Quartet, The Boondock Saints). My personal favourite: the criminally-neglected seriocomic Canadian zombie film Fido. His performance could bring a cadaver to tears.

THE WORST

CHRIS ROCK

One of life’s great mysteries. Scabrously, socially-satirical onstage, he skewers the moronic notion of a “post-racial society” with the skillful and hilarious use of anger, sarcasm and truth. His movies? Let’s just say you can smell them 20 feet away from the clearance bin. I have high hopes for his nascent career as a documentarian, though.

DANE COOK

Fills arenas and elicits Beatle-volume screams. But even his fans couldn’t be bribed to see Good Luck Chuck. Good-looking, but empty – and a joke thief besides.

LARRY THE CABLE GUY

Fills arenas and elicits screams of “Git ‘er Done!” Hasn’t done a movie in six years, since Witless Protection grossed all of $4 mil. Only successful role: Tow Mater in Cars.

JERRY SEINFELD

See quote above. His one notable lame attempt at acting was voicing the lead bee in the inert Bee Movie. I’ve never seen an audience of kids less interested in an animated film.

ROSEANNE

You get one chance to be a movie star. Hers was She-Devil, which even co-star Meryl Streep couldn’t save. Consummate example of someone who could only play herself.

BILL COSBY

Was actually in a funny movie, 1974’s Uptown Saturday Night with Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte. A certain spy disaster called Leonard Part 6 tanked his movie career though.

JAY LENO

I was on the set of his only movie, a cop buddy comedy called Collision Course with Pat Morita. Which means I’m one of the few who ever saw any of it. Exists in some people’s collections as an oddity akin to The Room.

ELLEN DEGENERES

Long before the words, “Yep, I’m gay,” most people connected to comedy knew it anyway. But the Hollywood geniuses who thought she could be the next rom-com darling missed the memo. As one comic said when he heard she was starring in a romantic comedy called Mr. Wrong, “Aren’t they all?”

TOM GREEN

Freddy Got Fingered. And that’s all she wrote.

HOWIE MANDEL

Remember A Fine Mess, Walk Like A Man and Little Monsters? Me neither. He voiced Gizmo in Gremlins though. So there’s that.

 


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