14 of the Greatest Comedy Actors of All Time
The best comedy actors come from all walks of life. They aren’t just comedians who have transitioned to the big screen or actors who got their start making funny movies. Some began their careers as dramatic actors while others were stand-ups who scored a few movie roles and went on to become big stars.
Comedy movies also comprise many different genres. There are slapstick comedies, romantic comedies, action comedies, situational comedies, and even spoof comedies. All these films use humor in different ways but have one thing in common, they will make you laugh.
When discussing the most outstanding comedy actors, many individuals are worthy of highlighting. The likes of Jim Carrey, Robin Williams, Steve Carell, Bill Murray, and Eddie Murphy all come to mind. While impossible to mention them all (unless this article was titled something like the “1,000 greatest comedy actors of all time”), we have chosen 14 of our favorites who have had successful comedy careers and made people laugh for years.
14 of the Greatest Comedy Actors of All Time
1. Charlie Chaplin
One of the originators, Charlie Chaplin rose to fame during the silent film era with his slapstick comedy. Born in England, Chaplin lived in poverty and had little support from his parents. He turned to acting as an escape and found himself signed to the Fred Karno company and swiftly moved to the United States at 19. It was here he established himself as a comedy icon with films including The Gold Rush, The Kid, and Modern Times.
Over the course of a career that spanned more than 75 years, Chaplin starred, wrote, directed, and produced 82 films. Many of them focused on the Tramp persona he created, a bumbling vagrant who always seems to get himself in trouble. But by the time the 40s hit, Chaplin found himself courting controversy and singled out as a communist sympathizer. He moved to Switzerland, ditched the Tramp persona, and started making movies that weren’t straight-out comedies.
Although still successful, Chaplin never reached the heights of his early career. He passed away at the age of 88 in his sleep, leaving behind a legacy that helped shape modern cinema.
2. Eddie Murphy
Stand-up king Eddie Murphy has had some career. The New York-born comic got into the business after being influenced by another amazing comedian, Richard Pryor. Playing gigs around his home city, Murphy landed a job at Saturday Night Live and quickly became the star of the show.
Two years later and Murphy was cast in the action comedy 48 Hrs. with Nick Nolte. The movie was a smash hit and opened the door to Hollywood for the comedian, who would go on to star in 80s classics Coming To America, Trading Places, and Beverly Hills Cop. He also released two smash-hit comedy specials, Delirious and Raw.
It looked as though Murphy would be a dominant force for years to come, but a string of failures in the 90s – including The Adventures of Pluto Nash, the biggest bomb in movie history – and a run-in with a sex worker saw Murphy’s popularity shrink, with the actor only making sporadic appearances on screen since.
The Shrek and Nutty Professor series of movies kept his name alive, but it’s only in recent years that Murphy is once again being talked about after the release of the 2022 Coming To America sequel, Coming 2 America, and the announcement of a fourth Beverly Hills Cop movie.
3. Robin Williams
Improvisational comedy is not easy, but the late, great Robin Williams was a master of it. The comedian grew a large following in the 80s thanks to his energetic performances and the huge range of characters he performed.
He found fame on an international level in the sci-fi comedy series Mork & Mindy which led to him scoring the title role in the musical comedy Popeye. Although a massive bomb, it didn’t take Williams long to establish himself as a serious actor in movies like The World According to Garp, Good Morning, Vietnam, and Dead Poets Society. These roles enabled him to show off his dramatic side.
During the 90s his fame hit its peak with roles in Hook, Mrs. Doutbfire, Aladdin, Jumanji, and Good Will Hunting, for which he won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. Williams continued to be a success throughout the 00s before his unfortunate suicide in 2015.
Having battled substance abuse all his life, as well as dealing with depression and Lewy body dementia, things became too much for Williams, who took his own life. While his death was tragic, Williams’ legacy will never be forgotten.
4. Adam Sandler
“Stop looking at me swan?” This is one of many stupid lines from Adam Sandler’s classic comedy Billy Madison. His debut film after leaving Saturday Night Live (he was a cast member from 1990 – 1995) is a cult hit that was followed by sports comedies Happy Gilmore and The Waterboy – stupid comedy flicks that turned Sandler into a massive star.
Throughout his career, Sandler has mainly appeared in silly comedy films that rely on cheap laughs and adolescent humor, but they work. He often gets his mates to star in his films (such as Rob Schnieder and David Spade) and has signed two bumper deals with Netflix since 2016, with his 2020 four-picture movie deal worth an estimated $275 million.
While known for comedy, Sandler can act, as evident by his performances in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch-Drunk Love, the Safdie brother’s Uncut Gems, and basketball drama Hustle.
5. Jim Carrey
In the same mold as Robin Williams, Canadian Jim Carrey used slapstick comedy to his favor after landing a gig on the sketch show In Living Color. He performed at The Comedy Store in Hollywood and slowly built a following that included small roles in a variety of early 90s movies. Carrey finally exploded worldwide in 1994 after starring in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, The Mask, and Dumb and Dumber, one of the greatest three movie runs of all time.
The threepeat of hit movies turned Carrey into an international star and he had much success throughout the 90s and early 00s with movies like Liar Liar, The Truman Show, Man on the Moon, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and Bruce Almighty.
Mixing comedies with dramas, Carrey has been able to keep his core fan base while flexing his acting chops. He has been less active this past decade, focusing more on politics, art, and other creative endeavors, although he received much praise for his role as Dr. Robotnik in the recent Sonic movies.
6. Steve Martin
Steve Martin got his start as a writer for the comedy series The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in the 60s. He then went into stand-up in the 70s and became a big star thanks to his surreal humor, releasing several comedy albums and touring America multiple times. After several small movie roles, Martin’s big break came in the 1979 flick The Jerk, a hilarious comedy written and starring Martin.
Martin was everywhere in the 80s, with The Man Who Had Two Brains, The Lonely Guy, Three Amigos, Roxanne, Planes, Trains and Automobiles, and Parenthood all huge comedy hits. The past three decades have been a mixed bag for Martin, who has juggled acting with performing theatre, stand-up, musical performances, and writing.
7. Rowan Atkinson
First coming to fame as a writer and star of the hit British series Blackadder, most people remember Rowan Atkinson for his performance as Mr. Bean. Although only comprising 15 episodes, the slapstick comedy about “a child in a grown man’s body” is absolutely hilarious and one of the great comedy shows of the 90s. The series is so popular Atkinson created an animated version, Mr. Bean: The Animated Series, comprising 130 short episodes that are much more kid-friendly. Even if Atkinson did nothing else, he would forever be remembered for Mr. Bean.
Thankfully Atkinson hasn’t relied on Mr. Bean to stay relevant, with the comedy actor having a long and diverse career. Some of his other notable roles have come in Four Weddings and a Funeral, Love Actually, Keeping Mum, and the Johnny English movies. He also had great success with the TV series The Thin Blue Line and will next be seen in Wonka, a prequel to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
8. Chris Rock
If you want to make it as a comedic actor in America, get yourself on Saturday Night Live. After struggling as a comic around New York in the 80s, Chris Rock got cast on SNL alongside the likes of Chris Farley, Adam Sandler, Rob Schneider, and David Spade. He quickly became one of the show’s top cast members and found himself in movies such as CB4, Lethal Weapon 4, Death at a Funeral, The Longest Yard, and the sex comedy classic Pootie Tang.
As well as making an impact in the world of film, Rock’s stand-up tours got bigger and bigger, earning the American actor and comedian hundreds of millions. He also developed, wrote, produced, and narrated the sitcom Everybody Hates Chris, based on his life as a young kid.
9. Will Ferrell
Another SNL alumni, Will Ferrell is responsible for some of the great comedies of the 21st century. Elf, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, and Step Brothers are all comedy gold that helped transform Ferrell from TV actor to megastar.
Strangely Ferrell hasn’t really changed things up during his career. He’s happy to provide laughs for people in comedies, ranging from silly flicks like The Campaign and Get Hard to more mature comedies such as Stranger Than Fiction and Downhill. No matter the movie, you know you are in for some laughs if Ferrell is on the poster.
10. Kevin Hart
It’s fair to say when it comes to comedy actors, Kevin Hart is at the top of the list. Over the past decade the stand-up comic has not only performed some of the biggest and highest-grossing comedy tours of all time and launched his own comedy streaming service, Laugh Out Loud Network, but he’s managed to transform himself into an A-list movie star.
After bit parts in The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Soul Plane, and Death at a Funeral, Hart now commands millions after movies like The Wedding Ringer, Ride Along 1 and 2, Central Intelligence, Night School, and the Jumanji franchise made him one of the biggest draws in Hollywood. Humble, down-to-earth, and hard-working, Hart is living the American dream.
11. Ben Stiller
Not everyone starts life as a comic. Ben Stiller first got noticed as a writer, working on SNL and his own failed sketch show, The Ben Stiller Show. His first major acting roles came in Flirting With Disaster and The Cable Guy, but it was his turn in There’s Something About Mary that got Stiller noticed.
The hit comedy starring Stiller, Cameron Diaz, and Matt Dillion was a smash and helped cement Stiller as a comedy actor. Roles in comedies Mystery Men, Meet the Parents, Zoolander, The Royal Tenenbaums, and DodgeBall: A True Underdog Story followed as Stiller asserted himself as a bankable star. While Stiller has dabbled in more serious fare, such as The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Greenberg, and Lockdown, like Will Ferrell, he prefers the medium of comedy.
12. Martin Short
Martin Short began his comedy career in Canada as part of Second City Television. After several seasons on the show he moved to America and got a gig on SNL, but only stayed for one season, quickly making the jump to movies. Three Amigos, Innerspace, Father of the Bride, and Captain Ron turned Short into a movie star. Throughout the 90s he starred in several TV specials and even had his own show, The Martin Short Show.
While he has continued to act in both comedy movies and dramas over the past two decades, Short has also done a lot of TV cameos and theatre productions. He and his good buddy Steve Martin have toured together several times and released the 2018 Netflix special An Evening You Will Forget for the Rest of Your Life. The two also currently star together with Selena Gomez in the comedy series Only Murders in the Building.
13. Bill Murray
Getting his start on The National Lampoon Radio Hour before making the switch to TV on Saturday Night Live, Bill Murray has had a long and fruitful career. Known for his deadpan delivery, Murry has done it all from comedies (Ghostbusters, Caddyshack) and dramas (Lost in Translation, Wild Things) to animated folly (Space Jam, Garfield) and Wes Anderson flicks (Moonrise Kingdom, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou).
While his reputation has taken a beating of late after being accused of inapporiate behavior on the set of Being Mortal, Murray is still loved by many and his contribution to the comedy genre will always be remembered fondly.
14. Steve Carrell
Who knew the American remake of the British series The Office would be so good? Not only did it last nine seasons but helped turn Steve Carell into a massive star. Carell had previously worked on The Dana Carvey Show and The Daily Show before scoring the role of Michael Scott on The Office. He was part of the show for seven season and in between starred in hit movies The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Little Miss Sunshine, Get Smart, and Date Night.
As well as comedy flicks, Carrell has also had roles in more serious movies including Crazy, Stupid, Love, Foxcatcher, Vice, and The Big Short. He’s also dabbled in television a lot more in recent years, having major roles in The Morning Show, Space Force, and The Patient.
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