Not always funny people
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The serious side of funny people

Not always funny people
By Denise Martin, Brill Bundy, Emily Christianson, Rick Porter, Jevon Phillips and Robert Vivoda

“Funny People,” starring Adam Sandler and Seth Rogen, takes a decidedly less funny path to storytelling at times when talking about the mortality of its main character. We know that comedy can always lead to drama and vice versa, so we explore some of the funny people who’ve traversed the invisible thread between the two genres, and comment on their journey. (Tracy Bennett / Associated Press)
Dane Cook
Funny resume: His sellout stand-up shows at venues like Madison Square Garden in New York, laugh-out-loud specials on Comedy Central and starring opposite Hollywood’s hottest Jessicas – Simpson, Alba and Biel.

Serious turn: The serial-killer thriller “Mr. Brooks.” Cook plays a nosy neighbor who witnesses a murder and tracks down the shooter with intentions of blackmail.

Did it work?: Yes. Surprisingly, he used a bit of his persona for the part. His fans warmed to the familiarity and he likely gained a few more admirers along the way. (Ethan Miller / Getty Images)
Jack Lemmon
Funny resume : His “Odd Couple” pairing with Walter Matthau, leading ladies like Marilyn Monroe, Shirley MacLaine and Doris Day and his legendary body of work.

Serious turn: He got his first real taste for drama as alcoholic Joe Clay in “Days of Wine and Roses” in 1962. Years later, he took on the notable role of Harry Stoner, a man on the edge of ruin and desperate for the ideals of his youth, in “Save the Tiger.”

Did it work?: Yes, Lemmon won best actor at the Oscars for “Save the Tiger.” (Paramount)
Ben Stiller
Funny resume : His sketch comedy on “The Ben Stiller Show,” bringing “Reality Bites” to Generation X, and writing, producing, directing and starring in hits such as “Tropic Thunder.”

Serious turn: The 1998 biopic “Permanent Midnight.” Stiller starred as Jerry Stahl, a rising star in the television world who landed writing jobs with “thirtysomething,” “Moonlighting” and “Alf.” As Stahl’s career took off so did his heroin habit, and it wasn’t long before his life began to unravel.

Did it work?: Yes. While he can play silly (think “Something About Mary” and “Heartbreak Kid”), Stiller has a streak for serious too. In fact, it’s surprising he hasn’t taken on more serious roles since. (John P. Johnson / Artisan Entertainment)
Will Smith
Funny resume: “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” “Men in Black,” “Wild Wild West,” “Shark Tale”

Serious turns: “Enemy of the State,” “Seven Pounds,” “Ali,” “ The Pursuit of Happyness”.

Did it work?: Yes, and it won’t stop. His resume of serious roles is getting even stronger with solid performances in “Seven Pounds” and “ The Pursuit of Happyness”. The Fresh Prince has not only excelled at comedy, drama, and action, he did it while proving that rap can be good, clean family fun. The man can do it all. (Merrick Morton / Columbia Pictures)
Adam Sandler
Funny resume: “SNL,” “Billy Madison,” “Happy Gilmore,” “The Wedding Singer,” “The Waterboy,” “Big Daddy”

Serious turn: “Punch-Drunk Love”

Did it work?: Yes, hands down. Even though it was definitely a drama, the Popeye-undertones worked with and to Sandler’s strengths. Unfortunately, it was such a knockout it would detract from the performance for Sandler to try other serious material that wasn’t of the same high caliber. (Tracy Bennett / Columbia Pictures)
Jim Carrey
Funny resume: “In Living Color,” “The Mask,” “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective,” “Dumb and Dumber” and a host of other broad comedies relying on Carrey’s face-contorting genius.

Serious turn: He played Andy Kaufman in “Man on the Moon,” the trapped reality TV star Truman in “The Truman Show,” and broken-hearted lover Joel Barish in “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.”

Did it work?: There was a time when the phrase “Aaaaalrighty then” made us want to stick screwdrivers in our eyes, and we could do without missteps like the weepy “The Majestic” and the snooze-inducing thriller “The Number 23.” But Carey has proved himself a winning dramatic actor, and capable of more than restraint when paired with the right material and director. (Universal Studios Home Video)
Robin Williams
Funny resume: A manic stand-up act, “Mork and Mindy,” “Good Morning, Vietnam”

Serious turn: Many over the years, from “Dead Poets Society” to “Good Will Hunting” to “Insomnia”

Did it work?: Yes and no. He won an Oscar for “Good Will Hunting” -- but also did “Patch Adams.” (Rob McEwan / Alcon Entertainment)
Jamie Foxx
Funny resume: “In Living Color,” “Booty Call” and an eponymous sitcom on the WB

Serious turn: Several, but most notably the one-two punch of “Ray” and “Collateral” in 2004.

Did it work?: Judging by the Oscar for “Ray,” we’d say yes.

Pictured: Foxx in “The Soloist.” (François Duhamel)
Jackie Gleason
Funny resume: Most well-known for “The Honeymooners” and “The Jackie Gleason Show”

Serious turns: “Gigot,” “The Hustler”

Did it work?: He was nominated for an Oscar in “The Hustler,” and got good reviews for Rod Serling’s “Requiem for a Heavyweight,” but despite those accolades, less-than-stellar critiques of films such as “Gigot” and other dramatic roles were not always kind. He will be best remembered as lovable Ralph Kramden, with Audrey Meadows’ Alice by his side. (CBS)
Steve Carrell
Funny resume: TV’s “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” and “The Office” and the movies “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” and “Get Smart.”

Serious turn: He played the suicidal scholar in “Little Miss Sunshine.”

Did it work?: Carell had already proven he could earn sympathy for “The Office’s” near-unbearable Michael Scott and the grown geek Andy Stitzer in “Virgin.” But his nuanced take on “Sunshine’s” broken Frank made us want more of that and less of intended crowd-pleasers such as “Evan Almighty.” (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Will Ferrell
Funny resume: “Saturday Night Live” and almost everything that followed, from “Elf,” and “Old School” to “Anchorman” and “Blades of Glory.”

Serious turn: He played the wound-up IRS auditor Harold Crick in 2006’s “Stranger Than Fiction.”

Did it work?: Critics were pleased, but Ferrell fans? Not so much. “Fiction” made just $40 million at the U.S. box office (not so good compared with more than $100 for “Step Brothers.”) (Ralph Nelson / Columbia Pictures)
Whoopi Goldberg
Funny resume : “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” the “Sister Act” movies, numerous Comedy Relief specials and her initial one-woman show on Broadway (a mix of comedy and quirky personalities).

Serious turn: “The Color Purple”

Did it work? Goldberg was nominated for an Oscar for “The Color Puple,” and won it in 1990 in a supporting role in “Ghost.” Goldberg has gone on to be one of a very select few performers to win an Academy Award, a Grammy Award, a Tony Award and an Emmy. With varying degrees of commercial success, it has worked out. (Bryan Bedder / Getty Images)
Bill Murray
Funny resume: An early “SNL” player, also known for the movies “Caddyshack,” “Stripes,” “Ghostbusters” and “Groundhog Day.”

Serious turns: “The Razor’s Edge” and “Lost in Translation”

Did it work?: “Razor’s Edge” -- which Murray also co-wrote -- was a box-office flop that caused him to take a bit of a hiatus from Hollywood. “Lost in Translation” garnered raves, though, and made us all willing to forgive him for voicing Garfield the cat in not one, but two movies. (Yoshio Sato / Focus Features)
Steve Martin
Funny resume: “The Jerk,” “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid,” “The Man With Two Brains,” “The Lonely Guy,” “All of Me,” “Roxanne,” “Planes, Trains & Automobiles,” etc.

Serious turns: “The Spanish Prisoner,” “Shopgirl”

Did it work?: Depends on who you ask. Martin has always been smarter than 95% of his audience, which is going to be isolating. Still, even in his wackiest role, he’s always able to slip in some existentialism or -- at the very least -- a bit of melancholy. Some ignore it. Others relish it. (Sam Emerson / Touchstone Pictures)