Comedians are ticking time bombs. No matter how funny they may be at any one point in their career, they’re just one mishap away from hitting unfunny rock bottom. Whether it’s drugs, lust for money or pure insanity that does them in, what’s certain is their eventual failure. Some of the greatest comedians of all time have lost it all, leaving them cold, lonely, (at times dead), and most importantly, lacking funny.
Martin Lawrence fell harder than most. Lawrence had a rags to riches tale of comedic success which was quickly followed by a litany of terrible, awful movies detailing the death of his funny. For Lawrence it all began in Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing,” as well as various standup specials and hosting Def Comedy Jam. All this led to the hit sitcom “Martin,” which, in the eyes of many, did as much for the genre as Seinfeld.
Lawrence quickly became one of the most famous and successful working comedians in the 1990’s, starring in hilarious films such as “Life,” “Bad Boys” and “Blue Streak.” Self-deprecating humor, racial jokes as well as lots of physical gags epitomized Lawrence’s work.
The death of Lawrence’s funny is a simple one: he got old. He started getting typecast in movies as the lecherous old guy, or the struggling, married old guy or just simply the unfunny old guy. If you want to torture yourself with examples take a look at “Wild Hogs” or “Death at a Funeral.” Or better yet, don’t. Unless you’re willing to attend a funeral of funny.
Eddie Murphy was one of the most hysterically funny comedians the world has ever known. His ability to imitate is unparalleled, and seeing his standup meant really getting to see the comedic styling of a host of different people. He was known for the deliberate insensitivity of his jokes towards many different groups (overweight people, gays, etc).
Murphy, like a lot of comedians, got his name out working on SNL in the early 1980’s. He played a grown-up version of Little Rascals’ Buckwheat, as well as Gumby (“I’m Gumby damnit!”). But his standup specials “Raw” and “Delirious” were like golden tablets sent from the heavens. In the specials, Murphy takes it everywhere, keeping it as dirty and hilarious as is physically possible. Most people cry and defecate on themselves the first time they see either one of these videos.
Unfortunately for Murphy, this buzz led to a successful acting career. In the beginning this was just fine — life-changing films such as “Beverly Hills Cop,” “Coming to America” and “Boomerang” actually encouraged and increased his funny — but time was almost up for Murphy’s funny.
Star power began to get to Murphy’s head in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. When the goal becomes to make family comedies in which you play every role, you have probably lost your funny. Sorry Mr. Klump, but the honeymoon is over.
In Dan Aykroyd we find the story of the occasionally funny role-player who loses it all to his own mental implosion.
Aykroyd got his start on SNL, but, for a change of pace, worked as a writer and actor on the show for its first four seasons from 1975-79. He was known for his unusual subjects and punch lines, as well as his political imitations of Jimmy Carter and Richard Nixon. Perhaps he was most famous on SNL for playing Beldar, father of the Coneheads’ family.
Aykroyd’s career on SNL led him to star in the classic 1980 film “The Blues Brothers.” It would be his last brush with funny. An avowed spiritualist, Aykroyd went off the deep end into mysticism and radical beliefs. He was most recently seen claiming to have firsthand knowledge of the existence of aliens on Larry King, in intense seriousness. This display of lunacy is actually quite humorous, just not in the way we’re talking about here. The fun is done.
Jim Carrey comes from the same school of comedy as Robin Williams, as wild and manic as possible. Carrey got his big break due to his friendship with Damon Wayans, being featured in the underappreciated sketch-comedy show “In Living Color.”
Carrey parlayed his buzz into a monster acting career in the 90’s, starring in movies such as “The Mask,” “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective,” and “Dumb and Dumber.” He followed these films with more serious roles in the later 90’s in movies such as “The Truman Show,” and “Man on the Moon.” He is one of the few comedians to branch into serious work successfully, and this trend is not at all what killed his funny.
In the 21st century Carrey decided to call it quits as far as humor goes. He starred in trash like “Bruce Almighty,” “Yes Man,” and “Fun with Dick and Jane.” All featured Carrey playing a caricature of himself, oozing with desperation and forced attempts at funny. Even his “serious” work, such as “The Number 23” began to deteriorate in quality. If you want to see funny Jim Carrey, you need a time machine, or at least a VHS.
Will Ferrell reached the highest peak of success a comedian can aim for. Like Chappelle or Rock before him, he became the most quoted man in America… And just as quickly became the lingering jokester that everyone was finished with.
Ferrell graduated from USC in 1990 with a degree in Sports Information. However, being a sports broadcaster was clearly not his destiny. Ferrell spent years after graduation working on his improvisational skills in a comedy troupe called “The Groundlings.”
In 1995 Ferrell got his big break, becoming a cast member on SNL. He had one of the most beloved stints on the show from 1995-2002, during which he was hilarious as George W. Bush, Shaft, Alex Trebek, Ted Kennedy and many more.
Ferrell quickly was becoming an extremely well known comedian, and his films began to reflect this. At first he would always play supporting roles, such as in “Zoolander,” or “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back.” But these roles started to get replaced with starring roles in films such as “Old School,” “Elf,” “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy,” and “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.”
When you make a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy, the quality becomes nonexistent. So too did Ferrell’s funny, when he attempted to make watered down versions of his beloved films. Trash like “Semi-Pro,” “Blades of Glory,” and “Land of the Lost” proliferated theaters everywhere. Across America, people kept over hearing others say “why do they put him in everything? He’s not even that funny.”
Seinfeld is a genius, both in standup comedy and the sitcom model. He revolutionized them both and still managed to be unable to hold on to his funny after his youth, but these days he’s a bit long in the tooth.
Seinfeld’s break came in 1981 when he got a chance to be on “The Tonight Show,” impressing Johnny Carson mightily. Soon after, Seinfeld ruled the standup club and television circuit.
It was in 1989 that he would change sitcom history forever with his and Larry David’s “Seinfeld”. The intricate plotting, real life situations and malicious protagonists made the show the most popular sitcom on TV. The show ended in 1998, but you’d never know it from how often it’s still aired on TV. Today, Seinfeld continues to blow the minds of children who discover it.
After the series ended Seinfeld went back to work on the standup circuit. He published a couple of books, rehashing Seinfeld bits. He starred in an animated movie, and even guest-starred in his former co-creator Larry David’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” But mostly, he bought himself fancy cars and houses with all the money he made, and with great dignity and class he retired his funny. Seinfeld laid it in the ground gingerly, and decided to move on to a life of treasures. Most people’s funny leave them in the middle of the night, when they are completely unaware and thus don’t even know what happened to it. Seinfeld, however, was in control of his funny the entire time.
It’s more than possible that Dane Cook never had any funny. Perhaps America is just so stupid that they could make someone wildly famous for being funny when they never were. In fact, this is all true. Cook makes the list for how powerfully unfunny he is and always will be. His negative funny is like the rarest, most unwanted PokÃ©mon: Depressimon.
Cook’s style of comedy is akin to a little obnoxious girl with pigtails, overalls and a gigantic lollipop. Just like her, Cook runs around rambling, singing and sucking incessantly. There are no real jokes, just stories and opportunities to be silly with his voice and his body. Everything must be physically demonstrated in gruesome, graphic detail. And on top of it, Cook finds himself to be the funniest thing he’s ever heard!
What can’t be debated is Cook’s wild success. Comedy Central’s “Premium Blend” made him a commodity, and standup specials such as “Vicious Circle” finished the job. Soon Cook was a legit Hollywood actor. And that’s when the little girl swallowed her lollipop.
Cook makes movies like “Good Luck Chuck” in which he plays the least likable protagonist ever, with the twist being that he has a heart of gold. Except, the movie never delivers on that twist and Cook is exposed as a pest once more. He’ll try a “serious” role a la “Mr. Brooks” in which he stinks up the screen trying to be creepy and angry and succeeding pretty well at just the creepy part. There’s a reason why Cook is the comedian every other comedian hates, and it’s because he’s ridiculously successful without actually containing an ounce of funny in his melon.
One of the original, true kings of comedy, Steve Martin, spent decades as one of the funniest men on earth. Born during World War II, Martin is the aging champion still able to find work today. Too bad he lost his funny along the way.
During the late 60’s and early 70’s Martin worked as a comedy writer and stand-up comedian. He won Emmy’s and was regaled for his absurdist, quirky humor. He would often connect topics that had no relationship to each other.
Martin’s acting career exploded with 1979’s “The Jerk.” A classic comedy film, it was also a gigantic commercial success, grossing $100 million on a budget of $4 million. It led to an acting career that couldn’t die, no matter how little effort would eventually be put into it.
Throughout the 80’s and 90’s Martin continued to make masterfully funny films, from 1988’s “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” to 1999’s “Bowfinger.” The new millennium, however, brought changes. Martin had become a serious art collector, and realized that collecting art required heavy funds. What was the best way to raise these funds? Making crappy family movies. Martin made such gems as “Cheaper by the Dozen,” “The Pink Panther,” “Cheaper by the Dozen 2” and “The Pink Panther 2.” What do all these movies have in common? They sucked. Martin sold out his funny for a serious arts collection. It was an ultimate example of one man’s loss of funny.
Woody Allen is perhaps the most neurotic, self-absorbed comedian ever to gain way into celebrity through his funny. He was born in Brooklyn before World War II, and his real name is Allan Stewart Konigsberg. He is as Jewish a person as they come, and his acting, writing and directing all reflected this identity, which was always portrayed as being directly connected with his own self-hatred.
Although a talented standup in his own right, Allen broke into showbiz as a comedy writer working for “The Ed Sullivan Show” and “The Tonight Show” in the 50’s. As a very young man, he was making pretty serious bread. Allen quickly moved on to become a successful Broadway playwright, and just as quickly began writing and directing films.
Allen’s filmography is ridiculously wide and varied. He worked at a furious pace, starring in many of his own features with a long list of stars that includes Peter Sellers, Diane Keaton, Mia Farrow, Jeff Daniels, Anjelica Huston, Will Ferrell and Scarlett Johansson, just to name a few. He directed and starred in the incredible “Annie Hall,” “Manhattan,” and “Radio Days” in the late 70’s and 80’s.
During this time, he started a 12-year relationship with actress Mia Farrow. Although they never married, Farrow and Allen adopted two children, and had one of their own as well. Farrow had an adopted daughter from a previous relationship, named Soon-Yi Previn. In 1992, after being together for 12 years, Farrow discovered naked pictures of Previn in Allen’s possession. Sleeping with your stepdaughter is a clear recipe for losing your funny. Farrow sued for custody of their children, and alleged that Allen had also molested their adopted daughter Dylan, who was then 7. Farrow won custody of all three children.
Allen called being caught by Farrow “just one of the fortuitous events, one of the great pieces of luck in my life.” His films and funny never recovered from his gross, terrible act of paternal betrayal. His pride in his actions is even less funny, and for this he made the list.
What made Cosby so remarkable was his ability to be completely hilarious while never getting dirty, manic or indulging in slapstick. And how about those sweaters? They were beautiful.
Cosby got started on the 1960’s dramatic adventure series “I Spy,” as well as being featured on “The Tonight Show,” and was given national exposure proving him a fine, funny fellow.
What is most touching about Cosby is how much he used his influence to try to give back. In both films and television Cosby always sought to promote not only his own hilarity, but also positive examples of black life and education.
In the 80’s Cosby, along with NBC put out “The Cosby Show.” It was a monster hit, and the Huxtable family was beloved by America. It wasn’t soon after the show’s completion in 1992 that Cosby began losing his funny.
Cosby’s loss of funny is so tragic because it was lost just being Cosby. Once Cosby semi-retired he got much more involved in the issues of importance to him. He chastised other comedians (most notably Eddie Murphy) for being too foul-mouthed. He blamed black people’s actions and attitudes for a lot of their present circumstances in America. Essentially, he just got too serious. It was a shame, but it happened. If you see him now, tell him to have a coke and a smile and to shut the fuck up!
Adam Sandler was one of the most talented comedians of his generation, and then he made this list. Sandler made his name on SNL in the 1990’s as a writer and actor. He was first known for songs such as the “Chanukah song” and had a burgeoning film and television career throughout the decade, starring in films such as “The Waterboy,” “Billy Madison” and “Happy Gilmore.” He was the quirky, angry, one-dimensional character actor that America adored. His self-hating everyman person became a cash cow, and his funny disappeared.
When pucca shell wearing frat boys and crippled grandparents all find someone funny, it automatically kills their actual funny. The casualty of Adam Sandler is a tale as old as time — almost a requirement in the career trajectory of mega-successful comedians. He tried to get serious.
In 2007, Sandler thought it wise to lend his talent to “Reign Over Me,” a movie Columbia thought out no further than “he lost his family in 9/11.” In 2009, Sandler addressed his plummet into irrelevancy and humorlessness in the aptly named “Funny People,” essentially playing himself as a depressed, washed up, shtick-ridden comedian.
This man was a riot. For any follower of comedy, Chris Rock’s early standup contained the rawest, roughest, wildest bits since Eddy Murphy and Richard Pryor. He discussed race at length, and his comedy pushed for recognition of how race relations affected our society. It was heavy stuff, but his full on contact on serious issues pushed him to become the most famous comedian in America during the late 90’s.
Rock made his bones on SNL in the early 90’s, but left after a few seasons had him frustrated with the show. His funny exploded in the seminal yet under appreciated “CB4,” a mockumentary about a gangster rap group. Overall, he outdid himself in specials “Bigger and Blacker” and “Never Scared.”
What can a comedian do when he’s released all the funny he has within? Start making formula family films. In the 21st century both Rock’s acting and standup career began to fade. 2008’s clunky “Kill the Messenger” standup contained his act spliced from several different cities on the same tour. Instead of working for him, all it evidenced was the robotic nature of his routine, and the annoyingly exuberant caricature of himself that he had become. Recent films “Grown Ups” and “Death at a Funeral” only cemented the middle-aged shell of funny that Rock has become.
It hurts to put Dave Chappelle on this list, but one of the most innovative, groundbreaking comedians of all time has clearly lost his funny.
For a while in Chappelle’s career, fame was elusive, although hilarity always abounded. He appeared in numerous television guest spots, and starred in the stoner cult classic “Half Baked,” which will be quoted until there is not a leaf of marijuana left on earth. Like most comedians, however, his stand up is what brought him to the top.
In 2000, Chappelle dropped “Killin’ Them Softly,” a HBO standup special performed in his native Washington DC. People sure loved jokes about babies selling weed! In 2003, Chappelle got his own show on Comedy Central, which is when the world and his funny began to change forever.
Chappelle’s show quickly became Comedy Central’s most popular show on the strength of outstanding writing and powerful catchphrases. Skits such as Prince and Rick James “true stories” captivated a nation. But unfortunately, the crazed public couldn’t get enough. Chappelle zombies were incapable of repeating his jokes until they not only drained them of their funny, but drove the man to insanity. Chappelle escaped America, and the evil penny-pinching Comedy Central (who denied him proper DVD royalties even though they broke sales records) to recover. He has not yet made a comeback at this time, and his funny still lingers with massive potential, although it is dormant for now.
Mitch Hedberg was the underground’s favorite, and was a brand new kind of comedian. He was the kind of guy people would go see even when they knew all the jokes (and at times, crowds would shout the punchlines out early to Hedberg during his brief reign).
Hedberg didn’t break into the game on SNL, for him a 1996 David Letterman appearance propelled him to stardom. He was soon touring with a unique style that captivated clubs across the country. His hilarity was due to a one of a kind voice, as well as great observations and reliance on non sequiturs.
Unfortunately what killed Hedberg’s funny was a premature death. An avid drug user, he once said on stage “I used to do drugs. I still do, but I used to, too.” On March 30th, 2005 it stopped being funny when a combination of cocaine and heroin proved fatal for Hedberg, who was 37 at the time. His funny is now in a better place, but humanity lost it way too soon.
It’s still debatable whether Williams ever had funny, but assume that at one point his hyperkinetic, wild facial expression and vocal range silliness was absolutely hilarious. Perhaps best known for voicing the genie in “Aladdin,” Williams is known for his incredible versatility as an actor — versatility that eventually destroyed his funny.
Williams gained fame on the show “Mork and Mindy” in the late 70’s and early 80’s. In the show, he played Mork, a nasal-voiced alien that was involved in various hijinks, sometimes including the cast of “Happy Days” (Mork and Mindy was a spin-off). Williams used this TV fame to kick-start his standup career, appearing in three TV specials during the 70’s and 80’s.
Williams’ acting career took off during the 90’s, when he starred in classics such as “Jumanji,” “Mrs. Doubtfire,” and “Hook.” All were not only hilarious, but also charming and even action-packed. Williams seemed invincible. And then 1997 hit, and Williams’ career changed forever. He won a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award for his role in the vastly overrated “Good Will Hunting.”
It almost seems as if Williams took the praise to his head, and decided to commit funny suicide. The following years would see Williams star in several movies that absolutely destroy funny — his own and even the viewers. “Patch Adams,” “What Dreams May Come,” and “One Hour Photo” are all examples of these. Robin Williams became a scary, nasty man, and his funny plummeted. Recently Williams has tried to make a comeback on the standup circuit, but his routine remains shadowed by his melodramatic, scary movie personas.