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Five Dramatic Actors Who Should Be Comedians

Colin Firth would look so fetching in drag

Luke MacGregor - WPA Pool/Getty Images

Patton Oswalt proposes some jesters who should make the jump to dramatic work—a la Will Forte in Alexander Payne's Nebraska or Sarah Silverman in Take This Waltz. What about the serious actors who should be jokers?

5: Judi Dench

Nominated for an Oscar this year for the rather wan Philomena, Dench has been unfortunately cloaked, to American eyes at least, with the mantle of a “prestige” actor—even though the croaky-voiced dame spent much of the 1990s on a BBC sitcom. Dench does comedies, but they’re always dismayingly soft ones, like Shakespeare in Love or the maudlin The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. She’s so much better when she shows a little grit (think of her fantastic turn in Notes on a Scandal), and now that she’s pushing 80 she can surely work with whomever she wants. Forget Woody Allen; she should try calling Sarah Silverman. 

4: Denzel Washington

A homophobic lawyer, a crooked narc, an alcoholic pilot, Steve Biko, Hurricane Carter, Malcolm X: the list of roles doesn’t suggest an actor cut out for laughs. But around the edges Washington displays fantastic timing (in Spike Lee’s Inside Man, say), a way with words (in Kenneth Branagh’s drab Much Ado About Nothing), and sex appeal that hasn’t faded as he heads for 60. Physical comedy isn’t for him, surely, but can you imagine how fine Washington would be in a Wes Anderson picture? 

3: Isabelle Huppert

Acting is subtracting,” says the notoriously severe French actor, whose greatest performance featured incest, rape, and an intensely unpleasant genital mutilation sequence. Yet she has had small roles in a few comedies—she was the randy absurdist philosopher in David O. Russell’s disastrous I Heart Huckabees—and, just underneath her brittle surface, there’s a comedian dying to get out. Private to Nancy Meyers: cast Huppert and Steve Martin in your next romantic comedy, call it Paris Is For Lovers or some such, and enjoy counting your $100 million take in the penthouse suite at the Hôtel Meurice. 

2: Colin Firth

The only moment I liked in The King’s Speech, a movie so clueless it scored George VI’s anti-Germany speech to Beethoven’s Seventh, came at the very beginning. “Do you know any jokes?” the stuttering royal’s speech pathologist asks, and Firth nails the punchline: “T-T-T-Timing isn’t my strong suit.” Too long wasted in fluff like Bridget Jones’s Diary and Love Actually, Firth could be the Jack Lemmon of our time if someone would let him. I see a Some Like It Hot or La Cage aux Folles remake in his future; he’d look fetching in drag. 

1: Jennifer Lawrence

We know she’s busy single-handedly saving the moribund Hollywood studio system with the intensely fabulous, Occupy-approved Hunger Games series, but let’s face it: Lawrence is possibly the funniest non-comedian in Tinseltown. Her press conferences are essentially stand-up routines—asked what advice she would give her young fans, she answered “Don’t worry about the bitches”—and during every late-night appearance you wish she’d boot the host and just anchor the show herself. Lawrence’s performances in Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle have their moments of humor, and she acquitted herself well on "Saturday Night Live," but it’s time for Lawrence to step it up: slapstick, sex farce, the works. We hear a film version of The Book of Mormon is in the works; if the producers have a clue, they’ll cast her.