The List: 10 comedians who are surprisingly great in dramatic roles

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From the March 13, 2014 edition

Mike Birbiglia is coming to Columbus for a standup show March 19. Birbiglia’s one of the funniest people working the mic, but he’s also shown some serious dramatic chops, while still providing (self-deprecating) laughs, in his film “Sleepwalk With Me.” In honor of Birbiglia’s show, here are the top 10 comedians who have shown great dramatic chops.

10. Albert Brooks

No one saw this guy being able to pull off one of the most intimidating heavies to ever appear on film. He was Nemo’s dad for Christ sake’s! [SPOILER ALERT] When Brooks’ Bernie in “Drive” puts a fork though a guy’s eye, you shivered with fear — mostly because you never expected it.

9. Eddie Murphy

Murphy turned heads with his performance in “Dreamgirls,” even landing an Oscar nod, but he keeps getting sucked back into (bad) comedy. During Oscar campaigning season, he was pushing his fat-suit comedy “Norbit,” a fact that is widely thought to have cost him a win.

8. Louis C.K.

The funniest, most creative comic working today is best known for incredible standup performances, but the dramatic moves he makes in his TV series “Louie” show he’s capable of playing serious with serious aplomb. His heartfelt, lovelorn speech in “Pamela” is a great example.

7. Mo’Nique

The comedianne’s amazing turn as the villainous mother in “Precious” made a bleak movie even bleaker. Her lone truly dramatic role landed her an Academy Award. That’s batting 1.000.

6. Will Ferrell

Yeah, Ron Burgundy can make you want to cry (from more than just laughing). In fact, the scene in “Stranger Than Fiction” when Ferrell does cry — not to mention almost all of “Everything Must Go” — are some of the most dramatically heart-wrenching (and shocking from this actor) turns on film, period.

5. Robin Williams

The man’s acting career is almost as bipolar as his real-life personality. Williams began as Mork, and then scared us in “One Hour Photo” and “Insomnia,” but also made our hearts hurt in “Dead Poet’s Society” and “World’s Greatest Dad,” and even inspired us in “Good Will Hunting.”

4. Patton Oswalt

Have you seen “Big Fan” or “Young Adult”? No. Well, you’re welcome. Oswalt displays a wealth of pathos in both roles that will blow you away. Also, “Ratatouille.”

3. Jim Carrey

The man who brought us Ace Ventura’s talking ass showed early signs of his range in “The Truman Show” and “Man on the Moon,” but it was the heartbreaking Joel Barish in “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” that showed his full capability.

2. Bill Murray

Apart from being one of the coolest people in the world, Bill Murray is still funny (something few of his early SNL alumni peers can claim). In the past decade, he’s also shown us that he’s a damn fine actor, especially in “Lost in Translation.”

1. Adam Sandler

He built his career on some of the dumbest comedies of all time (both good and bad), but the tightly wound performance he gave in Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Punch Drunk Love” was an out-of-nowhere revelation. He tried his hand at a few more dramatic roles (“Spanglish,” “Reign Over Me”), but has since returned to the farts-and-pratfalls formula that made him famous. Sigh.