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Best TV of the '00s: Comedic Actor

by Nick Zaino, posted Jan 3rd 2010 11:01AM
neil_patrick_harris_cbsMore of our best of the decade coverage, which started on Tuesday. You can read the other posts at the link above. Here, we talk about the funniest actors of the last ten years.

If you want to be a great comedic actor, you can never let on that you know you're being funny. Your character never knows what the joke is. That's why Rodney Dangerfield was a great, legendary stand-up comedian, and a fairly poor comic actor.

Everyone on this list excels at the comedic poker face. Steve Carell and Ricky Gervais, in their Office boss characters, don't know that most of the rest of the office is laughing at them. Or at least they don't understand why. Stephen Colbert, despite all of the attention The Colbert Report have received, may be the most underrated comic actor, because the character is so seamless, sometimes it's hard to tell it's a character. Shatner is a legend for playing campy with a poker face. And Neil Patrick Harris as a cad? A straight cad? Perfect.

Here are a few of our favorite comedic actors from the past decade, and may their characters never realize the joke's on them.

Neil Patrick Harris, How I Met Your Mother

Joel says: As I mentioned in my thankful post this past Thanksgiving, Harris just seems so damn happy to be doing what he's doing. And it shows in his performance as the lecherous Barney Stinson on How I Met Your Mother. Harris just embodies the character with every fiber of his being and he looks like he's having a lot of fun doing it. But his tour de force performance as Dr. Horrible cemented the pick for me; the guy can show the pain of being an outsider who's in unrequited love while singing, dancing, and being funny as hell at the same time. I firmly believe the role is what led to his stints hosting the Tonys and Emmys, and I'm sure an Oscar hosting gig is not too far off.

[Oh, by the way, he has a musical number as Barney in the 100th episode of HIMYM that pretty much brings everything he's been about in the last six years together at once...]

Isabelle says: I have to agree with Joel on the choice of Best Comedic Actor of the '00s. How I Met Your Mother may have been here for only half of the decade but the casting of Neil Patrick Harris in the series put him back on the map thanks to his extremely spot-on portrayal of single guy Barney Stinson. Harris' character and his performance steals every episode of HIMYM to the point that the character has a blog, various websites and books! Harris' comedic talent was soon recognized by his peers and fans. Not only was he nominated for Emmys and Golden Globes but he was also picked to host the Emmy Awards. Neil Patrick Harris also showed his versatility in the three-part webseries Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog.

matthew_perry_nbcMatthew Perry, Friends / Studio 60

Bob says: Every single cast member was absolutely vital to Friends. You look back at the show now and you can't imagine anyone else in those roles and you can't imagine the show without each of those puzzle pieces in place. But having said that, there was one cast member who was the one you would have really missed if he had left the show for some reason and that was Matthew Perry. You sense that Chandler Bing is a lot like Perry himself. Maybe more frazzled but quick with the quip, sarcastic, funny. He has a great sense of timing, and he has a good mix of comedy and drama in all of his performances (he was great on Studio 60, too).

Will Arnett, Arrested Development / 30 Rock

Mike says:
After a string of guest stints on other shows, the brilliant Will Arnett made his bid for comedy immortality as Gob, an amateur magician and arguably the silliest member of Arrested Development's Bluth family. Arnett later twisted his hilarious manchild act to fit Tina Fey's vision of a petty, scheming exec on 30 Rock. It takes a great comic actor to upstage Alec Baldwin and ... er ... Henry Winkler.

seth_macfarlane_foxSeth MacFarlane, Family Guy / American Dad / The Cleveland Show

Allison says: Is it a reach to include Seth MacFarlane in this category? I don't think so. In the past ten years, MacFarlane has created a plethora of comic personas, but Family Guy's Stewie Griffin and American Dad's Roger are both marvels of comic wit and vulgarity. Seth has turned his crazy characters and animation mania into a billion dollar business. And how can you not admire the personality he puts into those creations. Don't tell me that's not acting! He's the Mel Blanc of our generation... with a lot more power and money and creative input.

Ricky Gervais, The Office / Extras

Annie says:
The land of television is a beautiful place, because here, Ghost Town and The Invention of Lying don't exist. Instead, The Office and Extras reign supreme in Ricky Gervais's filmography. His performances in these two shows were so incredible, his name was the first that came to my mind for this category. Gervais's personality on talk shows and interviews is very loud and outgoing, which is an unexpected contrast to the level of subtlety that informs his work as David Brent or Andy Millman. At the same time, he nails the physical comedy (as demonstrated by David's charity dance) and tugs at heart strings at all the right moments (grab some Kleenex and consider Andy's Big Brother speech). And as co-writer of all these projects, Gervais has clearly demonstrated that he knows how to write to his strengths as a performer.

alec_baldwin_nbcAlec Baldwin, 30 Rock

Kona says: Whenever Alec Baldwin gets self-deprecating in the press, it always makes me sad. It seems weird that he talks about quitting acting when he's part of 30 Rock, the most wildly successful comedy in years -- especially because Jack Donaghy makes that show. Without him, it would be a funny single-gal-in-the-city sitcom. While Tina Fey's writing is what makes 30 Rock stand apart from its peers, performance-wise, Baldwin is the one that makes it shine. Whether he's playing the wry straight man and telling Lemon that her "shoes are at least bi-curious" after mistaking her for a lesbian in season one, or going completely balls out during a therapy session with Tracy Jordan, he runs the gamut of comedy -- and he does it all without allowing a single hair to get out of place on that rather impressive mane of his.

William Shatner, Boston Legal

Jason says:
I don't care if Boston Legal was categorized as a drama, it had more comedic moments than According to Jim, and William Shatner was absolutely brilliant in the role of senior partner Denny Crane. There was such a charisma behind his lechery, and a strange tragedy behind his unpredictable lunacy. Shatner was at both times funny and poignant, and always a scene-stealer. It was such a convincing performance, that I worried with him as we learned slowly that he was likely in early Alzheimer's. Despite everything, though, he kept smiling through it all, with Alan by his side, and a never-ending lust for anything in a skirt. "Denny Crane! Coo-coo for Cocoa Puffs!"

Steve Carell, The Office

Brad says:
It's difficult to make a name for yourself coming into the shadow of two television programs. For Steve Carell, those programs were the original, British version of The Office (made famous by Ricky Gervais) and his reporting role on The Daily Show. Despite having similarities to the David Brent character that spawned him, Carell's Michael Scott managed to grow into his own character. One can only hope that someday Michael Scott will meet David Brent, but that could cause a nuclear explosion of talent which would end entertainment on Earth as we know it. Carell's television role in The Office, along with his breakout movie role in The 40 Year Old Virgin launched a prolific movie career that will likely last for decades.
Stephen Colbert, The Colbert Report

Danny says: The show might not fit into the traditional sitcom mold, but the best comedies are the ones that manage to harden and grow their way out and smash the mold in the process. Colbert's alter ego took on the personality of the personality driven newscaster, a man who sees himself as bigger than the news he purports in every sense of his show from the special segments to the celebrity interview. The show is still a vehicle for satire, but Colbert's performance as the show's anchor grabs the wheel and throws it into the kind of Aston Martin DB9 powerslide that would inspire Jeremy Clarkson to write an umpteenth Keira Knightley metaphor. The improvisation and Second City master and Daily Show alum takes control of comedy in ways few actors could and with great writing to back him, Colbert deserves more than just special mention in a blog. He deserves to be named after some undiscovered paradox for twisting the lines between reality and comedy into a monkey fist of hilariousness.

Larry David, Curb Your Enthusiasm

Jonathan says: Not many actors would probably be up for what Larry David did to himself -- make America think you're the biggest asshole ever. But he did it and guess what? He did it pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty, good. Curb Larry vs. real Larry is always a fun debate, especially since we knew so little about him post-Seinfeld, but one thing is certain now -- no other actor in the past decade could go from making you feel morbidly uncomfortable to downright shameful to so full of laughter that your stomach hurt better than Larry David.

tony_shalhoub_usaTony Shalhoub, Monk

Nick says: As Adrian Monk, Shalhoub was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series for seven years in a row and won three times. I'll miss Shalhoub's neurotic former detective, as Monk ends with the decade. Shalhoub did all the little things right, which is exactly what you need when you're playing a clinically anal sleuth who has to sift through messy crime scenes. There were times when Monk wasn't terribly sympathetic in his neuroses, which is a tough line for an actor to walk and still make a character as beloved as Monk was, and probably will continue to be on DVD and in reruns. Shalhoub has a considerable resume, including drama and comedy, and I'm looking forward to whatever he might tackle next (I hope there's at least a hint of comedy in it somewhere).

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Are you serious?! Where's Big Bang Theory and Two and a Half Men?

Baldwin is so overrated and not funny.

January 05 2010 at 2:12 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I'm a little surprised at the disdain for The Invention of Lying in Annie's write-up. I adore Gervais and his shows - and the movie is great.

January 04 2010 at 9:06 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

No quibbles here - good list. Thanks for including Matthew Perry as he is a favorite of mine and I stand alone as having been a fan of studio 60. NPH is...well... le-gen-dary and is deserving of top honors but let's not forget his Tony hosting stint!

January 04 2010 at 8:04 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Great choices here . . . especially Neil Patrick Harris, William Shatner and Larry David.

January 03 2010 at 11:08 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Chappelle's Show was one of the defining comedic shows of the '00s, if not all time. The list is incomplete without him. (Ditch Matthew Perry, maybe?)

January 03 2010 at 2:26 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Should not be forgotten here:
Bryan Cranston as Hal in Malcolm in the Middle. He was simply great in that role, no matter whether you find the series as a whole tolerable. The amazing versatility he showed during Malcolm's run made me completely unsurprised at his accomplishment in Breaking Bad. He's both an actor's actor AND able to be funny as hell.

January 03 2010 at 2:25 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Not sure perry needs to be here, which would make room for Jim Parsons, BUT; that is just a minor quibble.

Great choices, all brilliant comic actors who can make the silly work by grounding it in some kind of reality we can see and feel. Chief among them is, of course, NPH.

P.S. NPH asked his Twitter followers to make him Gay of the Decade. It's the least we can do: http://bit.ly/5dm1pZ

January 03 2010 at 2:03 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to malren's comment

That tweet alone is enough to show how epic NPH is. I'd pay to see that, and I'm a girl. ;)

I am, however, abstaining from the vote - as a huge fan of both, I can't possibly choose between them.

January 03 2010 at 11:08 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

[...it had more comedic moments than [i]According to Jim[/i]...]

A PBS documentary on natural disaters has more comedic moments that [i]According To Jim[/i].

January 03 2010 at 1:58 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

no charlie kelly?!?!?!?! this list is not complete

January 03 2010 at 1:33 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

No Jim Parsons??? Big Bang Theory would be nothing without him.

January 03 2010 at 1:20 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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