Gone straight: comedians who've braved the world of serious drama

As Miranda Hart appears in Call the Midwife, here's a raft of other comics who have also tackled straight acting

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Gone straight: comedians who've braved the world of serious drama
Written By
Tom Cole

The woman who reclaimed 70s comedy for the 21st century, Miranda Hart, is bidding farewell to her Technicolor joke shop this weekend to take up a post as a posh midwife called Chummy in BBC1’s Call the Midwife. 

It’s a much more serious role than we’ve ever seen her in on TV, but it’s one that Hart feels qualified to play.

“My background is comedy acting,” said Hart in an interview with Radio Times magazine. “I see myself more as a comedy actress than as a stand-up. Playing ‘Miranda’ is playing a role.

“It’s hard to know what people will think…oh, it’s just me. Because being on panel shows, you are seen as yourself. But I hope people will see what I have done with Chummy and go with it.”

She’s right to be anxious, as there’s a sniffiness that many people have towards comedians performing "straight" roles. But this prejudice just isn’t justified. After all, comedy is something that touches the deepest parts of the human psyche (Freud wrote a whole book about jokes), which suggests that comedians are perhaps better placed than most to understand what makes people tick and bring that knowledge to life on screen or in the theatre.

Thankfully though, some of our favourite comics have earned plaudits for their forays into more "serious" drama, so in honour of their success in defying convention, here are five more comedy performers who went straight…

1. Johnny Vegas

Guinness-swilling, fag-smoking Johnny Vegas in a Charles Dickens adaptation? On paper, it sounds absurd, but Vegas shone as Krook in the BBC's lavish production of Bleak House, bringing the character to life with panache.

2. Robin Williams

Forgoing the funny voices and crazy mannerisms, Williams put on a moving and genuinely affecting performance in Good Will Hunting, proving that there's more to the man than wackiness and one-liners.

3. Victoria Wood

Channelling her ability to pick out the foibles in everyday life to dramatic effect, Victoria Wood managed to make Housewife 49 a series with real soul.

4. Ricky Gervais

The film Cemetery Junction saw a change of pace for Gervais, who eschewed his David Brent/everyman persona and turned in a thoroughly believable performance as a lazy, and possibly depressed, father figure.

5. Bill Murray

When not busting ghosts and throwing out the quips, Bill Murray can be a surprisingly effective performer, with his turn in Lost in Translation being so credible it netted him a best actor Oscar.

What's your favourite serious turn by a comedy player? Who on the comedy scene today do you think would make an accomplished actor? Post a comment and let us know... 

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