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Comedians have long entertained as hosts of the Oscars (Bob Hope, Jon Stewart and, most recently, Ellen DeGeneres), but how often have they been recognized by the Academy for their acting chops?
This year, the three out of five best actor nominees who have roots in comedy are vying for an Oscar for their dramatic turns in film. But before them, a slew of other actors — some who got their start in stand-up and others who are now Saturday Night Live veterans — traded laughs for more serious roles.
Below are 10 comedic actors who have taken the more serious route to the Academy Awards.
Keaton got his start in comedy films such as 1982’s Night Shift, 1984’s Johnny Dangerously and 1988’s Beetlejuice before he scored his first Oscar nomination for best actor for his performance in Birdman.
The actor-musician first cracked jokes at a comedy club and later starred in his own comedy sitcom, The Jamie Foxx Show, from 1996 to 2001. Foxx took home his first Oscar statuette in 2005 for his portrayal of legendary singer Ray Charles in the biopic Ray (that same year, he also was nominated in the best supporting actor category for his role in Collateral).
The comedian started out performing comedy sketches on The Dana Carvey Show (alongside then-castmate Stephen Colbert), though he’s best known for his role as Michael Scott in the comedy sitcom The Office. Carell took on a darker role for Foxcatcher, which has garnered him a best actor nomination this year. “What I take away most from it was that it was incredibly scary and that was good,” Carell told THR recently about his dramatic transformation. “If it has any sort of impact careerwise, I want to do things that scare me a little bit more because I think good things can come out of it.”
Allen was a comedy writer for television and spent years as a stand-up comic before stepping into the film industry as a screenwriter, director and actor, helming Oscar-nominated films such as 1977’s Annie Hall, 1986’s Hannah and Her Sisters and 2011’s Midnight in Paris. Over the course of his career, Allen has been nominated a total of 24 times and has won four Oscars in the best original screenplay and best director categories.
Williams began as a stand-up comedian in the 1970s before scoring his first permanent television role in the comedy series Mork & Mindy, which he starred in from 1978 to 1982. Afterward, Williams had notable comedic roles in 1992’s Aladdin (voicing Genie), 1993’s Mrs. Doubtfire and 1996’s The Birdcage. The late actor garnered four Oscar nominations over the years, winning once in 1998 for his supporting role in Good Will Hunting.
Cooper took on supporting roles in rom-coms like 2005’s Wedding Crashers and 2009’s He’s Just Not That Into You before making his breakthrough in comedy with the Hangover franchise. The actor, who garnered two Oscar nominations in the past two years — for 2012’s Silver Linings Playbook and 2013’s American Hustle — is vying for best actor this year for his leading role in American Sniper.
Before Smith earned Oscar nods for his performances in 2001’s Ali and 2006’s The Pursuit of Happyness, the actor rose to fame with his leading role on the six-season comedy series The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
Murray was a regular on Saturday Night Live and had earlier comic roles in films such as 1984’s Ghostbusters and 1993’s Groundhog Day. The actor scored his first Oscar nomination in 2004 for his leading performance starring opposite Scarlett Johansson in Lost in Translation.
Before Murphy earned his first Academy Award nomination for his supporting role in 2006’s musical drama Dreamgirls, he was a fixed castmember on Saturday Night Live and was better known for his comedic performances in franchise films such as The Nutty Professor, Beverly Hills Cop and Shrek (in which he voiced Donkey).
Aykroyd got his start penning sketches for Saturday Night Live as a fixed castmember and later went on to land more prominent comic roles in 1984’s Ghostbusters and 1980’s The Blues Brothers as both a screenwriter and actor. In 1990, he scored his first Academy Award nomination for his performance in Driving Miss Daisy.
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