Chris Rock Isn't Alone: When Comedians Get Serious

In advance of Chris Rock's dramatic turn in FX's Fargo, debuting on Sunday, Sept. 27, a look at the comedians who've genre-hopped before him.

By Billy Nilles Sep 27, 2020 2:00 PMTags
Watch: Chris Rock Calls on Friends for "Top Five" Flick

Chris Rock isn't laughing.

After years of cracking audiences up with his comedy and movies, the Saturday Night Live veteran is getting serious with his starring role in the long-awaited fourth installment of FX's Fargo, creator Noah Hawley's hit anthology adaptation of the Coen brothers' classic film.

Premiering on Sunday, Sept. 27, after a pandemic-induced delay—there were just two episodes left to film before COVID shut down the industry back in March—the new season, set in 1950s Kansas City, finds Rock playing mob boss Loy Cannon. Not only is it the first meaty dramatic role in his career, but it also marks the first-ever time he's starred in a scripted series ever. Talk about a learning curve.

As he told The Hollywood Reporter, the job required more from him than he'd initially expected, forcing him to set aside plans to work on new stand-up material until filming was finished. "Doing a movie is like playing a game — doing a series is like playing a season," he told the publication. "Even Michael Jordan, at 50-something, could probably kick some ass if you had him play one game right now. But a season? He's not retired because he can't play basketball, he's retired because he can't play a season."

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Of course, Rock is hardly the first comedian to dip their toes in the world of drama. Check out all those who've come before him.

A24; HBO; Zumapress; FX; Melissa Herwitt/E! Illustration
Marlon Wayans

Primarily known for his very funny work in sitcom The Wayans Bros. and the Scary Movie film franchise, Wayans stunned fans with his dramatic departure in Darren Aronofsky's critically-acclaimed 2000 film Requiem for a Dream. He played Tyrone, one of four characters whose lives are irreparably damaged by drug addiction in the brutal psychological drama.

Aisha Tyler

Though she initially started out in comedy, Tyler has dabbled in all type of genres in her career. Her most notable dramatic role came in 2015, when she began recurring on Criminal Minds as Dr. Tara Lewis. She was made a series regular the following season, staying with the show until its finale in 2020.

Lily Tomlin

After getting her start on Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In in the late '60s, the stand-up comedian's first film role in 1974 also served as her first foray into drama. Not only that, but her work as Linnea Reese in Robert Altman's Nashville netted Tomlin a Oscar nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actress. She notably returned to drama on TV decades later as a series regular in four seasons of The West Wing from 2002 to 2006, which was followed by a recurring guest star role in the third season of FX's dark legal thriller Damages.

Martin Short

The Canadian comedian with a seemingly endless font of energy went to the dark side alongside Tomlin in season three of Damages as lawyer Leonard Winstone. Nine years later, he dabbled in drama once more with an Emmy-nominated two-episode stint in the first season of The Morning Show.

Aubrey Plaza

After cracking viewers up with seven seasons of droll detachment as April Ludgate on NBC's Parks and Recreation, Plaza made a detour into drama with a role on FX's mind-bending series Legion. For all three seasons, she starred as Lenny Busker, though the character was revealed to be a manifestation of the villainous mutant Amahl Farouk. 

Patton Oswalt

While Oswalt's character in Hulu's fourth season of Veronica Mars seemed to be there for comedic relief at first, it quickly became clear that pizza delivery man Penn Epner was no laughing matter.


When Lee Daniels cast the stand-up comic and star of The Parkers in his 2009 film Precious, she had no dramatic work on her resume, making her Oscar win for her performance as abusive mother Mary all the more impressive.

Kevin Hart

Though the stand-up superstar has mostly stayed in his comedy lane throughout his career, he did make a notable detour in 2019 with The Upside.

Donald Glover

After rising to fame as a stand-up, writer on 30 Rock and star of Community, Glover began showing his versatility with roles in more dramatic films The Lazarus Effect, Magic Mike XXL, The Martian and Solo: A Star Wars Story. And when his own creation Atlanta arrived on FX in 2016, he proved that he's truly bound by no genre limitation.

Brad Garrett

Two seasons before Fargo creator Noah Hawley made Chris Rock his leading man, he tapped this stand-up comic and former star of Everybody Loves Raymond to play a Kansas City crime family fixer.

Jamie Foxx

Two years before his eponymous hit sitcom went off the air, Foxx proved to audiences he had more than just laughs in him with a starring role in Oliver Stone's 1999 football film Any Given Sunday. He's since followed that up with work in films like Ali, Collateral, Dreamgirls, The Soloist, and Ray—winning the Best Actor Oscar for his turn as the blind musician in the 2004 biopic.

Ray Romano

When Everybody Loves Raymond went off the air in 2005 after nine seasons, Romano made strides to show audiences he had more dimensions than the sitcom based on his stand-up allowed. He started by co-creating and starring in the TNT dramedy Men of a Certain Age, which ran for two seasons from 2009 to 2011, and followed that up with roles in Parenthood, Vinyl, Get Shorty and Martin Scorsese's The Irishman

Will Ferrell

Two years after starring in Anchorman, Ferrell opted to show moviegoers the potentials of his dramatic talents by starring in the 2006 dramedy Stranger Than Fiction. Though his restrained performance as an IRS employee who begins hearing his life's narration in his head garnered the SNL legend great acclaim, it remains the lone foray into drama on his resume.

Melissa McCarthy

After breaking out thanks to bold and brash performances in hits like Bridesmaids, The Heat and Spy, McCarthy waded into the world of drama by starring as author and admitted forger Lee Israel in the 2018 biopic Can You Ever Forgive Me? She was recognized with a Best Actress nomination at the Oscars for her work.

Adam Sandler

Sandler knows his brand—big, broad comedy—and largely sticks to it, but every now and then, he surfaces in a film outside his lane that reminds everyone all that he has to offer. Beginning with 2002's Punch-Drunk Love, he's earned praise for these more subdued performances, even winning the Independent Spirit Award for Best Male Lead in 2020 for his work in Uncut Gems.

Eddie Murphy

Like Sandler, Murphy is another SNL vet who knows his brand and, by and large, sticks to it. However, his more serious work as soul singer James "Thunder" Early in the 2006 film adaptation of Dreamgirls earned him am Oscar nomination and Golden Globe win for Best Supporting Actor.

Bill Murray

Once known just for his comedies, Murray defied expectations in Sofia Coppola's 2003 film Lost in Translation—earning himself a Best Actor Oscar nomination in the process—and opened up his career to dramatic films like The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, Broken Flowers, The Monuments Men, St. Vincent and more.

Jim Carrey

Though his elastic brand of physical comedy has largely had him typecast throughout his career, Carrey has gone against the grain and garnered much acclaim in films like The Truman Show, Man on the Moon and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Robin Williams

Despite being arguably one of the best comedians of all time, the late Williams was able to effortlessly dip into dramatic roles throughout his career. Films like Dead Poets Society, Good Will Hunting (for which he won an Oscar), Patch Adams and One Hour Photo allowed him to flex a more serious side with apparent ease.

Whoopi Goldberg

Though known as a comedian, Goldberg essentially got her start in drama. Steven Spielberg was so taken by her one-woman Broadway show, he cast her in the lead role in his 1985 adaptation of The Color Purple. She earned a Oscar nomination for Best Actress for her performance as Celie. The View co-host then won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Ghost in 1991, and has made serious turns in Star Trek: The Next Generation, Ghosts of Mississippi, Girl, Interrupted, For Colored Girls and more.

Chris Rock

Rock makes his first foray into drama with the lead role of Loy Cannon in the fourth installment of Fargo, airing in the fall of 2020 on FX.

Fargo premieres Sunday, Sept. 27 at 9 p.m. on FX, and is available the next day on FX on Hulu.