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Stand-Ups on Screen

December 27, 2007
With “Mad TV” star Aries Spears performing this week at Morty’s Comedy Joint and Chris Rock coming to the Murat, I’m thinking about stand-up comics transitioning into movies.

Although he seems to have the talent to do so, Spears hasn’t broken out. And while Rock has had plenty of opportunities, he hasn’t quite gelled on screen.

It used to be that there was no assumption that stand-up comedy and film acting were transferable skills. I’m guessing you can’t name too many Milton Berle movies or Jack Benny flicks. Lenny Bruce and Mort Sahl didn’t make the jump. Even Rodney Dangerfield was decades into his stand-up career before he was featured in “Caddyshack” in 1980. 

On the other hand, Bob Hope, Woody Allen (until he stopped being funny) and the brilliant Albert Brooks managed to effectively extend their stage personas into film.

Others such as George Carlin have made efforts in that direction. It’s just that the results (“Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” aside) haven’t been very impressive. Even the great Richard Pryor has a very short list of watchable non-concert films.

You could argue that that’s because those artists didn’t control their films in the way that Allen and Brooks have. Perhaps, but other actors who had the clout to have some say have still avoided the movies. Ellen DeGeneres and Ray Romano seem to have gotten the message very quickly (from “Mr. Right” and “Welcome to Moosewood,” respectively) that they should stick to animated voices. Jerry Seinfeld has wisely gone right to “Bee Movie.”  Since rising to stardom, Dave Chappelle has pretty much stayed away from the big screen, too.

So what does it take to make the jump? Who do you think hasn’t been giving a fair shake in movies? And who should stick to the stand-up stage?
Your thoughts?
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