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Tom Hanks Syndrome

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"Every clown wants to play Hamlet."
Showbiz proverb

The casting opposite of Leslie Nielsen Syndrome. It's a story found time and time again: a successful comedian, usually a film actor, suddenly tries to play against type and stars in a big, heavily dramatic movie, playing a dramatic role and generally acting all dramatic. Oddly enough, this shift has a pretty high chance of actually working, and becoming a permanent shift in the actor's roles.

The first question a viewer might have would be, "Why does this happen so often?" Well, As You Know, True Art Is Angsty. Many comic performers begin to feel they cannot get the acclaim and respect their dramatic counterparts do unless they start doing more dramatic films. In addition, comedic films almost never win Oscars, leading stars to resort to more dramatic fare. It's instructive that most examples are film stars, since television's Emmys have separate categories for comedy and drama.

The second would be, "You say this has a good chance of working. How can that be true?" Well, what most non-actors aren't aware of is the fact that comedy is more difficult to act in successfully than drama. A mediocre performance is much more readable/watchable in a drama than in a comedy, because once comedy starts to fall apart, it's very hard to pull it back together again. Hence, a sufficiently good comic actor usually has the talent — the knowledge of their body, of timing, of the effects of subtle gestures — that can serve to make them brilliant at serious works as well. In some cases, when an actor does this long enough and successfully enough, they can become better known as a dramatic actor than a comedic one (just look at the Trope Namer).

Compare Cerebus Syndrome, where a series does this rather than an actor. As the examples below show, this doesn't always work well, but when the actor in question manages to do a really good job, it can lead to a surprised reaction: He Really Can Act! Contrast Leslie Nielsen Syndrome, where a successful drama actor becomes an equally successful comedian. Can be related to Comedy Ghetto.

When including examples, don't add natter saying they weren't funny in the first place.


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    Tom Hanks 
  • The Trope Namer of course, Tom Hanks first rose to fame with a series of comedies in the 1980s. Then, in 1993, he won critical praise and a Best Actor Oscar for his dramatic turn in Philadelphia; the following year he won again for Forrest Gump, becoming only the second man to win leading-role Oscars in consecutive years since Spencer Tracy in 1937 and 1938. Since then his stock-in-trade has largely been in dramatic roles with a comedic bent. The trope was hilariously Lampshaded in Real Life on his Inside the Actors Studio appearance when he spent forty-five minutes discussing his art, only for a fan to gush that Turner and Hooch was her favorite movie ever!!! during the Q&A period. During a "Year In Review" for 2009, MSN stated how much they miss the funny Tom Hanks.

    Specific Examples 


  • Adam Sandler is notorious for his low-brow comedies such as Happy Gilmore, The Water Boy, and Little Nicky. He soft transitioned to a romantic dramedy with 2004's Spanglish before coming out with a serious role in 2019's crime thriller Uncut Gems. While promoting the film, he threatened that he would make a film that was "so bad on purpose" if it didn't win an Oscar. (He made good on that threat with Hubie Halloween.)
    • Mind you, Sandler had dipped into more serious fare with Reign Over Me and (to a lesser extent) Punch-Drunk Love. However, it could be argued that those performances, while very good, were more Sandler doing more serious versions of his usual characters, while Gems is one of the few times that he's played a role that's out-and-out different to his usual roles.
  • Alan Arkin was one of the founding members of Second City before playing a sadistic villain in Wait Until Dark.
  • Amiah Miller who became famous for War for the Planet of the Apes was mostly stuck with one-time roles in sitcom shows often playing a mean-hearted bratty girl. In her breakout role, she plays a mute, delicate angel.
  • Amy Adams, in her early career, starred in light-hearted or comedic features like Drop Dead Gorgeous, Psycho Beach Party, Serving Sara, Junebug, and Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby before rising to fame with Enchanted becoming Hollywood's favorite go-to girl for The Cutie and Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Starting with Doubt and The Fighter she began to veer towards different roles showcasing her dramatic potential. She expressed a bit of distaste for this when promoting American Hustle, saying she missed playing innocent characters.
  • Russian actor Andrey Burkovsky had a successful run in KVN with Tomsk team MaximuM and went on to play some major recurring roles in Sketch Comedy series Dayosh molodyozh! and other comedic productions. Parallel to that, he entered the Moscow Art Theater School in 2010 to study acting and later joined the Chekhov Moscow Art Theater troupe in 2014. Since then, he has taken increasingly more dramatic roles on television and in film as well, such as failed actor Lev Ivanovsky in Call DiCaprio!
  • Anne Hathaway, another Disney veteran, successfully made the jump from The Princess Diaries, Hoodwinked! and Ella Enchanted to Rachel Getting Married, Becoming Jane, Havoc, Brokeback Mountain, and The Devil Wears Prada. She has slightly returned to Disney with Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland (2010) remake as the White Queen. She has also performed as Viola in Twelfth Night with the New York Shakespeare Festival in 2009 in Central Park, almost a literal example of the above quote. She eventually won an Oscar for her role as Fantine in Les Misérables (2012). Even though Hathaway does drama now, she does occasionally break into comedy (like the three times she hosted Saturday Night Live).
  • Anthony Anderson is starting down this road as well. First in straight comedies (some of which, such as Kangaroo Jack, were poorly received), then he was the comic relief in action flicks. Later on, he did dramatic work as a cop on K-Ville and Law & Order, and as a villain on The Shield.
    • Anderson returned to comedy by taking the lead role in the sitcom Blackish, which debuted in 2014.
  • Ashton Kutcher gained big fame for playing the resident ditzy hunk, Michael Kelso, on That '70s Show. During his run on the show, he was also known for other roles such as one of the leads in Dude, Where's My Car? and the MTV prank reality show Punk'd. His career took a turn so sharp, it got whiplash when he starred in The Butterfly Effect, a psychological thriller, then followed it up in 2006 with the noticeably more light-hearted, but still quite dramatic The Guardian. Since then, however he has returned to comedy by joining the cast of Two and a Half Men and The Ranch. While he tried to return to serious stuff by playing Steve Jobs in the biopic Jobs, it wasn't really successful.
  • Aubrey Plaza had her breakthrough as April Ludgate on Parks and Recreation, which got her typecast in dry-witted, emotionless Deadpan Snarker roles to the point that she was a popular fan casting to play a live-action Daria Morgendorffer (which she herself acknowledged in a fake trailer for CollegeHumor) or a grown-up Wednesday Addams. In 2017, however, she won acclaim for her dramatic role on Legion as Lenny, Playing Against Type as a swaggering and terrifying villain based on David Bowie, as well as for her role as the Anti-Villain title character in Ingrid Goes West. Since then, she's increasingly taken on more dramatic roles in films like Child's Play (2019), Black Bear, and Emily the Criminal.
  • For Japanese voice actress Ayako Kawasumi, the role of Chikane in Destiny of the Shrine Maiden allowed her to finally break her (albeit beloved) typecast as "the sweet and nice Girl Next Door with a soft voice" (such as a Aoi of Ai Yori Aoshi and Akari of To Heart) in romantic comedies; henceforth, she is as a rule cast as the serious, mature badass lady with a deep and sexy voice such as Saber of Fate/stay night. She went on to pass this syndrome onto fellow actresses she mentored, and the actresses they mentored as well (in order, like a chain: Mamiko Noto, Kana Hanazawa, Saori Hayami)
  • Australian actor Barry Humphries, best known for his characters Sir Les Patterson and Dame Edna Everage and as the voice of Bruce in Finding Nemo, is cast in the entirely non-comedic role of Rev. Strachey in the 1977 film The Getting of Wisdom.
  • Ben Affleck's roles in the comedic Dazed and Confused View Askewniverse made him notable. While he did try to branch out, none of these attempts really took until the latter half of The 2000s, when he directed an adaptation of Gone Baby Gone to good reviews. He has since become a respect dramatic director, repeating the trick twice more with The Town and Argo. His role in the latter, as well as his subsequent roles as Nick Dunne and Batman, have led to him becoming primarily known as a dramatic actor in The New '10s.
  • Ben Foster is perhaps initially remembered, at least by millennials, for starring in the Disney Channel sitcom Flash Forward (1996) as well as later lighthearted or comedic fare like Get Over It, Big Trouble and also for playing "Warren Worthington III/Angel" from X-Men: The Last Stand. Foster is now deemed an absolute, if kinda underrated, dramatic powerhouse actor for gritty, hard-hitting material such as Bang Bang You're Dead (which dealt with school shootings), Hostage, Alpha Dog, 3:10 to Yuma (2007), Pandorum and Hell or High Water, particularly specializing in moody, psychologically deranged characters if not straight-up villains or Anti Heroes.
  • Early film star Bert Lahr, best known as the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz, deliberately invoked this trope. After wrapping Wizard, he realized that he'd typecast himself and, rather than stay in Hollywood, headed east for Broadway, where he starred in and won rave reviews for the American premiere of Beckett's absurdist masterpiece Waiting for Godot. Lahr later joked that he left the silver screen because "there weren't a lot of roles for lions."
  • Bill Cosby proved that he was, for a comedian, excellent at drama and won an Emmy for Best Actor in a Dramatic Series for each of the three seasons of I Spy, making him the first African-American actor to do so. Though comedy remains his forte, making this more akin to the Leslie Nielsen Syndrome, Cosby would also do other dramatic material.
  • Bill Murray: After his stint as a Saturday Night Live (both the unknown ABC version and the more popular NBC version) cast member, Murray attempted to do drama early in his career with The Razor's Edge, but quickly returned to comedy when the film was a critical and financial disaster. He tried again later with dramedies and found more success, first Rushmore, then his Oscar-nominated turn in Lost in Translation and later in Broken Flowers, The Lost City and several of Wes Anderson's films.
  • Another British example is Bill Oddie, formerly one third of The Goodies, was also a member of the Cambridge Footlights. Now he's known for presenting Springwatch and other nature shows.
  • Bob Odenkirk has the distinction of the doing this with a single character. Odenkirk, whose almost entire career beforehand was in sketch and improv comedy, was cast as Saul Goodman in Breaking Bad to act as Plucky Comic Relief for a show that was only going to get darker and outright said that he often didn't know what he was doing. Saul became a Breakout Character enough to get his own spinoff. Better Call Saul sees the character with his trademark charm and sleaziness, but also has Odenkirk playing him far more dramatically as an incredibly sympathetic and Tragic Villain, a Sad Clown using his Amoral Attorney persona to distract himself from his past guilts, horrific trauma and deep feelings of self-loathing.
  • Bradley Cooper: Zigzagged between comedies and dramas until The Hangover after which he did more comedies than dramas (some of which were romantic comedies) — at least until his starring role in Silver Linings Playbook for which he was nominated for an Oscar and his appearance in The Place Beyond the Pines. Cooper then did David O. Russell's American Hustle and Cameron Crowe's Aloha, in between which he provided the voice of Rocket Raccoon in Guardians of the Galaxy (2014).
  • Another comedian in voice acting: Brian Posehn as Octus in Sym-Bionic Titan. Although the character is goofy at times, he does have his Do Androids Dream? episode and Papa Wolf moments including his Heroic Sacrifice.
  • Bruce Willis started off as a comedic actor in shows such as Moonlighting and movies like Blind Date. His casting as the lead of Die Hard made 20th Century Fox executives nervous: they were sure a comedic actor could never play an action hero. He finally got the part and soon became one of America's most famous action stars.
    • And then proved in The Sixth Sense that he could handle non-action dramatic roles just as well.
    • He'd already done several non-action dramatic roles including In Country, Mortal Thoughts, 12 Monkeys, and Pulp Fiction, he just keeps having to prove it.
  • Bryan Cranston: Although Cranston alternated dramatic and comedy roles for much of his career, the latter overshadowed the former until relatively recently. In Malcolm in the Middle, his earlier best-known role, Cranston was a neurotic, bumbling father. He also played recurring roles on Seinfeld and The King of Queens. Starring in Breaking Bad, he was a terminally ill methamphetamine cook, eventually turning into a Villain Protagonist. In Argo, he was a CIA supervisor handling part of the Iran hostage crisis.
  • Carole Lombard mostly starred in comedies and gained fame with the Screwball Comedy classic, Twentieth Century. In the late 30s, she tried to get into dramas, but they were critical and commercial failures. She returned to comedies until her untimely death in 1942.
  • Chris Evans used to consistently try doing smaller-budget dramatic movies, but was much better known as a comedic Jerk with a Heart of Gold in various big-budget dreck. Then he was cast as the more serious and complex (though still, you know, a comic-book character) Captain America, and the next thing you know, Snowpiercer and Marvel's Cerebus moment.
  • SNL alumnus Dan Aykroyd nabbed an Oscar nomination for his role in the 1989 light drama Driving Miss Daisy (as Jessica Tandy's character's son) and he successfully pulled off his role in another light drama, 1991's My Girl.
  • Dave Gorman attempted to do this by writing a book. Hilarity Ensued.
  • Ah, David Hayter. As shown with his role history as seen here, he seemed more into either heroic everymen or pretty boys. And then he got the taste of his Star-Making Role, Solid Snake, and the new rule is that henceforth, he's more likely use his Snake-style Guttural Growler for his future roles.
  • Method actor, multiple Oscar winner and A-list celebrity Denzel Washingtonnote  got his first Hollywood gig in the 1981 racial comedy Carbon Copy.
  • Diana Ross, largely known as a singer and occasional guest-star on variety shows, attempted to do this by lobbying extremely hard for the role of Dorothy in The Wiz; historian and author Pauline Kael cites this as "the strongest example of sheer will in film history." Unfortunately, in addition to a notoriously troubled production, Ross herself was largely considered a terrible choice for the part — she was far too old to play a little girl or even a teenager—which forced the creative team to do extensive rewrites of the original script — but still acted hysterical and childish throughout the film. The Wiz was a massive box-office bomb, and nearly every critic blamed Ross for it, which put the final nail in her coffin as a serious actress.
  • Prior to playing Philip Marlowe in the 1944 film Murder, My Sweet, Dick Powell was best known for starring in lightweight musicals. Indeed, the film was originally named Farewell, My Lovely (as was the novel it was based on), but was changed so that it would sound less like a musical. Because of his success in this role he played several more such roles and became better known for them than for he had been for his musical roles.
  • Filipino "King of Comedy" Dolphy has been doing this way before Tom Hanks with roles in "Gigolo" in 1956, and as a gay character in the comedy-drama "Facifica Falayfay". It has been noticed that through his experience in starring in different mediums of entertainment, he was granted the insight of how a comedian can use his strengths to play various characters and how malleable emotions can be when you have to find different ways of cracking jokes to be filled with as much zest as when it was first shown.
  • Donald Glover got his big breaks through comedy, from the online series Derrick Comedy and a breakthrough starring role in Community, to his stand-up routines to releasing upbeat rap mixtapes and albums as "Childish Gambino". As of the mid-2010's, while he's not averse to doing more lighthearted roles, he's become increasingly well-known for acting, directing, and producing much more dramatic work, such as the surrealist dramedy series Atlanta, the heavily introspective and cynical Concept Album because the internet, and the politically-charged single/music video "This Is America".
  • Throughout the run of Married... with Children, Ed O'Neill tried to show he had range by taking on various bit parts in dramatic films. This was a bit of a struggle as everyone saw him as Al Bundy (to the point where his role in Flight of the Intruder was recast because test audiences burst out laughing when he appeared). He finally hit an inflection point when he took on the role of Joe Friday in a reboot of Dragnet. Although the show was short-lived, his performance was praised and he started being taken seriously as a dramatic actor. This led to a recurring role on The West Wing and a well-received run on the critically acclaimed John from Cincinnati. He even became a part of David Mamet's stable of actorsnote . He eventually got to show his full range as a comedic and dramatic actor on Modern Family where he could go from being the butt of the joke in one episode and drive an emotional plotline the next.
  • Starting her career as a street busker, Eddie Izzard always maintained that her ambition was to be an actor, not a comedian, but it was her stand-up comedy that first opened the doors to stardom. Since that time, she has begun taking more dramatic roles, such as starring in The Riches and playing resistance fighter Erich Fellgiebel in Valkyrie. She has also gotten great critical response as failed surgeon-turned-Serial Killer Abel Gideon in Hannibal.
  • Eminem rebranded from a Large Ham shock-comedy rapper to a serious rapper via his role in 8 Mile, a dark social realist movie in which he plays a trailer-trash battle rapper (with a lot of Actor Inspired Elements). The single he wrote for the movie, "Lose Yourself", ended up being the biggest hit of his career and becoming his Signature Song. Em continued making comedic songs and most of his later movie roles have been comedy, but the "serious, inspiring pump-up anthem" became a stock single template for him and his later comedy acting became more deadpan.
  • Emma Roberts started her career as a Teen Idol, starring as Addie Singer on the Nickelodeon Kid Com Unfabulous and doing various family films and teen comedies. The turning point came with Scream 4, an R-rated horror movie in which she plays a Serial Killer with disgustingly selfish motivations who poses as a "good girl" in the mold of the characters Roberts normally played. Soon after, she joined the cast of American Horror Story: Coven as the Alpha Bitch Madison Montgomery, and never looked back. These days, she's best known for horror movies and dark dramas, often in villainous roles.
  • Emma Stone first broke onto the scene making teen movies and comedies like Superbad, The Rocker, The House Bunny, Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, Zombieland, and Easy A, but following The Help, she shifted from less comedy roles to more dramatic roles, though she hasn't completely abandoned comedy. Stone's dramatic arc continued with Gangster Squad and Aloha along with Oscar nominations for her roles in Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) and, especially, The Favourite. By the time she finally won Best Actress for La La Land, she'd become firmly established as one of Hollywood's brightest young stars for serious films.
  • In her early TV career, Emma Thompson was known mainly for comedy. Her shift to drama started with the 1987 series Fortunes of War and was pretty much complete by 1991. Her early work is rarely repeated, so by the time Nanny McPhee came out in 2005, many people were surprised to find out she could do comedy as well.
  • Eric Bana started his career in Australia in stand-up and sketch comedy. He was a cast member on Full Frontal and headlined his own sketch series, creatively titled Eric. A small role on The Castle led his casting as the notorious criminal Chopper Read in Chopper. Russell Crowe was impressed by the latter performance and recommended that Ridley Scott cast Bana in Black Hawk Down, which introduced him to global audiences, followed by Hulk and a long series of serious roles. In fact, most people outside fo Australia have no idea he has a flair for comedynote .
  • Fred MacMurray was mostly known for comic roles until Billy Wilder cast him against type in Double Indemnity and The Apartment. MacMurray reckoned these were his best performances.
  • From Fred Stone's dramatic performance in Alice Adams (though not in a starring role), one might not suspect that he had been famous for starring in a long series of musical extravaganzas (a forgotten genre of shows very similar to English pantomimes), starting with the 1903 production of The Wizard of Oz, in which he played the Scarecrow.
  • Gene Kelly was best known for doing musical comedies like An American in Paris and Singin' in the Rain but was greatly praised for Inherit the Wind.
  • Ginger Rogers, who had made her name starring in frothy Busby Berkeley musicals and dance movies with Fred Astaire, tried to remake herself in the 1940s as a serious actress. Her 1940s dramatic roles are largely ignored today, but at the time her makeover was a great success. She won the Academy Award for Best Actress of 1940 for her performance in the melodrama Kitty Foyle.
  • Gioachino Rossini is an unusual operatic example whose career changed after La gazzetta (his only comedy written for Naples) flopped. While he did keep a mix of buffa and seria in his operas throughout his career, it was mostly comedic before The Barber of Seville and virtually all dramatic after he set music to an adaptation of you-know-who's Othello.
    • The failure of Un giorno di regno did the same to Giuseppe Verdi, whose sole comedy thereafter was Falstaff.
  • Onetime Talk Soup host Greg Kinnear has trended more towards serious film roles, including murdered comic Bob Crane as a troubled sex addict in Autofocus. Even in Little Miss Sunshine he was somewhat pathological. He has always retained his comedic edge, however. He hilariously spoofed his Oscar-nominated performance in As Good As It Gets on Saturday Night Live by claiming he lost the actual Oscar win because of a breakfast scene where he "uses the wrong hand" to eat his breakfast. If he had used the other hand, he would have won.
  • Groucho Marx discusses the phenomenon in his memoir Groucho and Me.
  • Hilary "Lizzie McGuire" Duff seems to be trying her hand at this. After the show ended, she was type-cast in her typical tween-appealing roles before venturing for slightly more dramatic territory in Raise Your Voice. Ultimately it backfired as the film did rather poorly at the box-office and was not well received by critics, afterwards she went back to doing comedies and turned down Darker and Edgier roles, stating that she felt that doing those types of roles would be a betrayal to her teen fanbase. In spite of that there was talk of her starring in a remake of Bonnie and Clyde, though that was delayed due to her pregnancy, and after she gave birth the filmmakers considered re-casting but the film ultimately went into Development Hell and little has been heard since, though Hilary has since starred in some more serious Direct to Video films and was in Gossip Girl.
  • Hugh Laurie was not only a member of the legendary Cambridge University Footlights Dramatic Group but served as its president, then went on to great comedic success in shows like Blackadder, Jeeves and Wooster and A Bit of Fry and Laurie, among other projects. Outside of Europe and the Commonwealth, however, most audiences first became aware of him in the dramatic medical series House, though he puts his comic delivery to good use for the character's razor-sharp wit.
  • To some extent, this is happening to Jackie Chan. He gained his fame the world over for mix of heavy-duty martial arts and slapstick stunts (inspired by his heroes, Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton) that he does himself, but as age and injury start to catch up with him-he's begun to dial back the amount of life-threatening stunts and started to flex his other acting chops. For most Americans the best display of this was his take as a mentor figure in The Karate Kid (2010). He resisted the impulse to do dramatic films for years, having been stung by his notorious bomb The Protector, until playing the titular character in the dark action thriller The Foreigner (2017).
    • Chan, feeling he had sufficiently stepped out of Bruce Lee's shadow in 2003, began making increasingly dramatic movies such as New Police Story, The Myth, and The Forbidden Kingdom.
  • Jackie Gleason, famous for portraying Ralph Kramden on The Honeymooners, gave a widely acclaimed performance in the drama The Hustler (1961) for which he was nominated for an Oscar. He was also praised for Requiem for a Heavyweight.
  • For most of James McAvoy's career, he has portrayed Wide Eyed Idealists, but as of 2013, his roles have taken a much darker turn, as many of his characters have severe psychological issues (e.g. Trance, Filth, Welcome to the Punch, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Victor Frankenstein and Split).
  • Jamie Foxx got his start on In Living Color! note  and was best known for his comedic film roles (anyone remember him from Booty Call?), though he also had several dramatic supporting roles as well. Then in 2004, he starred in the very successful Collateral and followed up with an Oscar-winning role in Ray, turning him into a bonafide dramatic movie star, rarely having done a comedic film role since.
  • Jennifer Aniston has tried her hand at this. In the 2000s she was in umpteen romantic comedies and tried to go against type as The Vamp in Derailed — but it didn't work out. The Good Girl was another attempt that won her lots of critical acclaim. The crowner seems to be the 2014 drama Cake, which critics called her finest hour. She still does plenty of comedy though.
  • Jerry Lewis appeared in Wiseguy as rag trade businessman Eli Sternberg in the "Garment Industry" story arc. Before that, he appeared in the infamous Holocaust drama The Day the Clown Cried, which was never released. He did better in Martin Scorsese's The King of Comedy, in a part which was less of a stretch for him. He also Adam Wested his own deteriorating mental state in what was debatedly the best episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.
  • Jim Carrey is an odd case — he started as a standup comic and eventually found fame as a comedic actor in In Living Color! before breaking out in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective as a spastic clown, but prior to those a surprising amount of the film work he did was dramatic. Once he was an A-lister, it took a little while and a few more comedic roles before he earnestly pursued dramatic work again, such as his acclaimed performances in The Truman Show and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, though he always kept his comic edge. He lampshaded the trope in his first Golden Globe acceptance speech:'s gonna be so hard to talk out of my ass after this. [Audience laughter] But I'll manage.
  • Much like Laurie Metcalf (listed below) early roles, John Goodman was known throughout the 80's and early 90's as "funny fat guy" Dan Conner on Roseanne. He's also appeared in several Disney films, including The Emperor's New Groove and Monsters, Inc.. But Goodman is also renowned for his work in dramas. He's a Coen Brothers mainstay, appearing in both Barton Fink and The Big Lebowski (the latter has him play Vietnam vet Walter); had supporting roles in Argo and The Artist (both of which won Best Picture at the Academy Awards); and garnered serious Oscar buzz for his turn as a terrifying survivalist in 10 Cloverfield Lane.
  • John Krasinski made a name for himself as the very silly Jim Halpert on the The Office, but his other comedic works throughout that era (e.g. Leatherheads, License to Wed) weren't very successful. It wasn't until after The Office ended and he began taking more dramatic roles when he started gaining traction as a leading man in Hollywood. 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi (which also involved a very noticeable physical transformation) is credited as the being the start of this shift. Then A Quiet Place (which he also directed and co-wrote) was both a financial and critical success, while his television adaptation of Jack Ryan received good reviews, and was renewed for a second season before the first even aired.
  • Jon Pertwee is best known as Doctor #3 in Doctor Who. He played the role as a serious action oriented James Bond expy. However, he was known for comedies before being cast as the Doctor. After the Doctor he return to comedy for Worzel Gummidge which isn't too unusual, however, when you think about it.
  • Joss Whedon likes to cast according to this trope; his justification is that it's harder to be convincingly funny than it is to be convincingly unfunny.
  • Kal Penn also rose to fame through Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle as well, but has largely put aside comedy roles as a popular supporting character on House (before they Dropped a Bridge on Him). He has followed up with some puzzling choices, like playing a random mook in Superman Returns and briefly working for the Obama Administration.
  • Double subverted with Kate Hudson. Previously known for light romantic comedies such as Raising Helen (though that did have a bit of drama) and How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days she took up a role completely against type in The Skeleton Key but she returned to comedies after that.
  • Keanu Reeves was mostly known for playing Theodore "Ted" Logan before 1995. Nobody, but nobody, saw his future as an action star in films such as Speed, The Matrix, and Constantine coming. This is emphasized even more in the 2010s with his famous role in the John Wick trilogy as the titular character and in CD Projekt Red's Cyberpunk 2077, so much so that younger audience were surprised in 2020 when Bill & Ted Face the Music was announced starring him.
  • Keiju Kobayashi: Mainly goofy but grumpy salaryman characters in the 50s and 60s, feared authority figure typecast in the 70s and 80s with roles as Hideki Tojo in The Militarists, General Ushijima in Battle Of Okinawa, and Isoroku Yamamoto in The Imperial Navy.
  • The career of the Turkish actor Kemal Sunal was an evolving version of this trope. He started in the 1970s, playing the Butt-Monkey Idiot Hero. Over the years, his characters became less idiotic and more Skilled, but Naive. By the time the 1990s arrived, his characters were downright tragic and his films less lighthearted in tone. His last film was supposed to continue this trend but he died just before filming started.
  • Stand-up comedian and actor Kevin Pollak has several comedy movies and shows under his belt, he is perhaps best known for playing Lt. Weinberg in the suspenseful drama A Few Good Men and Todd Hockney in thriller The Usual Suspects.
  • Kurt Russell spent The '70s as a family-friendly comedy actor and one of the biggest stars of Disney's live-action films. In 1979, he played Elvis Presley in a made-for-TV biopic that got him nominated for an Emmy Award, but more importantly, it also marked the first of many collaborations between him and the film's director, John Carpenter. Their next collaboration, Escape from New York, put Russell on the map as an Action Hero, and while he'd still do the occasional comedy like Overboard (1987) and Sky High (2005), it otherwise marked the start of his typecasting going from "clean-cut Disney kid" to "rugged roughneck badass".
  • Larry Hagman had made a brief cameo in Fail Safe, but he really became well-known as Major Tony Nelson on I Dream of Jeannie. However, his next two series, The Good Life and Here We Go Again, both comedies, failed to last more than half a season, and his role of J.R. Ewing on the much longer-running Dallas restricted him specifically to dramatic material.
  • Laura Prepon was primarily known for her role as Donna on That '70s Show. Today, many more people would recognize her as drug smuggler Alex Vause on Orange Is the New Black.
  • Laurie Metcalf received national attention for her role as the wacky Aunt Jackie on Roseanne, which won her several Emmys (although she did have several more dramatic arcs on the show, including being abused by her boyfriend); she also appeared in comic guest starring roles on other sitcoms and small parts in films including Uncle Buck. Since then, she's become known for more serious parts, culminating in an Oscar nod for her turn as a conflicted, overbearing mother in Lady Bird.
    • Interestingly, though Metcalf went through this trope in film and television, her theatre experience has always tended toward the dramatic. She got her start as a member of Chicago's legendary Steppenwolf company, and has played many serious roles in everything from Edward Albee's Three Tall Women (which won her a Tony) to the stage adaptation of Stephen King's Misery.
  • Lee Evans, a madcap comedian known for his physical humor and over the top routines. He has had several parts in movies such as There's Something About Mary, The Fifth Element and MouseHunt, where he continued to use his energetic, wacky performance. Then in 2004 he played the role of a paranoid conspiracy theorist and murderer in the Psychological Thriller Freeze Frame. Also in 2004, his performance of Clov (opposite Michael Gambon as Hamm) in Matthew Warchus's production of Samuel Beckett's Endgame was critically well received.
  • Lenny Henry, impressionist and stand-up, took a serious role as "Superhead" Ian George in 1999's Hope And Glory, which was generally well-received. Since then, he's taken a number of other dramatic roles, such as Broadchurch, The Syndicate and Doctor Who, as well as writing and appearing in the semi-autobigraphical Danny and the Human Zoo, while continuing his comedy career.
  • Leonardo DiCaprio, best known for his Shakespearean gravitas in Critters 3!
  • Comedian Lewis Black as Mr. E Ricky Owens in Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated who although playing a Fat Bastard, lets out some serious acting as the show goes on.
  • Lindsay Lohan tried to break away from her family-friendly image several times, and his zig-zagged from comedy to drama several times with mixed results. She rather blew it with I Know Who Killed Me; nothing short of Oscar will bury the memory of that turkey.
  • Marilyn Monroe's earlier roles tended to be in films that were not just serious, but rather dark, as in her bit roles in The Asphalt Jungle, All About Eve and Don't Bother to Knock (though admitedly around that time she also had bit roles in the comedies Love Happy and Monkey Business), and the film that first put her on the map in a starring role, Niagara, as a straight-up Film Noir. The Ditz came later. She later tried Tom Hanks Syndrome because in real life people only saw her as the dumb blonde persona she was constantly cast as. Didn't quite work out.
  • The heavyset Mark Addy originally made a name for himself as a Big Fun type of actor; his film roles included the comedies The Full Monty, A Knight's Tale, and Fred Flintstone himself in The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas, while he anchored the CBS sitcom Still Standing for five years. All memory of that went out the window, though, when he took the job of the tragic, doomed, Formerly Fit King Robert Baratheon in Game of Thrones. Though he only appeared in the first season, his turn in the part was lauded by critics; the creators of the show even declared that Addy was the easiest of all the actors to cast.
  • Matthew "Awight Awight" McConaughey is something of an inverter. He was in fairly serious films such as A Time to Kill, Amistad, and Contact, before cementing himself as the go-to leading man for romantic comedies and Shirtless Scenes. He has tried being an action star is films like Sahara (2005) and Fool's Gold, but those were leavened with comedy and romance too.
    • He seems to be playing it straight (or possibly Zig Zagging it) now, because his acclaimed performance in The Lincoln Lawyer seems to have opened up a plethora of new dramatic roles, including a hitman in William Friedkin's Killer Joe, an ex-stripper in Steven Soderbergh's Magic Mike, an astronaut in Interstellar, and other dramatic films by Jeff Nichols and Lee Daniels. In 2014, he had a staring role in HBO's acclaimed anthology crime-drama series, True Detective, before snagging an Academy Award for Best Actor for Dallas Buyers Club, giving his rejuvenated career even more momentum. He also played an absolutely chilling villain in The Dark Tower.
    • With McConaughey, the description of why a comedic actor goes into drama (true art is angsty, comedies don't get respect, etc.) doesn't apply at all. In a BBC interview he mentioned that he was simply sick of doing comedy and didn't have any feeling for them anymore. It got to the point that he was mostly just phoning in his efforts and was planning on retiring as an actor until he started getting dramatic roles again. He feels a sense of nervousness when he's in a dramatic role and for him, that's a good thing.
  • Max Wall was a famous music hall (vaudeville) comedian and dancer who later in his life became a leading interpreter of Samuel Beckett's plays. Not totally surprising because Beckett's plays, despite their nihilistic absurdity, were influenced by music hall comedy.
  • Michael Crawford, once known for the BBC comedy Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em and the title character of the musical Barnum, made a complete turnaround playing the very serious and sexual Phantom in Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera.
  • Michael J. Fox was on a hot streak in the mid-eighties with comedies like Back to the Future and Teen Wolf, but by 1987 he was looking for greener pastures. Brian De Palma offered him the lead role in his melodrama Casualties of War. Fox acquitted himself well, but it really did come off like a forgotten Back to the Future sequel where Marty traveled back in time to Vietnam! He had better luck a year later, playing a cokehead in Bright Lights, Big City. Fox returned to his comedic roots in Doc Hollywood and was shortly diagnosed with Parkinson's; he only starred in comedies after that. He confessed in his autobiography Lucky Man that he needed the quick buck. His TV appearances in the 2000's have been a mix of slapstick and pathos, owing to his deteriorating health.
  • Michael Keaton began as a comedic actor, and raised an outcry when he was cast as the superhero Batman despite playing a darker role in Clean and Sober. Since then, he's stuck to mostly comedy roles, but has played darker roles, such as a serial killer in Desperate Measures . He was also nominated for an Oscar for Best Actor for his lead role in Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) and appeared in the Oscar-winning ensemble drama Spotlight
  • Michael Palin went from Monty Python to a series of travelogues, Around the World in 80 Days and Pole to Pole, though his funnyman persona in exotic locales was part of the appeal. After first playing against type in dystopian fantasy Brazil, he went on to other straight roles including a persecuted, mentally fragile headmaster (of a school for children with mental problems, no less) in Alan Bleasdale's dark semi-political TV drama GBH.
  • Miley Cyrus' Hannah Montana co-star Emily Osment, also known for appearing in kids' movies like the second and third Spy Kids movies, Soccer Mom and The Haunting Hour: Don't Think About It, has shifted gears to more dramatic and adult fare like Cyberbully (2011), the action-adventure Crackle web series Cleaners and indie dramas likeKiss Me, a far cry from her zanier childhood roles.
    • Her current starring role in the sitcom comedy Young & Hungry seems to be a return to form though as she's playing a food blogger who gets a job as a personal chef, a role she's entirely unqualified for (and of course, hijinks ensue).
    • Miley Cyrus tried to do this with the movie adaption of the Nicholas Sparks book The Last Song which though a critical dissapointment was succesful at the box-office, she went to comedy with So Undercover (which would not see release until 2013) and drama again with the remake of LOL neither of which were particularly well-received, though she was praised for her guest-starring role on Two and a Half Men. In the end, she has currently abandoned her acting career to focus on her music.
  • For another example of Japanese Voice Actress that wasn't on the chain created by Kawasumi, there's Nana Mizuki. Early in her voice acting careers, she's mostly voicing sweet, sometimes ditzy or mostly shy young girls with soft voice as well (exemplified with Colette Brunel and Hinata Hyuuga, the last one was her breakout role). Then comes her role as Fate Testarossa, who, while having similar elements as her previous portfolio, is a lot more subdued and tragic... and along with that, her ticket to ultimate stardom thanks to her singing skills being noticed. Ever since then, there was only a few times that Nana returned for 'sweet, ditzy, shy' young girls (notably Tsubomi Hanasaki/Cure Blossom), most of her roles tends to be either more confident, outgoing or even sports her own low voice.
  • Olivia Colman came to fame in sketch comedies, sitcoms, and comedy films. Then came critically acclaimed turns in heavy dramas like Broadchurch, The Night Manager, and The Lobster that eventually led to a Oscar win for The Favourite. Her filmography has skewed toward drama rather than comedy since.
  • Patton Oswalt in Big Fan.
  • Peter Lorre was a comedian before achieving infamy as a serial killer on M. He was typecast since then as creep characters.
  • Peter Sellers attempted this. Of his more than fifty films, his dramatic leads were all in small-scale British-made efforts: Never Let Go, Hoffman, The Optimists, and The Blockhouse. After Never Let Go (an outright villainous role) flopped, he never tried so blatantly again to defy his comic reputation; he did the other films during a career slump. Some of his other films, such as Lolita and Being There, do incorporate dramatic elements (especially the former). He managed two Best Actor Oscar nominations over his career, for Dr. Strangelove and Being There, but lost both. In any case, he never stopped doing comedy (until he died, of course!).
  • Red Buttons was an early role model for this. He started out as one of the most popular Borscht Belt comedians, then won an Oscar for a serious role in Sayonara, then mostly did drama for the rest of his career.
  • Rick Moranis did this once for the action-packed Streets of Fire, but he hated his experience doing the movie because he wasn't allowed to improvise, so he goes back to doing funny movies. However, 5 years later, he did appear in the hilarious and heartwarming dramedy Parenthood with Steve Martin.
  • Robbie Coltrane was primarily known as a comedic actor — until his work as the title character in the original British version of Cracker cemented him as an actor. Now, you'll see him in everything from GoldenEye to From Hell to the Harry Potter films as half-giant Rubeus Hagrid — a character J. K. Rowling says was based on Coltrane's likeness. Add to that various documentaries on ITV focusing on his love of travel and means there of — yes, he really can act. And inform.
  • Swedish comedian Robert Gustafsson, more than once dubbed nationally as the country's funniest man. While he still does plenty of comedy roles, he has started playing completely serious, dramatic roles in recent years, including a police detective in the crime drama Det som göms i snö.
  • Although Robin Williams went to Juilliard for four years and trained with John Houseman, he became famous as a high-energy clown, first starting in Mork & Mindy. He started turning his comedic talents toward more dramatic subjects in Good Morning, Vietnam and Dead Poets Society, to critical acclaim and an Oscar win for Good Will Hunting. Afterwards, he freely bounced between straight comedies, dramedies, and outright dark dramatic roles such as Insomnia and One Hour Photo. He claimed to never want to do a 'funny' movie again after Patch Adams, but that didn't last, either.
    • Interestingly, he's still generally seen as a high energy clown, probably because that's how he usually acted in real life.
  • Rodney Dangerfield was one of the greatest comedians of the mid-to-late twentieth century, and, after a wildly successful stand-up career, became a film star with 80's hits like Back to School and Caddyshack. He did, however, try his hand at drama by playing an abusive father in 1995's controversial Natural Born Killers, and even wrote his own lines for the part. Critics hailed the performance as genius, and Dangerfield, hoping to be nominated for an Oscar, applied to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences; unfortunately, Roddy MacDowell, then the president of the Actors' wing of the AMPAS, rejected the application, leaving the hurt Dangerfield to swear off the Academy for good and go back to comedy.
  • Roy Hudd, a British comedian best known for his radio work, went on to do dark and seedy performances in Dennis Potter dramas.
  • Sally Field got started in sitcoms like Gidget, The Flying Nun, Smokey and the Bandit, and The Girl with Something Extra. Fed up with doing nothing but comedy, she fought for and won the title role in Sybil, opposite Joanne Woodward, as a girl with multiple personalities. The role won her an Emmy. Her next venture into drama was her gritty, Academy Award-winning turn as textile worker Norma Rae, but she was still considered a "flash in the pan" until she won her second Oscar as Edna Spalding in Places in the Heart, which cemented her as one of America's greatest actresses and silenced the skeptics for good.
  • Sean Penn's earliest acting consisted of mostly comedic roles such as Jeff Spicoli from Fast Times at Ridgemont High but afterwards his career took a dramatic turn starting with the film Bad Boys. He also plays The Heavy in the aforementioned war pic with Michael J. Fox, still very young then.
  • Selena Gomez successfully broke out of her child friendly image with Spring Breakers which was critically acclaimed, though her followup Getaway was, well, a bomb by every metric.
  • Shia LaBeouf is most remembered for starting off as the goofy younger brother from Even Stevens. One of his other popular roles as a child was his work as Stanley from Holes, which isn't a comedy but isn't completely solemn either. As an adult he's most well-known for his action or dramatic roles such as the Transformers Film Series, Lawless, Fury (2014) and Honey Boy.
  • Simon Pegg broke out with Spaced and the Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy, and is predominantly known to audiences for his comedy work. Even if he's in a more serious film, such as the Mission: Impossible series, he's still generally the comic relief. He started playing darker with his likeable comedy persona in films such as Big Nothing and Kill Me Three Times, but even these were more black comedic roles. Then he did the back-to-back thrillers Terminal and Inheritance, both films marking the first time audiences got to see him play straight-up dark, dramatic characters. Given the reception to his performance in these films, it's likely we're going to see a lot more dramatic roles for Pegg in the future.
  • Steve Carell started out in sketch comedy and first made a splash as a correspondent on The Daily Show before stealing scenes in major projects like Bruce Almight and Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. Then he surprised audiences by starring in The Office (US) and giving dramatic depth to Michael Scott and turning a character written as a buffoon into a sympathetic protagonist people rooted for. Around this time, he appeared in Little Miss Sunshine and wowed critics by how well he did in a purely dramatic role alongside more established acting heavyweights. This led to a gradual shift in his filmography as it began being filled by dramedies like Crazy, Stupid, Love and Seeking a Friend for the End of the World. Then came Foxcatcher, a bleak drama where he played a dark and disturbed character and showed that there was humanity beneath the monstrosity, which earned him an Oscar nomination. From here, he began appearing in more straight dramas and started earning a host of major award nominations that showed that critics were noticing and appreciating his versatility.
  • In an aversion to the trope, Steve Martin has peppered his career with dramatic roles as early as his second starring role, in 1981's Pennies From Heaven, but has always focused on comedy.
  • Sylvester Stallone had his first starring role in the softcore pornography feature film The Party at Kitty and Stud's (1970). Then he moved on to more broadcast and 'serious' entertainment.
  • Takeshi Kitano was first known as a wildly popular slapstick TV comedian Beat Takeshi. He then suddenly went on to direct and act in a number of extremely dark, dramatic crime films playing badass yakuza characters (years later, he embraced his reputation of Japanese Charles Bronson, playing in several successful yakuza films by other directors'). Even though he continued to brandish his own brand of irreverent, absurdist comedy in his later films, he still managed to go even darker –- directing a couple of heart-rending tragedies after a near-fatal bike accident. Western viewers who were first exposed to his bloody yakuza films (or a suicidal Fireworks, or hipsterific and elegiac Dolls) were quite surprised to see the old scarface in old reruns of the loopy game show Takeshi's Castle.
  • After leaving Saturday Night Live in 2002, Will Ferrell branched out to more dramatic roles, such as Stranger Than Fiction, Winter Passing, and Everything Must Go, but has mostly stuck with comedy.
    • Ferrell went back to drama for the TV movie A Deadly Adoption, which also stars Kristen Wiig, another former SNL cast member.
  • Will Smith was first known for his humorous rapping and as a sitcom star in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. After Bad Boys (1995) paired him with fellow comedian Martin Lawrence as action heroes, Smith continued his action turn in the blockbuster Independence Day, cementing him as a full-fledged movie star able to do action, comedy, and romance. The Pursuit of Happyness and Seven Pounds added drama to the repertoire. 1993's Six Degrees of Seperation was critically acclaimed and earned an Oscar nod.
    • In a double subversion, Smith's earliest critical praise for a dramatic role came before Bad Boys and Independence Day, but he's not really remembered for it.
  • Woody Allen: Before Annie Hall, he made slapstick comedies. After, he started with Interiors and went from there. Even lampshaded in Stardust Memories when an alien (voiced by Allen, no less!) tells the Author Avatar of Allen to stop making serious films and just tell jokes. Until 2000, even his "comedies" were laced with seriousness, like Hannah and Her Sisters. Allen started making out-and-out comedies again with films like Small Time Crooks.


    General Examples 
  • Jack Black, Will Ferrell, and John C. Reilly sang this number about their plight at the 2006 Oscars.
  • Comediennes Mary Lynn Rajskub and Camryn Manheim are best known for their dramatic roles in 24 and The Practice, respectively.
  • Several Hong Kong actors have moved on from otherwise lighthearted comedies to full-blown critical acclaim in this manner. Case in point, the two leads of Infernal Affairs, Tony Leung and Andy Lau — both even co-starred in a '70s period dramedy, "The Royal Tramp", and Andy's Guiness Record for starring in the most movies was a direct result of padding his resume with dozens of comedic roles. Recently, one such actor, Alfred Cheung, who made his name as the Plucky Comic Relief, even won an award for his first serious role.
    • It should be noted here that Andy and Tony first got into show business as part of a Five-Man Band of teen idols, while Alfred... let's just say he's got the Plucky Comic Relief look down pat.
  • Tom Hanks Syndrome is parodied in Tropic Thunder by Jack Black and Ben Stiller's characters, Jeff Portnoy and Tug Speedman respectively. Jeff is a comedic actor trying to get out of his typecasting through a more serious role, and Tug is an action star who'd previously starred in a dramatic Oscar Bait bomb.
  • Many of the best-known actors from Spanish '60s comedies (José Luis López Vázquez, Alfredo Landa, Concha Velasco, José Sacristan et al.) started sweeping awards and praise when they played breakthrough dramatic roles in the '70s, with audiences not having noticed until then they were pretty good actors.
  • This went as far back as the movie Show People about a silent film actress who wanted to be taken seriously but instead got her start as a comedienne.
  • Meta example: The classic movie To Be or Not to Be (both versions) is a dramedy about a comedian who wants to play Hamlet who is actually played by "a comedian who wants to play Hamlet" — Jack Benny in the original and Mel Brooks in the remake.
    • The comedian does play Hamlet — very, very badly. So badly that in Mel Brooks' version, he needs to be fed the lines from the "To Be or Not To Be" soliloquy of Act 3, Scene 1 of Hamlet.
    • "Meta" in that the comedy genre expands to take on a serious subject: the original movie is a very funny comedy about Hitler's invasion of Poland.
  • Cited in 30 Rock. Tracy is afraid of losing his youthful edge because "Do you know what happens to a comedian when he gets old and loses his audience? He starts getting offered serious roles!"
    • Also parodied after Tracey wins an Oscar. He gets sick of being viewed as a serious actor and wants to be seen as a crazy comedian again, so he tries to lose the respect of the media. It backfires when all of his crazy antics are misinterpreted as insightful commentaries on society. Then Jack Donaghy tells him all he has to do is go back to acting on television, and no one will ever respect him again.
  • Kevin Spacey, Al Pacino, and Peter Lorre did stand-up comedy before launching their respective film careers.
    • Shia LaBeouf also did stand-up before branching out his roles. The change did occur later, however.
  • Overlaps with Only So Many Canadian Actors: almost half the current cast of Degrassi were formerly Kid Com main cast members on shows made for the Canadian Family channel.
  • Since the seventh generation of console gaming Sony's "platformer trio" of Insomniac Games, Naughty Dog and Sucker Punch shifted away from their kid-friendly roots towards a more mature fare. During the PS1 and PS2 eras, these studios developed kid-friendly cartoony platformers Crash Bandicoot, Spyro the Dragon, Ratchet & Clank, Sly Cooper, and Jak and Daxter. When working on making games for the PS3 though, they began switching to making more serious, photorealistic action-adventure games. While still committed to making light-hearted games, Insomniac created the Resistance trilogy that depicts humanity fighting a losing war against alien hordes in a bleak alternate timeline. Insomniac's Spider-Man (PS4), while still colorful and idealistic, is much darker than previous Spider-Man games with realistic terrorist attacks and even an uncensored suicide. Naughty Dog underwent an identical transition with Uncharted and The Last of Us; while the the latter game is still idealistic and whimsical, it had more realistic violence along with horror elements involving cursed artifacts while the latter game went even further with Body Horror, Death of a Child and a post-apocalyptic setting. Sucker Punch experienced a similar albeit less drastic shift. While their Infamous games are gritty and photorealistic, they are still idealistic and fantastical; even their first M-rated, Ghost of Tsushima didn't have the bleakness or cynicism of Resistance and The Last of Us. That said, Tropes Are Not Bad as the several of these darker games by these studios are as well-received as their earlier lighter entries.
  • A lot of Voice Actors who primarily do Western Animation (as opposed to Anime) could be seen as this in some roles. Most Western animated shows are comedic, so when they play characters in DC or Marvel superhero cartoons, or action/story-driven series (that are more dramatic and serious in tone), it can be seen as this. Jeff Bennett in Gargoyles, Dee Bradley Baker in Star Wars: The Clone Wars and The Legend of Korra, and Tara Strong and John DiMaggio in Sym-Bionic Titan could be seen as this. Additional, some more story and drama-driven video game roles can also serve this purpose, such as Rob Paulsen voicing the Cyborg Ninja in Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes.
  • Martin Billany, a.k.a. LittleKuriboh, is an example among YouTubers. After admitting he suffers from depression, he scaled back his comedic output as seen on Yu-Gi-Oh! The Abridged Series and The Mark Remark and focused for some time on We're Still Here, a far more serious look at his struggles with depression. He's since returned to doing funny, light-hearted stuff, but We're Still Here still gets more updates than other LittleKuriboh segments, and increasing discomfort with what he sees as mean-spirited humor on The Mark Remark has indirectly resulted in his serious wrestling op-ed segment Mark My Words becoming more than a one-off thing.
  • George Miller is another online example, first gaining widespread memetic popularity as the surreal, vulgar and all-around oddball Filthy Frank series, and during this time Miller had dabbled in expressing himself through music, both as "Pink Guy" (a character in the series) and as himself under the title Joji, the latter of which was much more personal and serious. By 2017, Filthy Frank concluded due to lacking interest in the project, and since then he's continued on a more sincere and dramatic music trajectory as Joji.

    In-Universe Examples 
  • Batman: The Animated Series: Baby-Doll. The backstory of Mary Dahl has her leave the successful family sitcom where she was the main character so that she could pursue a career as a serious dramatic actress. This failed spectacularly because nobody would take her seriously, partially because of a genetic disorder that stopped her aging at about age five, and partially because she just wasn't a very good actress. She tried to go back to sitcoms, but by this time, she had already earned a reputation as a pain to work with and her career just ended, driving her to take on her Baby Doll persona as a criminal.
  • Imitation Of Life: Lora has a lot of success on Broadway as a comic actress. She insists on playing a dramatic part, much to the displeasure of David, who is both her lover and the writer of all those comedies. It works, as she gets even more acclaim and lands a part in an Italian art movie.
  • Shel Silverstein's poem "Cloony the Clown" stars the titular clown, who tries his hardest to make people laugh with his circus tricks to no avail, which fills him with grief. Eventually, he gives up on comedy and instead outright tells his audience how miserable his life is. This is what finally makes them laugh, making Cloony even more depressed.
  • In Show People, slapstick comedy actress Peggy Pepper graduates from the Comedy Ghetto and starts getting dramatic roles under the name Patricia Pepoire. It actually turns out bad for her career, as audiences find the "Patricia Pepoire" persona to be phony in comparison to plain old Peggy Pepper.
  • Stardust Memories: Sandy Bates wants to make more serious films. A Martian's advice? "Tell funnier jokes!"
  • Sullivan's Travels: A director of comedies wants to make a serious film O Brother Where Art Thou, and by the end of the film realizes that his comedies do have just as much of an impact on society as dramas do.
  • Jeff Portnoy in Tropic Thunder joined the filming of the titular movie because he was tired of being pigeonholed into low-brow Toilet Humor comedy roles (his previous claim to fame is a blatant parody of The Nutty Professor (1996), with way more fart jokes). Tugg Speedman is a lesser example, with his prior films mostly being schlocky action-comedies, until he tried to play an Inspirationally Disadvantaged character in an Oscar Bait film, then a serious war biopic.
  • In one episode of The Bernie Mac Show, Bernie, a famous stand up comedian/comedy actor, wanting to prove that he's a serious actor, was cast in a movie where he played a legendary football player. When Bernie shows his wife and friends a copy of the near finished film, they compliment his acting skills, until the movie gets to the part where the character becomes imobilized, and they laugh at the fact that he looks so ridiculous trying to act as if he were having a stroke.
  • Reboot (2022): Reed quit the cheesy sitcom Step Right Up to take serious roles in dramatic films and plays. He considers his comedic roots to be Old Shame, and only returns to the show's reboot when he believes it's going to be more high-brow. When Gordon wants it to be shallow comedy again, he nearly quits again, until he realizes how badly he and his castmates need the job.