15 Greatest Movies Starring Stand-Up Comedians

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Stage comedians have been transitioning to film since the beginning of cinema as an art form. Comedians like Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, W.C. Fields, Charlie Chaplin, and The Marx Brothers all started as stage comedians before diving into film. As the desire for vaudevillian comedy ended and stand-up became the predominant form of stage comedy, so did stand-up comedians’ transition to film. 

We’re here today to look at the best films starring stand-up comedians. For the sake of this list, we will not be including stand-up specials, regardless of whether or not they were presented theatrically, as that deserves its own list. We’ll only focus on fiction film work here, so without further ado, let’s look at some of the best feature films to ever star stand-up comedians. 

1. Freddy Got Fingered (2001)

Photo Credit: New Regency Productions.

Riding off of the success of the eponymous Tom Green Show, actor/comedian Tom Green was given $20 million by 20th Century Fox to write and direct a gross-out comedy in the style of the Farrelly Brothers. Instead, they got a singular and strange comedy about Gordy (Tom Green), a man in arrested development, traveling across the country to try and get his cartoon produced by a major animation company. 

Though panned by critics and audiences at its release, the film has aged exceptionally well. It plays now like a parody of the comedies Adam Sandler was making around the same time. Crass and crude, this thing has plenty of laughs for those who can handle its childish sense of humor.

2. Dirty Work (1998)

Photo Credit: MGM.

A starring vehicle for iconic Saturday Night Live alumni Norm Macdonald, the film centers around lifelong friends Mitch (Macdonald) and Sam (Artie Lang) as the two try to raise $50,000 to get Sam’s dad the life-saving heart surgery he needs. To raise that money, they start a “revenge-for-hire” business, playing pranks and getting into whacky hijinks as a result. A pitch-black comedy, Norm’s typical wry humor gives the entire film an edge that’s sorely missing from late-90s studio comedies.

3. Shakes the Clown (1991)

Photo Credit: IRS Media.

Alt-comic Bobcat Goldthwait’s debut as a writer/director/star follows the titular Shakes (Goldthwait) as he contends with a murder charge, a gang of dueling clowns, and his addictions. Gut-busting and surprisingly tender in equal measure, this cult favorite is sure to give you the sillies. 

4. Dumb and Dumber (1994)

Photo Credit: New Line Cinema.

This iconic comedy, starring Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels, follows two bumbling roommates who go across the country in the name of love. Hilarious and touching in equal measure, this film has Carrey at the top of his game, harkening his comedic prowess and bouncing well off Daniel’s dramatic pathos. This film more than earns its reputation as a classic of the genre, as well as Jim Carrey’s best post-stand-up film!

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5. JoJo Dancer, Your Life is Calling (1986)

Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures.

A decidedly serious affair from legendary comedian Richard Pryor, the film chronicles the trials and tribulations of JoJo Dancer. Pryor’s self-insert character goes from a child growing up in a brothel to a successful comedian, eventually wasting his life away as a junky. Marking Pryor’s first time in the director’s chair is a fascinating look into the mind of one of the greatest comedians ever to do it. 

6. The Adventures of Ford Fairlane (1990)

Photo Credit: Twentieth Century Fox.

Renny Harlin directs the hell out of Andrew Dice Clay’s live-wire homage to pulp noirs of the 1950s. The film follows the titular ‘Rock N’ Roll Detective’ as he investigates a series of murders centering around the disappearance of a shock jock’s groupie. The Adventures of Ford Fairlane was an abject failure upon its original release. However, its slick style and Dice Clay’s abrasive humor have made it an instant cult favorite.

7. Happy Gilmore (1996)

Photo Credit: Universal Studios.

1996’s Happy Gilmore needs no introduction. The film follows Adam Sandler’s titular golf player, who tries to win enough money to save his grandmother’s house from foreclosure. It launched the aforementioned comedian into the stratosphere. Thirty years later, the film remains a masterpiece of comedy.

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8. Taking Woodstock (2009)

Photo Credit: Focus Features.

Surrealist comedian Demetri Martin’s first foray into narrative filmmaking is a rather sturdy affair. The film is a beat-for-beat recreation of the planning of the legendary Woodstock Music Festival. Director Ang Lee keeps things moving—the film benefits greatly from some exciting use of split-screen – for this breezy romp about a defining moment of American culture.

9. A New Leaf (1971)

Photo Credit: Aries Productions.

Elaine May’s return after the dissolution of her comedy team Nichols and May, the film centers on Henry Graham (Walter Matthew), a spoiled aristocrat who’s burned through all his money. In order to maintain his way of life, he plots to marry and kill the ditzy botanist Henrietta Lowell (Elaine May). Not known to a wide audience, this cult classic is worth checking out for that final scene alone.

10. Planes, Trains, and Automobiles (1987) 

Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures.

John Hughes’ comedy of manners follows Neal Page (Steve Martin), a businessman desperate to return home to his family for Thanksgiving. His plans are thwarted, however, when a snowstorm forces Neal to shack up with Del Griffith (John Candy). Calamity ensues as the two schlep across the country together to get home in time for the holiday. Given how relatable many scenarios are here, the film plays like a stand-up act taken to its most extreme conclusion.

11. The Producers (1967)

Photo Credit: Crossbow Productions.

Mel Brooks’ eternal comedy follows two theatrical producers who plan to get rich quick by creating a Broadway show and overselling interest in it, knowing full and well that it’s designed to bomb. To their shock, the show Springtime for Hitler is a rousing success. An excellent two-hander for comedians Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder, the film would inspire a Broadway adaptation and a remake starring Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick.

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12. Popeye (1980)

Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures.

Robert Altman’s adaptation of the iconic E.C. Segar comic character, the film features Robin Williams in his first starring role in a feature film. The plot involves the titular Popeye moving to the town of Sweethaven, marrying Olive Oyl (Shelly Duvall), and defeating Salty Sam, a giant octopus. Bombastic from beginning to end, the film also contains a lively soundtrack written by Harry Nilsson.

13. 48 HRS. (1982)

Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures.

Walter Hill’s gritty buddy cop movie features Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy as a cop and a criminal hell-bent on catching two escaped convicts in forty-eight hours. Never losing the laughs in favor of Hill’s gritty San Francisco aesthetics, this marks a career-high point for both of its leads!

14. Bruno (2009)

Photo Credit: Universal Studios.

Sacha Baron Cohen’s 2009 follow-up to the Oscar-nominated Borat, Bruno is another raucous outing for Cohen and his crew. Following the exploits of a fictional gay Austrian fashion designer named Bruno, this film is, arguably, even funnier than Borat!

15. Head of State (2003)

Photo Credit: Dreamworks Pictures.

Chris Rock steps into the director’s chair for this biting satire about the nature of the American electoral system. The film follows Mays Gilliam (Chris Rock), a White House staffer who gets thrust into office after the current sitting president dies on the campaign trail. It is an extremely clever satire that doesn’t always work, but it is worth it to see Rock and the legendary Bernie Mac play off of one another.

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