Best Performances from Comedians Playing Classic Villains – Collider

When stand-ups play less than stand-up characters.
It seems counter-intuitive that someone who specializes in comedy can make being a villain look so easy. Time and again, though, comedians prove to be memorable antagonists. Jim Carrey as the Riddler in Batman Forever. Jim Rash as the Riddler in Harley Quinn. Frank Gorshin as… um, the Riddler, again, in the classic 1966 Batman TV series. Okay, it's not looking good but honestly, there are other roles apart from the Riddler, like the following.
RELATED: 'Harley Quinn' Provides a Great Dissection of Bruce and Selina's Relationship — Through Song
Tim Burton's follow-up to his wildly successful 1989 Batman is still divisive to this day, but the one thing that most fans agree on are the performances of its leads, with Michael Keaton further embracing his Batman, Michelle Pfeiffer creating an iconic take on Catwoman, and funnyman Danny DeVito's unique take on The Penguin (that's right, not the Riddler). DeVito excels at playing short, loathsome characters, beginning with his breakout role as Louie de Palma in Taxi, and Penguin falls right into his wheelhouse, like an Extreme DeVito. For the record, DeVito did eat the fish raw. That's commitment.
Kristen Wiig is a natural scene stealer and a talented comedienne, as her years on Saturday Night Live would attest to, which makes her work as Barbara Minerva, aka Cheetah, all the more impressive. As Minerva, Wiig nails the introverted, clumsy gemologist without pulling focus or turning her into a caricature. This allows for Minerva's increasing confidence and bravado as the film progresses to be believable, and her transformation into Cheetah as a one-up on Gal Gadot's Diana Prince/Wonder Woman an earned and natural next step.
The dark comedy of the Harley Quinn series makes a natural playground for comedians to play in, including Ron Funches as King Shark. Funches' dry wit and low-key delivery is perfect for the bipolar, friendly and easy going tech-savvy King Shark. It's what makes the switch between polite, good-natured King Shark to the vicious King Shark that's prone to biting someone's head off (including his younger brother) at the drop of a hat that much funnier.
Andy Daly's comedy leans heavily towards improvisation and creating characters, so his inclusion in Harley Quinn is a no-brainer. He imbues his Two-Face with calmness in any situation, an even-natured take of the character that stays away from signs of the multiple-personality disorder seen in other interpretations. Daly's Two-Face is stern, but not above mocking those below him, especially the dim-witted Bane (James Adomian, also a comedian, oddly enough).
The first live-action take of legendary Batman villain The Riddler fell to Frank Gorshin, and his Emmy-nominated take set the standard for the character going forward (apart from Paul Dano's humorless portrayal, of course). At the time, Gorshin was a much sought after and talented impressionist, seemingly able to mimic voice and mannerisms exactly, and he tackled the role with a reckless abandon that made the Riddler his own. Fun fact: Gomez Addams himself, John Astin, took over the role for two Season 2 episodes, either due to a contract dispute with Gorshin or a scheduling conflict, depending on whose story you believe.
One could argue that Jim Carrey is the spiritual successor to Frank Gorshin, a rubber-faced manic talent, so it isn't surprising that his Riddler hews very closely to the classic Gorshin portrayal. Carrey is far and away the best part of Batman Forever, delivering a performance that is restrained when it needs to be and full-camp when the story calls for it.
Comedian Jim Rash is an amazing talent, at ease with physical comedy, improvisation and verbal wit in equal measure, lending a comedic edge to his pompous portrayal of Harley Quinn's Riddler. He's tailor-made for the role, bearing a strong resemblance (presumably purposeful) to the animated character. Fun fact: in the Season 2 episode "Riddler U", the Riddler makes himself dean of the university, a comical meta reference to Rash's famed Dean Pelton in Community.
If the nerds of the world united and picked a leader, Patton Oswalt would have to be the undisputed first choice all around. His rantings are legendary, including Oswalt's epic Star Wars improvised filibuster on Parks and Recreation. So, a large-headed, small-bodied, egotistical supervillain juggling family and villainy like MODOK? Please, no challenge for the talented Oswalt. MODOK is the perfect match of character and casting.
The comedian came to prominence in his Golden Globe nominated role in To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar alongside Patrick Swayze. Leguizamo had the chops, and he used his talents to bring The Clown/Violator to life in Spawn, the crass, potty-humor prone and evil denizen of hell antagonist of the film. So, Sid the Sloth, but with a much hotter home.
More mischievous than malevolent, the fifth dimensional imp managed to cause endless chaos for Supergirl (Melissa Benoist). The beauty of Thomas Lennon's performance is in how he delivered such a layered take on the character. There's always a glint in the eye, and a careful balance of menace and mirth, goodness and selfishness. What else would you expect from Joey's (Matt LeBlanc) hand twin?
All hail Arleen Sorkin, the comedienne that originated the character of Harley Quinn in Batman: The Animated Series, continuing to voice the character from her 1992 introduction to the 2011 video game DC Universe Online. Arguably the best example on this list of art and artist coming together to create a perfect pop-culture icon. There simply is no Harley Quinn without Sorkin. She defined everything we know and love about Quinn, and it is her performance that continues to be the high mark that others are compared to.
I am Lloyd Farley: irresistibly handsome, intellectually superior, charming and most of all, humble. I am a Canadian and have written a number of short-stories on my Vocal account, many puns and op-eds on my Facebook. I also have published a book, “Pun And Grimeish Mint”, a full collection of wholly original puns told in “mini-stories”.
Sign up for Collider's newsletter for exclusive news, features, streaming recommendations and more


Share This


Wordpress (0)
Disqus ( )