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Classic Ten – Slapstick Stars

Actors who can cry on cue? Yawn. Actors who can make you laugh by contorting their face or tripping clumsily around? Now that’s a rare talent. Some practitioners take their physical comedy to such an extreme, they’re liable to get on your nerves. But before you call it annoying, just remember: Not every actor can do what they do.

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10. Sacha Baron Cohen

Cohen has reinvented slapstick into a brand of comedy all his own. In Borat and Bruno,
he delivers full-on physical performances in order to convince his
unsuspecting victims that he is as thickheaded as he seems —
all to hilarious, embarrassing effect. The naked chase scene in Borat
is Cohen’s piece de resistance, but his slapstick talent also manifests
in subtler ways. Not many comics could stay in character with Cohen’s
level of devotion.

Anna Faris.jpg
9. Anna Faris

She may not have the cachet that many actors strive for, but Faris knows how to put on a funny show. She first flaunted her hammy talents in the Scary Movie spoof franchise, and in Just Friends, with Ryan Reynolds, she plays a pop star diva who throws scene-stealing hissy fits. And let’s not forget her drugged-out mugging in Observe and Report. There aren’t too many actresses willing to be as goofy as Faris, so let’s hope she stays this way!

Chris Farley.jpg 8. Chris Farley

The late Farley honed his slapstick routine on Saturday Night Live before parlaying his skills onto the big screen. Using his large frame to his comical advantage, Farley started off with memorable cameos in movies like Billy Madison (as a school bus driver with road rage). In Tommy Boy and Black Sheep, he really piled on the laughs with his exuberant, uber-physical acting. His range was sometimes limited to “angry yelling” mode, though, so we have to place him at a modest number eight.

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7. Leslie Nielsen
Not only were the Naked Gun movies lowbrow comedy gold, they also proved that Nielsen is the silver fox of slapstick. Though he started off as a dramatic actor, Nielsen became a quintessential comedy star after his role in the 1980 movie Airplane! His real claim to fame, of course, is the Naked Gun trilogy, in which he plays the bumbling, clueless police detective Frank Drebin.

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6. Jackie Chan

Chan may seem more stunt actor than slapstick star, but there’s no denying that he knows how to integrate perfect comedic timing into all his stunts. Even when he’s kung fu fighting his way through a gaggle of bad guys, he’ll incorporate sight gags. He may have broken lots of bones in his stunt work, but his funny bone is fully intact! Chan has borrowed directly from Buster Keaton movies, which leads us to our fifth-ranked slapstick star….

Buster Keaton.jpg 5. Buster Keaton

The great silent film actor was famous for his deadpan face, but he counterpointed the stoicism with loads of tumbles and pratfalls. Keaton especially loved train and car stunts, as evidenced in the 1927 movie The General, and future generations of actors (see Jackie Chan) have paid homage to his work. It’s no surprise that Keaton was born into a family of vaudeville actors.

Johnny Depp.jpg 4. Johnny Depp

Depp’s flair for slapstick first emerged in Benny & Joon, in which he plays an eccentric drifter (and Buster Keaton fan) who woos a girl (Mary Stuart Masterson) with his frolicking, tree-swinging ways. There’s a trace of slapstick in his turn as Hunter S. Thompson in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, but his inner physical comedian truly shone as Captain Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.

three-stooges-125.gif 3. The Three Stooges

No slapstick overview would be complete without Curly, Larry and Moe, the three jokers who turned eye-poking, nose-honking, and head-punching into the stuff of high comedy. The short-movie kings of the mid-20th century continue to captivate Hollywood: Mel Gibson produced a TV movie about their life and careers, and their torch-bearing modern counterparts the Farrelly brothers are working on a big-screen reboot, with everyone from Sean Penn to Benicio Del Toro reportedly being considered for roles.

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2. Jim Carrey

Ever since his 1994 breakout movie Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, Carrey has become the go-to guy for roles that require facial distortion or overall buffoonery. The Mask capitalized on his full-body antics, and he was the perfect fit for the Riddler in Batman Forever. Of course, let’s not forget Dumb and Dumber or his turn as Count Olaf in Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. Carrey is a master of modern slapstick, but even he must bow down to the greatest ham of all….

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1. Charlie Chaplin

Back when movies had no sound, actors had to rely a lot more on physical antics to keep their audiences entertained. That’s how Chaplin came to be known as one of cinema’s consummate slapstick actors. Whether he’s staggering drunk down the street (City Lights) or playing a Hitler doppelganger (The Great Dictator), Chaplin performed with perfectly graceful exaggeration. He is the slapstick godfather and deserves no less than our number one slot.


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