Supporting actors have been stealing the show from the lead for decades, and this is especially true in comedy movies. Supporting actors are not tied down by a movie’s plot or the need to be an empathetic character; they could be as wild and strange as they like. Due to this liberation in performance, a side character often gets more love and recognition than the lead actors. From “The Big Lebowski” to “Finding Nemo,” it takes the supporting actors to inject innovation and energy into the story. Here are eight comedic performances by supporting actors that make us happy to be along for the ride.
Chris Tucker as Smokey in Friday
Ice Cube’s first comedy movie, “Friday,” boasts an array of great comedic performances from Bernie Mac, Faizon Love, and John Witherspoon, but none are more memorable than Chris Tucker as Smokey. “Friday” follows two unemployed friends whose lives are threatened by a drug dealer if they don’t find $200 in a day. The movie was co-written by Ice Cube, whose intention was to make a comedy about life in the hood. While Ice Cube was the initial draw to “Friday,” the ‘90s comedy immediately made a star out of Chris Tucker, whose animated antics and charming fast talk turned Smokey and “Friday” into cult classics. While Tucker didn’t reprise the role in future sequels, Smokey’s one-liners are still quoted to this day.
Ellen Degeneres as Dory in Finding Nemo
In 2003, “Finding Nemo” was praised for its lush and detailed animation of aquatic ocean life, but what also brought audiences so much joy was Ellen Degeneres as the regal blue tang fish Dory. The film may be about Marlin trying to find his son Nemo, yet Dory’s endless optimism and openness to adventure turned her into a fan favorite. Pixar is known for its colorful cast of supporting characters, but the beloved blue fish was an unexpected delight due to Degeneres’ performance. Ellen Degeneres even influenced the character’s short-term memory loss by repeating and improvising lines in character—Ellen Degeneres’ role as Dory was so loved that she got a spinoff movie, “Finding Dory,” thirteen years later.
Leslie Nielsen as Dr. Rumack in Airplane!
“Airplane!” is a comedy classic that explores different personalities, from the pilots to the passengers, on an airplane that risks crashing due to the crew getting sick with food poisoning. The movie’s plot is thin and is meant to be a parody of disaster movies that were popular in the late ‘70s. “Airplane!” is filled with slapstick humor, wordplay, and visual gags, but one character that stands out from the rest is Leslie Nielsen as the stern and stone-faced Dr. Rumack. Nielsen’s role is small, but his deadpan delivery in the middle of chaos makes him an instant delight. Leslie Nielsen went on to star in many more comedies, but his most quotable line still comes from his supporting role in “Airplane!”
Melissa McCarthy as Megan in Bridesmaids
Melissa McCarthy’s role in “Bridesmaids” earned her an Academy Award nomination and changed her career trajectory. The confident and crass bridesmaid Megan differed from McCarthy’s sweet and bubbly roles in “Gilmore Girls” and “Mike & Molly,” which introduced her to a new audience in raunchy R-rated comedies. McCarthy’s character features no make-up and seems to be constantly panting, like a PE teacher anyone can remember from high school. Perhaps it’s McCarthy’s ability to portray someone we all know in our lives, but combined with physical comedy like the food poisoning scene or flirting with a stranger on a plane, McCarthy’s an iconic character in this now iconic movie.
Tiffany Haddish as Dina in Girls Trip
“Girls Trip” has an all-star black female cast with recognizable names like Regina Hall and Queen Latifah, yet the standout wildcard performance comes from Tiffany Haddish as Dina. The 2017 comedy about a bachelorette trip follows four longtime friends who have grown distant, but Haddish portrays Dina as the friend who’s always down for an adventure and won’t take no for an answer. She is immediately the best friend everyone wants and wants to be. She’s bold, unapologetic in her sexuality, and makes any scene into an event. Haddish claims the role is about 80% simply her being herself, and there’s no better introduction to Haddish than her role as Dina.
John Goodman as Walter in The Big Lebowski
“The Big Lebowski” is an absurdist comedy about one man named Lebowski being confused for another Lebowski, yet the top comedic performance comes from John Goodman as The Dude’s best friend, Walter. While John Goodman was already well known, he disappears as Walter, a Vietnam veteran whose life view is warped by volatile rage and paranoia. This may not sound funny written down, but Goodman plays Walter as a man of authoritative, unwavering principle, even when he’s often wrong about a situation. His loud and stubborn buffoonery is also sweet, as he never leaves his friend’s side.
Dana Carvey as Garth in Wayne’s World
The movie may be called “Wayne’s World,” but Dana Carvey, in his shaggy hair and thick glasses, steals the spotlight as Wayne’s best friend, Garth. The movie is about Wayne’s World, the local TV show, getting more attention as Wayne and Garth get a show that airs nationally. The movie has plenty of jokes about show business and the music industry, yet Garth’s childlike wonder and impish behavior signal to the audience that they’re in for a treat. Carvey’s eyes constantly shift, and he keeps a smirk on his face as if he’s hiding a secret the audience must investigate.
Eddie Murphy as Donkey in Shrek
“Shrek” was a cultural phenomenon in 2001. The animated comedy poked fun at other children’s movies and fantasy tales but still carried empathy for its characters, and all of these traits shined through Eddie Murphy’s Donkey. Murphy ruled the comedy landscape in starring roles like “Trading Places,” “Beverly Hills Cop,” and “The Nutty Professor,” but his supporting role as the positive and loyal Donkey was a standout hit for the whole family. Donkey is a non-stop chatterbox but also listens to those he loves. Murphy’s delicate balance of smartass comebacks and warmth created a legendary character that only he could play.
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