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The 411 Movies Top 5: The Top 5 Physical Comedians

March 13, 2016 | Posted by Shawn S. Lealos

The 411 Movies Top 5: Hello everyone and welcome to 411 Movies Top 5 List. We take a topic each week and all the writers here on 411 wrestling will have the ability to participate and give us their Top 5 on said topic. So, onto this week’s topic…

The Top 5 Physical Comedian Actors

5. BRUCE CAMPBELL – When it comes to physical comedy in the horror movie world there’s probably no practitioner better than Bruce Campbell. Just about his entire run as Ash, from the Evil Dead movie franchise to the ongoing Ash Vs. Evil Dead TV show, shows that Campbell knows how to maximize his physicality for laughs. Think about the sequence in Evil Dead 2 where he has to fight his own hand. Just about every scene he’s in in Army of Darkness is humorous in some way. And Ash Vs. Evil Dead is just chock full of Campbell’s Ash doing comedic bits in the midst of heavy death and bloody carnage. And when you look at Campbell’s TV career, from Brisco County to Burn Notice the man has been doing it outside of the horror genre, too. I’m shocked that no one ever gave Campbell a chance to do a full on non-horror physical comedy. I’m sure he would have rocked and people would have paid money to see it.

4. JOHN CLEESE – Every member, even animator/director Terry Gilliam, engaged in some form of physical comedy while a part of Monty Python, but Cleese is probably the best known among the six members for physical comedy. “The Ministry for Silly Walks” is a prime example of this, as it shows Cleese performing one of the greatest ridiculous walks in entertainment. It manages to look both spontaneous while he’s doing it and choreographed to maximum effect. It’s brilliant through and through. There are other examples, like the Black Knight from Holy Grail and the lead Roman Centurion from Life of Brian, but the Silly Walk bit is enough to warrant Cleese’s inclusion here. Great stuff.

3. JIM VARNEY – Jim Varney played other parts beyond lovable buffoon Ernest P. Worrell, but Ernest is easily his greatest creation and what he will always be known for. Ernest engaged in wacky word play and always had something stupid to say, but when you look at how Ernest evolved over his major movies, you see how easily he can become other people while still being Ernest. Look at the comedy character montages in Ernest Goes to Jail and Ernest Scared Stupid and you’ll see just how creative and crazy he could be. Ernest probably could have gotten by with just being a weirdo with a heart of gold, like in his first major movie Ernest Goes to Camp, but then it wouldn’t have been as fun, in an overall sense, when you look at all of Ernest’s movies. It’s too bad Varney is no longer with us, as I’m sure he would have come up with something equally as brilliant again.

2. ROWAN ATKINSON – I’d imagine that most Americans became aware of Rowan Atkinson via his Black Adder series or Mr. Bean. I was a Mr. Bean person, as I saw him on HBO and instantly became a fan. Each episode was a master class in how to be a buffoon without saying anything. And it was just amazing. Think of the bit where he brushes his teeth while driving and uses the water from the windshield wipers to rinse out his mouth. Or the sequence where he works on his own teeth while waiting for the dentist. The eventual Bean movie is still just as brilliant as the first time I saw it (I still haven’t seen the sequel). And in terms of non-Bean characters, look at his James Bond/spy spoof Johnny English. Just from the opening titles alone, where his English walks around HQ looking for a specific office and can’t find it. Yes, editing helps the joke work, but at the same time without Atkinson it would likely be just some guy walking around. It wouldn’t have that energy that makes Atkinson Atkinson.

1. THE THREE STOOGES – When it comes to The Three Stooges you have several different versions to choose from. The version with Moe, Larry, and Curly is easily the best known and likely what everyone in the world thinks of when The Three Stooges are mentioned. Shemp is probably second best known. I like all of them for various reasons (yes, even Joe Besser), but, yeah, the Curley trio is my favorite. Moe is the boss and a perpetual asshole, Larry is stuck in the middle and a little more laid back, and Curly is child in a man’s body. He always seems to be doing something that Moe can’t stand (Larry gets hammered by Moe a lot, too, but Curly is very much the one that gets the most damage done to him). I wish there was a channel that just aired every Stooge short and feature film and cartoon on a loop, just so I could tune in at any time and see something brilliant. And that’s what the Stooges were and still are: brilliant. Even the lesser shorts are better than most good stuff from other comedians.

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5. Chevy Chase – Youngsters might not realize this, but there was a time when Chevy Chase was believed to be talented, handsome, and a huge box office draw. Unfortunately, that all ended right around the late 80’s. Chase was known for pratfalls on SNL while playing the clumsy President Ford. Chase’s hilarious stumbles that continued through his tenure on Community. So why isn’t Chevy still absurdly famous? He’s a noted asshat in real life. Fun fact: Chevy’s given name is Cornelius, which is why that was his father’s name on Community.

4. Abbott and Costello – In truth, it’s really only Lou Costello that should get a mention in this list. But Costello’s hysterical hijinks would never have worked without a competent straight-man. Costello surely had one in Bud Abbot. An old burlesque performer from way back, Lou Costello was known for his physical comedy and feigned lack of intelligence. Both men were comedy geniuses. The best films to check out to see Costello’s physical skills include Africa Screams, Abbot and Costello meet Dracula, and Abbot and Costello meet the Wolf Man.

3. Will Ferrell – Do I even need to explain this one? Ferrell was noted on SNL for his willingness to get physical. Awesome falls, cheers, and half-naked sketches made Ferrell a household name. He auditioned for SNL with a cat impersonation, and thrilled us with big screen characters like Jacobime Mugato, and physical comedy in films like Anchorman, and Blades of Glory in particular. I have to say though, that my fave Ferrell movie by a wide margin is Stranger than Fiction, which has a bit of physical comedy in addition to a weep-worthy performance by Ferrell.

2. Chris Farley – Wow, SNL certainly had a glut of physical comedians, and I don’t seem to even have mentioned any of the ladies. (Sorry, Gilda) But hey, Chris Farley gave us some spectacular physical comedy. On SNL, he gave us characters like Matt Foley the motivational speaker, Barney who audition for Chippendales, and the guy who was furious to be given decaf coffee. On the big screen, Tommy Boy and Black Sheep thrilled audiences even though they were basically the same movie. Like a lot of boisterous comedians, Farley developed a love for cocaine and left us all far too young. Thanks for everything, Chris!

1. John Cleese – I think of Cleese as the original physical comedian, but that’s mainly because he’s the one I’ve been watching for the longest. While John Cleese is a brilliant writer, director, and performer, he may always be best known for the Minister of Silly Walks. Not only did he give us tons of great physical comedy with Monty Python, Cleese had some fantastic physical bits on A Fish Called Wanda and even The Great Muppet Caper. Does it count as physical humor when you play a ghost that can almost remove his entire head? I’m not sure, but it’s brilliant all the same.


List your Top Five for this week’s topic in the comment section using the following format:

5. CHOICE: Explanation
4. CHOICE: Explanation
3. CHOICE: Explanation
2. CHOICE: Explanation
1. CHOICE: Explanation