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13 Stand-Up Comedians Who Became More Well-Known For Their Acting

From small comedy clubs to the big screen, the stand-up comedian turned actor pipeline has become a dream for many. You've heard of triple threats in entertainment — performers who exceed in acting, singing, and dancing — but with more and more comedians making the transition from stage to screen, we'll have to make room for quadruple threats.

Today, it seems only natural for comedians to try their skills at acting. After all, they've already nailed the stage presence and delivery. But not all have effectively translated their talents for the camera. Many of those that have, however, found more success trading in routines for scripts, with some even leaving the world of stand-up behind for good. But hey, that's showbiz, baby. So let's laugh along with these 13 stand-up comedians who became more well-known for their acting chops as we break down their unique journeys from open mic nights to the red carpet.

Eddie Murphy

Eddie Murphy has dabbled in everything from stand-up to music, television, and movies. Coming from humble beginnings, Murphy's 1976 talent show impression of Al Green marked his ascend into comedy. By age 19, he became one of the most essential cast members of "Saturday Night Live." On the verge of cancellation, Murphy has been credited with keeping the show afloat with his fan-favorite characters, Buckwheat, Mr. Robinson, and cynical Gumby, among others.

He was quickly pushed into the spotlight, releasing two comedy specials, "Delirious" and "Eddie Murphy Raw," and making his film debut in the buddy comedy, "48 Hrs." His next big hit would be 1984's "Beverly Hills Cop," giving Murphy the confidence to leave SNL and pursue a recognized acting career. He stayed busy but had a hard time finding the same success. With more box office flops and critical failures, Murphy was on a public decline in the early 2000s.

However, there was hope once again when, in 2007, Murphy won a Golden Globe for best supporting actor and was nominated for an Academy Award in the same category for his role in the musical drama film, "Dreamgirls." Murphy has since made a triumphant comeback, starring in the critically acclaimed "Dolemite Is My Name," returning to host SNL in 2019  for the first time since 1984 and starring alongside Jonah Hill in Netflix's "You People." In a 2023 interview with Complex, Murphy confirmed he is planning a return to stand-up comedy.

Chris Rock

During the height of his initial success, Murphy discovered a new talent and took him under his wing. We would later come to know that person as actor and comedian Chris Rock. Before being plastered on every headline for the slap heard across the world at the 2022 Academy Awards, Rock began on stage at Studio 8H as a cast member on SNL from 1990 to 1993. From there, he reached wider success with his second stand-up special, 1996's "Bring the Pain," for which he won two Emmy Awards. This special would be followed up by 1999's "Bigger & Blacker" and 2004's "Never Scared."

His success in TV didn't end after SNL. His award-winning HBO talk show, "The Chris Rock Show," lasted five seasons from 1997 to 2000, and in 2005, he co-created his hit semi-autobiographical sitcom, "Everybody Hates Chris." At this point, he was deep in the film industry, working as an actor, writer, and director. When fans reflect on his most influential work, his 2014 comedy, "Top Five" comes to mind. Variety praised him for his writing, directing, and leading role, saying, "Rock has finally found a big-screen vehicle for himself that comes close to capturing the electric wit, shrewd social observations and deeply autobiographical vein of his stand-up comedy."

After dabbling in comedies, dramas, romances, voice acting, and horror, Rock's next stand-up special, "Chris Rock: Selective Outrage," is set to premiere on Netflix in March 2023 as the streamer's "first-ever live event."

Adam Sandler

Back before he was starring alongside Rock and the rest of the self-proclaimed "Bad Boys of SNL," Adam Sandler was a struggling comedian trying to make it in New York City. When the chance to join SNL arose, Sandler didn't hesitate. He became known for his comedy songs and fan-favorite characters like Oprea Man, Cajun Man, and Canteen Boy until he was fired from the show in 1995. But that didn't stop him from becoming one of the biggest actors in Hollywood, raking in more than $4 billion at the box office.

His successful leading roles in the films "Billy Madison" and "Happy Gilmore" inspired Sandler to create his production company, "Happy Madison Productions," in 1999. In the years since the company has released close to 50 original films. However, despite box office success, the company has a reputation for producing critical catastrophes. Still, Sandler would occasionally impress audiences with stand-out dramatic performances, including roles in "Punch-Drunk Love," "Reign Over Me," and "Uncut Gems." The star continues to flourish with a four-movie Netflix deal and a 2023 musical stand-up tour.

Robin Williams

The late Robin Williams' energetic improvisational and physical comedy forever changed the medium as we know it. After attending the coveted Julliard School, Williams left to pursue greater things, performing at clubs such as the Holy City Zoo and the Comedy Store in the late '70s. In 1978, his breakout role in "Mork & Mindy" launched his TV career and overall success. His stand-up comedy was reaching a wider audience, and he starred in his first feature film as a lead, "Popeye."

However, his leading role in Barry Levinson's "Good Morning, Vietnam" would bring about a whole new level of fame and recognition. Williams was more than a comedian now; he was an Academy Award-nominated actor. His filmography continued to diversify, and fans remember him fondly for his roles in "Dead Poet's Society," "Good Will Hunting," "The Fisher King," "Aladdin," "Mrs. Doubtfire," "Hook," and many more. In a 1992 interview with Playboy, director Terry Gilliam described Williams' unique star power and talent, saying, "he has the ability to go from manic to mad to tender and vulnerable ... he's the most unique mind on the planet. There's nobody like him out there."

Bob Odenkirk

After accumulating 11 Emmy nominations for his work on the "Breaking Bad" spinoff, "Better Call Saul," Bob Odenkirk has become best-known as the corrupt criminal attorney Saul Goodman. But long before he was conning the justice system, Odenkirk had already had an extensive resume, beginning in 1987 when he was a writer for SNL and before that, mastering his improv and comedy on stages in Chicago. Odenkirk has since expressed his grievances with his early career, telling Deadline, "I learned everything I know [from SNL], and they got nothing out of me. I took what I learned and came to L.A., and I made a career." Odenkirk also shared his thoughts on his stand-up career, noting, "I couldn't stand the confrontational nature of stand-up" and "I couldn't tell a joke more than twice without hating it."

He may have felt he wasn't cut out for stand-up, but he quickly proved sketch comedy was his forte. In 1995, Odenkirk collaborated with fellow comedian David Cross to create the HBO sketch comedy series, "Mr. Show." The series ran for four seasons and was nominated for as many Emmy Awards. Throughout the years, Odenkirk would make guest appearances on various TV shows until Saul Goodman propelled him into mainstream stardom. Odenkirk will next front another AMC series, "Lucky Hank," set to premiere in March 2023.

Jamie Foxx

Everything from Jamie Foxx's career to the origins of his name was conceived in the name of comedy. According to The Independent, the comedian (whose real name is Eric Bishop) started going by the stage name after noticing that women were called upon first during open mic nights. In a bid to also get on stage, he used the gender-neutral name of Jamie and Foxx as a tribute to the late comic, Redd Foxx.

His first acting gig was in 1991 when he joined the cast of the sketch comedy show, "In Living Color," which led to his own sitcom, "The Jamie Foxx Show." His film debut was in the 1992 comedy, "Toys," but it wouldn't be long until Foxx made a dramatic shift in his career. In 2005, he became the third male to receive Academy Award nominations for two different roles in the same year — one for his portrayal of Ray Charles in the biographical film, "Ray," and the other for playing taxi driver Max Durocher in the action-thriller, "Collateral." He won his first Academy Award for the former.

During this time, Foxx's vocals could also be heard all over the radio. Reaching new heights with his music, Foxx's second collaboration with Kanye West, "Gold Digger," remained on the Billboard Hot 100 for ten weeks. Nowadays, Foxx is best known for his acting in roles such as the lead in "Django Unchained," Electro in the "Spider-Man" films, and Walter McMillian in "Just Mercy."

Steve Martin

Multitalented Steve Martin got his first taste of the entertainment industry in 1967 after landing a writing job for the comedy and variety series, "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour." Throughout the next decade, Martin fine-tuned his material, appeared on late-night talk shows, and frequently hosted SNL. With the release of his first comedy album, 1977's "Let's Get Small," Martin began experiencing a new kind of fame. He was selling out arenas, releasing more albums, and winning Grammy Awards. In 1980, he left it all behind. "The act had become so known that in order to go back, I would have had to create an entirely new show. And I wasn't up to it, especially when the opportunity for movies and writing movies came around," Martin revealed in an interview with NPR.

His transition to movies proved to be the right decision. His most popular works born out of the '80s included "¡Three Amigos!," "Little Shop of Horrors," "Planes, Trains and Automobiles," "Roxanne," and "Parenthood." In 2016, he collaborated again with longtime friend, Martin Short, and made a stand-up comeback, and in 2021, the duo premiered their mystery comedy series, "Only Murders in the Building." Unfortunately, this is expected to mark the end of Martin's career. "When this television show is done, I'm not going to seek others. I'm not going to seek other movies. I don't want to do cameos. This is, weirdly, it," Martin revealed to The Hollywood Reporter in a 2022 interview.

Whoopi Goldberg

For better or worse, Whoopi Goldberg's impressive career has been overshadowed by the 16 years and counting of hosting the stay-at-home-mom targeted daytime talk show, "The View," and the controversies that have come from it. After all, she's made history as one of 18 EGOT winners – a title given to those who have won an Emmy, a Grammy, an Academy Award, and a Tony — so surely that hasn't all been for nothing.

Still new to the entertainment world, Goldberg's one-woman comedy show, "The Spook Show," gained enough popularity to be put on Broadway and broadcast to HBO. With a new title, "Whoopi Goldberg," ran from 1984 to 1985. This led to her big break in film, with her leading role in the award-winning "The Color Purple." She didn't slow down from there, and despite her busy schedule, Goldberg continued to perform stand-up occasionally.

Her next big role was in the 1990 film, "Ghost," for which she won the Academy Award for best supporting actress. Other memorable onscreen performances include "Sister Act," "Ghosts of Mississippi," and "Till." Goldberg's acting and comedy put her on the map and opened a world of opportunities. She became the first black woman to host the Academy Awards ceremony, starred in and produced Broadway musicals, hosted a radio show, and she wrote children's books for a time when other work was sparse. Think what you want about her TV personality, but there's no denying Goldberg has done it all.

Ken Jeong

While most of the names on this list follow similar career timelines of stand-up comic turned actor, Ken Jeong stands out thanks to his early career as a physician. He began practicing medicine in 1998 after moving to Los Angeles to pursue comedy simultaneously. When he wasn't working at the hospital, he performed at comedy clubs. That's right, even Hollywood doctors are hustling to make it big. And Jeong's hustle paid off.

Jeong made his film debut in Judd Apatow's comedy "Knocked Up" (in which he ironically played a doctor) and he was ready to go all in and quit his practice to pursue acting full-time. Jeong had more success with movies such as "The Hangover" trilogy, "Role Models," "Ride Along 2," and "Crazy Rich Asians." He also starred in the sitcom, "Community," and created and starred in his own sitcom based on his personal experiences, "Dr. Ken." In 2019, Jeong released his first-ever stand-up special, "You Complete Me, Ho," and appeared as a panelist on the singing competition show, "The Masked Singer." Fans are counting down the days until he makes a comeback to the big screen.

Lily Tomlin

Lily Tomlin began doing stand-up comedy in the '60s and quickly became known for her multiple colorful, original characters. Most of these characters — including the telephone operator Ernestine and philosophical child Edith Ann — made their first appearance in NBC's sketch comedy show, "Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In." Tomlin also incorporated them in her award-winning comedy albums, "This Is A Recording," "And That's The Truth," and "Modern Scream."

In 1975, Tomlin made her film debut in Robert Altman's "Nashville," and in 1977, she debuted on Broadway with her solo show, "Appearing Nitely." Her next solo Broadway show, "The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe," earned her a Tony Award. Before finding huge success playing Frankie Bergstein in Netflix's "Grace and Frankie," Tomlin starred in hits such as "9 to 5," "All of Me," "Grandma," and "80 for Brady." Now everyone's cheering Tomlin during her legendary late-career renaissance.

Tim Allen

Without the dad-core likeness of Tim Allen, we wouldn't have handyman and home improvement show host Tim "The Tool Man" Taylor, space ranger Buzz Lightyear, Santa killer Scott Calvin, and the too-close-for-comfort conservative father Mike Baxter — well, maybe we would, but they wouldn't be the same. During the '80s stand-up comedy boom, Allen became a regular performer at The Comedy Store, waiting for his big break. That break came when Allen starred as the lead in the ABC sitcom, "Home Improvement."

1994 was the year for Allen. "Home Improvement" was enjoying huge ratings success, Allen made his film debut with the now Christmas classic, "The Santa Clause," and his book, "Don't Stand Too Close to a Naked Man," topped The New York Times bestseller list. Allen kept a steady career and returned to TV with the sitcom, "Last Man Standing," from 2011 to 2017. Today, when he's not complaining about cancel culture, Allen is supplying fans with healthy dosages of nostalgia with his reprised roles as Scott Calvin in Disney+'s "The Santa Clauses" and Buzz Lightyear in the rumored fifth installment of "Toy Story."

Tiffany Haddish

Tiffany Haddish has credited comedy with saving her life. After growing up in troubling situations, at the age of 17, her social worker suggested she join the Laugh Factory Comedy Camp. That experience gave her the confidence she needed to continue pursuing comedy as an outlet. 2017 marked the beginning of something greater for Haddish. Since her breakout role in the comedy film, "Girls Trip," Haddish has stayed booked and busy. That same year, her stand-up comedy special, "Tiffany Haddish: She Ready! From the Hood to Hollywood," premiered on Showtime, she released a bestselling memoir, "The Last Black Unicorn," and won an Emmy Award for outstanding guest actress in a comedy series for hosting SNL.

In the years since Haddish has blown up as an actor. She starred in the sitcom, "The Last O.G.," in addition to comedy films "Night School," "Nobody's Fool," and "Like a Boss." She also released her first comedy album, "Black Mitzvah," earning her a Grammy Award for best comedy album. It seems as though there's nothing Haddish can't accomplish, and before we know it, she'll be taking over the world and making it a better place.

Jim Carrey

Jim Carrey is a modern-day slapstick trailblazer who can contort his face and voice in ways we may never fully understand. "In Living Color" started his claim to fame in 1990 and gave Carrey the recognization he needed to break into the film industry. Years before, he was garnering a humble audience in Toronto with his impressionist stand-up comedy. Once he started selling out larger clubs, Carrey made the move to Los Angeles. He appeared on "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson" and "Late Night with David Letterman" and landed some minor movie roles, but he could never make it past the auditioning process for SNL — even after three attempts.

Carrey rose to fame faster than the speed of light. The '90s gave us "Ace Ventura: Pet Detective," "The Mask," "Dumb and Dumber," "Batman Forever," "The Cable Guy," "Liar Liar," and "The Truman Show." Around this time, Carrey started to become known for his dramatic roles in films such as "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" and "The Number 23." His career has slowed down since, with the live-action "Sonic the Hedgehog" films being his most prominent endeavors as of late.

In an interview with Variety in 2022, Carrey pondered retirement: "Well, I'm retiring. Yeah, probably. I'm being fairly serious." He added, "I really like my quiet life and I really like putting paint on canvas and I really love my spiritual life and I feel like ... I have enough. I've done enough. I am enough."