Yesterday's Hunks Are Today's Male Comedians

What Women Really Think
March 26 2013 12:10 PM

Male Comedians Are Now Hunks, Not Schlubs

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James Marsden's willingness to be weird is winning.

Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images

Over at Vulture, Kyle Buchanan asks an important question: "Where are Hollywood's next male comic superstars?" A generation of men like Will Ferrell and Jim Carrey are aging into different sorts of roles, Buchanan argues, and funny newcomers like Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill and Jason Segel just can’t promise studios the same box office returns. What’s more,

Even the three actors anchoring Hollywood’s biggest comedy franchise, The Hangover, haven’t really parlayed that success into comic superstardom: Bradley Cooper is going the respected-actor route, Ed Helms hasn’t yet been able to break through in another comedy, and though Zach Galifianakis comes the closest to comic superstardom of the three, he couldn’t even get The Campaign (where he starred with Will Ferrell) to $100 million, which used to be considered the bare minimum mark of a true A-lister.
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Maybe Vulture—and Hollywood—is just looking in the wrong places. While comedy used to be the province of men with less-than-matinee-idol looks, some of the most entertaining comedic performances in recent years have come from men who have acted more like classic comediennes, proving they're funny in spite of their looks.

Vulture bills 21 Jump Street to Jonah Hill, but the real surprise and pleasure of that film was Channing Tatum. Long billed as a meathead despite deft turns in A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints and She's The Man, Tatum wasn't just game, he was good. Watching him dive through a gong in a high school band room while stoned out of his mind was a revelation. You saw that his big body could be used for silly means as well as serious, punishing ones. And Magic Mike, the Steven Soderbergh movie based in part on Tatum's experience working as a stripper, let him have an easy, comic air as he did hilariously libidinous things with his body. The movie's point was the same one Tatum himself has been making through his recent choices of projects: There's a brain under all that brawn.

James Marsden, who had even more of a pretty-boy reputation, has also pursued goofiness in recent years to demonstrate that he's more than a starlet. Since the end of his run as Scott Summers in the X-Men movies, Marsden's been a dementedly enthusiastic dance-show host in Hairspray, a deliciously self-absorbed prince in Enchanted, and Liz Lemon's hotdog-selling husband in 30 Rock. Up next? Among other projects, a turn in Anchorman: The Legend Continues, the franchise that helped make Will Ferrell a superstar.

Maybe the comedy superstar torch isn't going to pass from one generation of schlubs to the next, but from the Ferrells and Adam Sandlers and Jim Carreys to a new breed of funny guy—one who, like women, has to prove that just because he looks great doesn't mean he can't be a brilliant, subversive goof.

Alyssa Rosenberg writes about culture and television for Slate’s “XX Factor” blog. She also contributes to ThinkProgress and theatlantic.com.

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