Some comedians are very good in their specific genres. For example: Jon Stewart is a solid new anchor anchor and interviewer. He’s great in debates and in Q&A’s. He’s not as good in sketches.
Another example: Zero Punctuation does filthy, fast, scathing video game reviews for the Escapist. That’s his genre – he’s very good at it. Outside of his genre – in talk shows, Q&A’s, etc., he’s not in his element.
To me the mark of a versatile comedian is they can transcend genre. If you see a someone who’s funny in a movie and then find out later that they started in stand up – they transcend genre. Especially if their stand-up is good.
Off the top of my head:
- Eddie Murphy (standup, sketches – SNL, comedy – Beverly Hills Cop, drama , voice acting – Shrek was great in sketches on SNL. He’s also good in stand-up. He’s also good in Beverly Hills Cop. He’s also pretty good in dramas. He’s versatile.
- Adam Sandler (standup, comedy – Happy Gilmore, romantic comedy – The Wedding Singer, drama – Punch Drunk Love, sketches – SNL)
- Jack Black (assuming Tenacious D is both music and comedy/performance, comedy – School of Rock / High Fidelity)
- Steve Martin (standup, comedy – The Jerk, drama – The Spanish Prisoner, sketch comedy – SNL, plus banjo music, plus novels…)
- Jim Carrey (stand-up, sketch – In Living Color, comedy – Dumb and Dumber, drama – The Truman Show (many here would say Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which I am still mum on ’till I see it (I will, eventually, see it)).
- Bob Newhart
- Chris Rock – I think he’s amazing in stand-up and anything he’s off-script. Anything he’s on script limits him, except maybe Louie.
- Mike Birbiglia is great at stand-up. He’s transitioned into stage and film, but largely through his comedy bits. It’ll be interesting to see if he can transition from there.
- Louie C.K. – he’s seems to currently be the gold standard in stand-up, and Louie (the TV show) is amazing, so maybe it’s him as writer, producer, and director. I haven’t seen the new Woody Allen movie so I don’t know if he can act, but he struggles on SNL when he’s on. Don’t get me wrong, that is more than pretty much everyone else.
- Steven Colbert is good at improv, good in sketches, good at interviewing, and is a great voice actor (Harvey Dent Attorney at Law!). We’ll see soon how he does as a traditional late-night show host.
- Dave Chappel – stand-up is amazing, and writing /acting for Chappel Show is amazing, but he’s just himself. I would say the same for Jerry Seinfeld – amazing stand-up and show, but I can’t see him play anything except himself.