Comic relief characters are written to try and make us laugh. Some of them are better than others. Join us as we discuss some of the best and worst comic relief characters in film.
Each month the Cinelinx staff will write a handful of articles covering a specified film-related topic. These articles will be notified by the Movielinx banner. Movielinx is an exploration and discussion of our personal connections with film. We’ll even submit reviews of the films we discuss so that you can get a better idea of what we’re talking about. April is National Humor Month, and because of this we will honor comedy in film. What makes you laugh? Feel free to add your own comments or reviews of movies that tickle your funny bone.
Comic relief characters play an important part in film. They can be major characters or minor ones, but their purpose is always the same - to make you laugh. Some of them are important to the story while others could have otherwise been left out with no ill effects on the plot. They are most common in comedy films, but have their place in action and dramas as well. As there are many different types of comedy, there are also different types of comic relief characters. Similarly, because each of us has a different sense of humor, some comic relief characters may appeal to us personally more than others.
The question becomes, what makes a comic relief character great? What makes them horrible? Join us as we discuss the comic relief characters we think are good and the ones we think are bad. Below each name is a description that explains our perspective as far as why they belong in their respective category. Below are some of our selections for good and bad comic relief characters that we came up with in no particular order. Which comic relief characters are your favorites? Which are the ones you can’t stand? Did we leave any names out of either group? Share your comments below!
Kronk - Emperor’s New Groove
Disney films are full of good and bad comic relief characters, but very few of them are the highlight of their film. Kronk is the best part of Emperor’s New Groove. Kronk is the not-so-smart lackey of the antagonist, Yzma whose own brain is always at odds with itself. Voiced perfectly by Patrick Warburton, Kronk is not just slapstick humor. The comic absurdity that he constantly finds himself in keeps the film light hearted and makes up for the somewhat boring main characters. More importantly though, when watching this film I always want more of Kronk. That, if anything is a sign of an excellent comic relief character.
Mongo - Blazing Saddles
Because Mongo, enough said. The character is brilliant through the portrayal of contemplative philosophy underlying brute strength and living life in an uncomplicated manner. He is a great example of a typical Mel Brooks character; riffing on something familiar from film or pop culture while also commenting on some larger picture. Mongo may not be featured heavily in his film, but for those moments that he is present he makes memorable impression.
Brick Tamland - Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy / Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues
This is the role that made a lot of people start paying attention to Steve Carell. In this role he really gets to show off his comedic genius and as a result both of the Anchorman films are better because of it. Brick is such a great character because you never really know what’s going on inside his head or what he will do next. As a result, you laugh out of shear surprise because of what he does and says. He is a very absurd character, but that absurdity helps to take some of the bite out of the crude humor present in these films.
Harpo Marx - Any Marx Brothers Film
Each of the Marx brothers had a specific role that was similar in each of their films. Groucho was frequently the main character and was responsible for interacting with other (non-Marx brothers) characters and moving the plot forward. Chico was often the schemer, teaming up with Harpo and stereotyping ethnic characters. Zeppo was always a serious character, usually as a counter to his brother’s antics. Harpo was the silent one that relied a lot on physical comedy. He often stole scenes from his brothers with his humorous body language and excellent comedic timing. He is rarely serious and always up to no good. Although Groucho made the Marx brothers famous, Harpo’s abilities made them memorable.
Jay and Silent Bob - Clerks / Mallrats / Chasing Amy / Dogma / Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back / Clerks II
Jay and Silent Bob are a pop culture staple. They are effective in their roles and Kevin Smith really understands how to use them well in his films. They were so well received by audiences that Kevin Smith has included them in most of his films and has even given them starring roles a couple times. Very few other comic relief characters have been as effective as Jay and Silent Bob. While they might not be as universally loved as some other characters we’ve selected, they have by far had the greatest impact and that says a lot about their success.
Alan - The Hangover / The Hangover: Part II / The Hangover: Part III
Alan is a great comedic relief character because he adds a type of comedy that is different from the main focus of each of the three Hangover films. Most of the comedy in these films focuses on trying to be over the top. Most of Alan’s best moments are more humble, and personal. This juxtaposition helps to make the film more appealing and entertaining to a wider audience. Furthermore, although Alan is aloof and fairly off-putting with his antics and general demeanor, he gets the audience’s sympathy vote.
Donkey - Shrek 1 - 4
It is true that Pixar’s films have their fair share of comic relief characters, but none of them made it onto this list. Instead, we’ve chosen a character from one of Pixar’s competitors. Donkey is much more than just comic relief, and that is what makes him such a great character. He is a major character in the franchise, a sidekick, and when he needs to, can show sincerity. Voiced by a great comedic talent (Eddie Murphy), Donkey is funny for everyone. He brings a lot of energy and enthusiasm to the plot and helps to counter Shrek’s rather monotonous personality.
Sheriff JW Pepper - Live and Let Die / The Man With the Golden Gun
The Rodger Moore era of James Bond brought a lighter tone to the franchise. The movies started to move away from the typical spy movie intrigue to entertain audiences and instead relied more on slapstick, crude jokes, and goofy characters. By far the worst of them all is Sheriff JW Pepper, who prevents Live and Let Die from being great and ruins The Man With the Golden Gun completely. His role in these films is to portray a stereotypical racist, dumb, and loud American to British audiences. He’s not funny, incredibly grating, often insulting, and turns a beloved franchise into crap all by himself.
Jar Jar Binks - Star Wars Episodes 1-3
There are not enough adjectives to describe how awful Jar Jar is at comic relief. From the grating voice to the slapstick movements, this well-meaning buffoon is too over the top. His character could have been written so much better because of the role he plays in the Galactic Senate, which is why he's the worst comic relief for me. He's like a totally schizo mix of traits that tries to encompass more than his character should.
Mr. I. Y. Yunioshi - Breakfast at Tiffany’s
I heavily debated putting this character on this list due to the recent passing of Mickey Rooney, but I decided that this is such a horrible character it HAD to be on this list. Luckily, Mickey Rooney’s career did not suffer from this mistake and in reality few people actually remember him in this role when you consider all of the great things he had been part of in his career. Mr. Yunioshi is a horrible comic relief character because he tries to make the audience laugh with racist stereotypes and horrible jokes. There is no way that this character could have been allowed on screen these days and I’m surprised the film is as highly regarded despite this dishonorable inclusion.
Herman “Fergee” Ferguson - Judge Dredd
This is a character with compounded horribleness. Not only should Rob Schneider never have been cast as “Fergee” in this film, the role should never have existed in the first place. Rob Schneider and action film should never be in the same sentence. There is nothing redeemable about this character. He just gets in the way and makes stupid remarks. I suppose they thought he was kind of cute in a helpless point of way but Schneider doesn’t have the talent to pull it off. Every scene that he is in is a cruel reminder of the terrible atrocities that Hollywood has committed while trying to make lots of money. The worst part is that even without “Fergee” in it, Judge Dredd would still be a waste of film. (Also, consider Rob Schneider in Demolition Man).
Skids and Mudflap - Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
While the second transformers film was a far cry from laudable filmmaking, it was made worse by its comic relief characters. Michael Bay’s films frequently include comic relief characters, and usually they are pretty good. That’s not the case here. Skids and Mudflap are racist, dumb, and annoying. Racist because of the way they look and talk, dumb because it makes no sense why an alien robot would talk and act like this, and annoying because you will cringe whenever they are on screen. They distract from the entertainment of the film by making us wonder what goes through writer’s heads and why anyone would have ever thought including them was a good idea.
Gus Gorman - Superman III
Gus Gorman belongs on this list because he basically ruined a franchise all by himself. Played by the late Richard Pryor, this character had no reason to be in the film. It’s difficult to blame Pryor because this type of role was what he was known for, but in a COMEDY film, not a comic book ACTION film. The writers diverged from what made the original film and its sequel popular, and instead tried to make the third film more entertaining. Gorman just came off as annoying and his constant jeering was an insult to everything that the Superman franchise had become.
Hannibal King - Blade III
If you read the above inclusion on this list, and then you saw Hannibal King (played by Ryan Reynolds), you may think you are seeing a trend. For some reason writers are seemingly running out of ideas for characters in the third installments of comic book franchises and as a result have to insert a comic relief characters. (This could be true - look at Spider Man 3). Anyway, Hannibal King is on this list because he tries too hard to be cool. Every line he has is trying to get a chuckle out of the audience and it doesn’t work. In fact, it’s annoying and really out of place.
Leo Getz - Lethal Weapon 2 - 4
Getz is goofy at best and a franchise killer at worst. Here we have a set of films about two very experienced cops doing their thing and along comes this stereotypical ineffective man to cramp their style. He is annoying, repetitive, and, because his jokes often revolve around race, incredibly offensive. The worst part is that he is in three films. It’s possible that the writers were trying to use him to draw attention away from the often serious subject matter of the story, but Mel Gibson and Danny Golver showed in the first film that they could handle that comedic responsibility themselves. Therefore, not only is Getz a comic relief dud, but his character is completely pointless.