10 Actors Who Prove Smart People Make the Best Dumb Characters
every TV series or movie will feature at least one funny character and in most
cases that character is funny because they’re, well, kind of dumb. This is
because more often than not a film or television series simply needs a dumb or
dopey character for comic relief to engage and entertain the audience and/or
diffuse tension or drama. Most times, such a character is simply a stock
character – that is, a one-dimensional stereotype that looks, acts and says
predictable things. Every so often, though, a different kind of dumb character
will come along. One that is an actual character – that could very well be
someone that people might encounter in their day-to-day life. Basically, someone
that is as unique and intricate as a real person.
Such a role requires a real performance, for which the producers will need a
real actor – and a smart one at that. In fact, the dumber the character, the
smarter the actor playing them needs to be, because they need to be smart enough
to understand how unintelligent the character is. In order to play an
unintelligent character, you need someone who is the polar opposite, as they
need to have an objective view of the character that makes up who they are and
explains why and how they do things in each and every aspect of their lives.
This is why smart actors play the best dumb characters.
10) Nolan Gould,
Luke Dunphy (‘Modern Family’)
If ever one needed proof that a smart person is needed to play a dumb
character, they need look no further than Nolan Gould from the television
series, ‘Modern Family’ (2009 – present). He portrays Luke, the youngest child
of the Dunphy family, and the dumbest character on the show. The character is
noted for saying some not so intelligent things, putting himself in potentially
harmful situations and delivering some of the series’ best one-liners.
Gould is far from the character that he depicts in the series. In reality,
Gould is smart – both a smart actor and also just smart in general. A member of
Mensa, he had already graduated high school at the age of 13.
Working in the film and television requires a level of maturity and
self-awareness the likes of which few other industries demand, given the
physical and emotional toll such an intense and random industry takes. Child
actors are especially vulnerable to both the direct and inadvertent pressures
that entail working in the industry – an industry that isn’t known for empathy.
It appears Gould’s academic intelligence is matched by his emotional
intelligence, as he sees the role of Luke for what it is. He has stated that he
has no illusions about the industry and his future in it. While he’s on top
now, he knows that it could all end at any moment – much like many child actor’s
Rather than take the role, the industry or even himself too serious, Gould
simply sees the role as a bit of fun that he just happens to get paid for. He
has said that away from the camera he is often expected to act a certain way –
maturely – because of his above average intelligence, so his role on the show
allows him to essentially enjoy his childhood and just be a kid – and do, say
and make all the dumb mistakes kids make.
Rockwell, Guy Fleegman (‘Galaxy Quest’)
Starring opposite A-listers Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver and Alan Rickman, Sam
Rockwell almost stole the attention from the bigger stars of the movie, ‘Galaxy
Quest’ (1999). The film details the misadventures of the over-the-hill stars of
a cheesy science fiction television series from the 1960s.
In a relatively minor role for the film, Rockwell illustrated why he is one
of the most underrated actors of his generation, playing Guy Fleegman. With a
knack for finding the dopey lovability of almost every character he has ever
played, Rockwell brought the same amount of charisma to a character that wasn’t
really supposed to be a character at all, but rather just provide a bit of
comedic relief, with the odd one-liner here and there.
However, Rockwell managed to find humanity and likability in a character that
could very well have been really annoying were it not for the depth and heart
that Rockwell managed to bring to the role.
LeBlanc, Matt LeBlanc (‘Episodes’)
Typically, with the success of the television series ‘Friends’ (1994 – 2004)
each member of the show was flooded with offers for various movie roles. Given
that this was an era when television was still seen as being second best to film
in terms of both an artistic and critical sense – that is, movie stars were
A-Grade celebrities, while TV stars were B-Grade – each member of the cast
pursued their cinematic opportunities – each with varying degrees of success.
Matthew Perry starred in ‘The Whole Nine Yards’ (2000) and its sequel ‘The
Whole Ten Yards’ (2004). Courtney Cox did the ‘Scream’ movies – ‘Scream’ (1996),
‘Scream 2’ (1997) and ‘Scream 3’ (2000). Lisa Kudrow had success with ‘Romy and
Michele's High School Reunion’ (1997), ‘The Opposite of Sex’ (1998) and David
Schwimmer perhaps would have had success if he hadn’t turned down the starring
role that ultimately went to Will Smith in ‘Men in Black’ (1997) – yes, really,
Schwimmer turned down the role!
Then there was Matt LeBlanc. His first significant foray into film was the
modernized adaptation of ‘Lost in Space’ (1998), a remake of the TV series
of the same name from the 1960s. It was a commercial and critical failure. It
seemed that LeBlanc should have perhaps just stuck to television.
Then the medium of television changed with the sudden critical and commercial
success of television productions such as ‘The Sopranos’ (1999 – 2007), ‘Oz’
(1997 – 2003) and ‘Six Feet Under’ (2001 – 2005). Suddenly, directors, writers
and actors, who had just years earlier scoffed at the notion of working on television, were now rushing to work in the
Television is now seen as the more significant medium, between it and film,
which suddenly changed LeBlanc’s career path.
While LeBlanc was not strong enough to carry a TV series on his own – a fact
that became abundantly clear with the ‘Friends’ spin-off, ‘Joey’ (2004 – 2006),
both a commercial and critical flop – he was certainly a strong supporting
character, which seemed all he would ever be.
Then along came the television series ‘Episodes’ (2011 – present). The series
tells the story of an English couple working in the television industry, who
move to America to make an American adaptation of their successful TV series.
The show parodies anything and everything relating to the production process of
a television series – specifically, how the American television industry often
(usually inevitably) ruins adaptations of international (usually English)
LeBlanc plays hyper-real version of himself and he’s much less likable than
Joey from ‘Friends’. While the character is dumb or at least dopey, it’s a
different kind of dumb – in fact, it’s a smart kind of dumb. The character isn’t
like his previous character Joey, who would often say and/or do something stupid
– often in a slapstick fashion. Rather, it’s a massive departure from the role
that made him famous, but it’s arguably his best performance.
Much in the vein of Larry David’s depiction of himself in ‘Curb Your
Enthusiasm’ (2000 – present), LeBlanc’s performance is satirical and oftentimes
quite dark, as he embodies some of the worst elements of the film and
television industry. LeBlanc illustrates this through the deeply questionable
character of his tongue-in-cheek depiction of himself, which plays on and
emphasizes the asinine media depiction and public perception of celebrities.
McAdams, Regina George (‘Mean Girls’)
From the very start of the casting process for the film ‘Mean Girls’ (2004) the
film makers knew that the casting for Regina George, the “Queen Bee” would be
crucial. They knew that they needed an actress that was both smart and, in
reality, the polar opposite of the character that she would portray. They found
what they were looking for in Rachael McAdams.
Interestingly, Amanda Seyfried – who would later establish herself as solid
actress in her own right, with roles in ‘Mamma Mia’ (2008), ‘Dear John’ (2010)
and ‘Les Misérables’ – originally auditioned for the role, but she didn’t quite
fit. However, she was later cast as one of George’s minions – the especially
dumb one, Karen Smith – again illustrating why you need smart actors to play
Arguably the most intricate character in the film, McAdams excelled at
playing a character that was both mean-spirited and not so bright but also
someone who, despite their mean-spirited personality, becomes at least somewhat
likable in the end.
It was a role that was a big ask that could easily have become a caricature
rather than a legitimate character. She could have been immensely unlikable to
the point of drawing nothing but apathy from the audience. Rather, McAdams
succeeded to humanize the character enough that the audience wants to see
something bad happen to her – just not too bad.
Alexander, George Costanza (‘Seinfeld’)
It’s weird. It’s kind of both an insult and also a huge compliment to Jason
Alexander’s talents that of all the supporting characters on the television
series ‘Seinfeld’ (1989 – 1998) that got most of the attention from fans and
critics alike, it was Michael Richards for his depiction of the iconic character
Cosmo Kramer. While Richards is deserving of his praise, Alexander is certain
entitled to praise for his performance, as George Costanza.
It’s a testament to Alexander’s performance on the series that many people
honestly believed that he was simply playing himself when, in fact, that
couldn’t have been further from the truth.
In truth Alexander is a highly trained, multi-talented performer – a veteran
of the stage, Alexander possesses many unexpected talents, such as the ability
to sing and dance. Furthermore, he’s also an accomplished voice-actor, appearing
in numerous animated productions. One of his most impressive but largely
overlooked roles, which he played concurrently with the run of ‘Seinfeld’ was as
the voice of the titular character of the animated series ‘Duckman’ (1994 –
1997), which was a critical success, though unfortunately not commercial one.
The fact that Alexander will be remembered for playing a character who was
pretty much always the butt of each and every joke throughout the series of
‘Seinfeld’ it’s unfortunate but sadly kind of fitting – as the symbolism echoes
Alexander’s own largely unappreciated accomplishments.
Simmons, Mac MacGuff (‘Juno’)
J.K. Simmons is one of those actors that anyone who has ever so much as glanced
at a television set has almost certainly seen on some television show or movie,
but whose name they are completely unfamiliar with. Show people a picture of the
Simmons and, while people might struggle to place just where they’ve seen him
exactly, the answer is simple – in pretty much everything.
Perhaps people have seen him in ‘Law and Order’ (1990 – 2010), first as a
criminal then later as a psychologist. Maybe it was ‘Oz’ as a Neo Nazi. Then
again, it could have been the ‘Spiderman’ trilogy – ‘Spider-Man’ (2002),
‘Spider-Man 2’ (2004), Spider-Man 2 (2007) – or perhaps – and most likely –
people are familiar with him as, Mac MacGuff, the titular character’s father in
the film ‘Juno’ (2007).
The unusual and remarkable thing about Simmons’ career is that he is
essentially a character actor, who is brought in to play a generally
one-dimensional character. Here’s the thing, though. A character actor tends to
only play a specific type of character – that is, sleazy businessman, corrupt
politicians etc. Basically, just stereotypes, as many actors can generally only
play one type of character. Simmons thrives playing a variety of characters,
particularly comedic roles.
One such great comedic performance of Simmons’ was in the Coen Brother’s
film, ‘The Ladykillers’ (2004). It was unfortunate that the film was maligned by
critics, due to the fact that, although the film was still good, it was a Coen
Brothers film and not so great when compared to their other films.
It’s perhaps fitting, however, that Simmons would gain much of his
recognition in the public’s eyes for his performance in ‘Juno.’ Even when
playing a smart character, Simmons brings to the character a lovable dopiness
that speaks to the heart of the character and the intelligence, intricacy and
depth of Simmons himself.
Glover, Troy Barnes (‘Community’)
An accomplished stand-up comedian, writer, actor and singer, the depth and
versatility of Donald Glover’s talents is freaky. He gained attention in the
public eye for his depiction as Troy Barnes, the emotionally immature but
hilarious and lovable jock, in ‘Community’ (2009 – present), though his career
in the entertainment industry had much deeper roots.
Glover is not only a smart actor but a multi-talented artist with a
successful music career, under the name Childish Gambino, where he applies his
musical ability to numerous genres of the medium.
Though he is yet to do anything that truly stretches his range as an actor,
he certainly understands the art of comedy – on numerous levels. His first
endeavors into comedy took the form of stand-up and internet videos, which
ultimately earned him a spot on the writing staff of the critically and
commercially successful television series ‘30 Rock’ (2006 – 2013).
His stand-up comedy itself is a mix of slapstick, awkward humor and social
commentary, echoing the intelligence and brilliance of one of the smartest,
funniest, multi-talented performers in each and every field of entertainment
he’s involved in.
White, Rose Nylund (‘The Golden Girls’)
A testament to Betty White’s talents as an entertainer, her remarkable career
spans over 70 years. She initially made a name for herself in ‘The Mary Tyler
Moore Show’ (1970 – 1977) as Sue Ann Nivens, the scornful, man-eater. However,
it would be her later role in ‘The Golden Girls’ (1985 – 1992) as Rose Nylund,
the dim-witted but loveable country girl at heart, for which she would be best
She was originally intended to play the character of Blanch, a man-eater,
which was similar to her role on ‘The Mary Tyler Moore Show.’ However, reluctant
to be typecast and eager to display her acting range, she instead pursued the
role of Nylund and quickly earned a place as a fan favorite and even iconic
Ironically, given that she took the role of Rose to avoid typecasting, White
is often best remembered for her role as Rose and little else form her earlier
years. Nevertheless, White has often used people’s misconception about her and
her acting ability to catch people off-guard and have some fun at their expense.
Though she looks and often acts like a sweet little old lady, she loves to
counter that image with actions and comments that counter the public’s image.
Even now in her 90s, White still loves to shock, amuse and entertain her
audiences – an audience that is multi-generational, given her vast appeal, to
the young and old alike, due largely to the multi-talented actress’ sharp wit,
mischievousness and sometimes even dark or blue sense of humor that belies her
2) Bryan Cranston,
Hal (‘Malcolm in the Middle’)
Most people, when they think of the comedic ability of Bryan Cranston, will
remember his role in ‘Malcolm in the Middle’ (2000 – 2006), in which he played
the patriarch of the comically dysfunctional family.
But he, in fact, first illustrated his comedic talents on the television
series ‘Seinfeld’ (1989 – 1998) as Tim Whatley, a dentist who converted to
Judaism just so he could make Jew jokes without repercussion.
It’s hard to say which character best illustrates the depth of Cranston’s
comedic and overall acting ability. While Hal from ‘Malcolm in the Middle’ was a
brilliant throwback to classic slapstick comedy, Whatley was a much more subtle
and satirical depiction of the absurdity, pretentiousness and hackney elements
While it’s debatable which character is better, there’s no doubt of
Cranston’s phenomenal acting ability, especially when one contrasts the
performances with Cranston’s current character, Walter White, a high school
chemistry teacher who turns to drug manufacturing to provide for his family,
when he is diagnosed with cancer, in the series, ‘Breaking Bad’ (2008 –
Understandably, it’s a massive departure. One that many other actors would
struggle to pull off, given how easy (and often inevitable) it is for actors to
be typecast, especially when one considers his past iconic comedic roles.
Rather, the role illustrates that Cranston is one of the greatest, smartest and
most intricate actors, not just currently working in the industry but, arguably,
of all time.
1) Don Knotts,
Barney Fife (‘The Andy Griffith Show’)
Given his brilliant and uncanny knack for slapstick humor and perfect comedic
timing, it’s remarkable that Don Knotts began his foray into entertainment as
the straight man in a comedic duo. His initial attempt involved a ventriloquism
act, in which Knotts was the straight man to a wise-cracking dummy.
Furthermore, the character that Knotts would become best known for, Barney
Fife, was originally intended to be the straight man to the farcical comedy of
his co-star, Andy Griffith. While the combination had initially worked in the
film, ‘No Time for Sergeants’ (1958), in which Knotts played the straight man to
Griffith’s comedian, when it came to the production of the television sitcom, ‘The
Andy Griffith Show’ (1960 – 1968), in which the two would again appear as a
comedic duo, Knotts thought it would work best if Griffith was the straight man.
Knott’s character was self-aggrandizing, oddly romantic and despite his
claims otherwise, always wrong. Knott’s played the pathetic and comical sides of
the character with genuine heart, endearing him to audiences and critics alike,
earning him three Emmy Awards for his depiction.
Knott’s would leave the series and pursue a film career. Years later, he
would return to television in ‘Three’s Company’ (1977 – 1984) as Ralph Furley,
an ostentatious, nerdy and somewhat sleazy though still lovable landlord, which
he would make into yet another iconic television character.
The character was initially intended to be just a minor role, though Knott’s
performance quickly had the writers writing him as many extra lines as they
could. A contract dispute between Knott’s co-star, Suzanne Somers and the
studio, led to her leaving the show, which resulted in Knott’s character
essentially taking over the leading role on the show. Thus, introducing him to a
younger generation and yet again ingraining his unique comedic style and talent
in television history.
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