Playing dark versions of yourself has become hip in TV comedy, as actors blur the line between what’s real and what’s just funny.
You’ll see it in shows like Curb Your Enthusiasm, Don’t Trust The B*tch In Apartment 23, and the recent Episodes – in which former Friends star Matt LeBlanc plays a dumber, nastier, well-endowed version of himself . Why actors take these roles is hard to say. Maybe they want to change their image; toughen up how the public looks at them. Or maybe they just need the work.
Either way, the roles are idiot-proof. Nobody is going to claim you were unconvincing as yourself, right? Here’s a few of the better real fakers:
WIL WHEATON (BIG BANG THEORY) – The much-hated Star Trek: The Next Generation nerd made a good choice in taking this recurring role as a mean version of himself (and Sheldon’s arch-nemesis). Not like Wheaton was doing much else. In one episode, Sheldon refers to Wil as “the Jar Jar Binks of the Star Trek universe”. That’s about right:
ADAM WEST (FAMILY GUY) – The former Batman revitalized his career by playing the so-dumb-he’s-dangerous Mayor West on the animated Family Guy. It’s a bit of a shame West took so long to find his way back to TV. He’s pretty great playing himself all deadpan and stupid:
JACK BENNY (THE JACK BENNY SHOW) – Benny was the originator of the playing-yourself comedy show – an inspiration for later series like Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm and The Larry Sanders Show. The show mixed Benny on stage with Benny in ‘real’ life. Frankly, I never saw a clip of Benny later in life where he didn’t act like this same befuddled, egocentric character. Play the fiction long enough and maybe it becomes your reality:
DAVID DUCHOVNY (THE LARRY SANDERS SHOW) – Duchovny’s recurring role as himself got real weird in the later episodes as it appeared David had developed a creepy crush on fictional talk show host Sanders. The role helped Duchovny show some comedic chops beyond his straight-faced X-Files character:
JAMIE-LYNN SIGLER (ENTOURAGE) – Although many celebs played darker versions of themselves on Entourage, the former Sopranos star took it one step further when she gave chubby dude Turtle some ’release’ on a long plane flight. Does that make her a good girl, a bad girl, or a very very bad girl? They later went out (fictionally, and maybe for real…):
LIAM NEESON (LIFE’S TOO SHORT) : Creator Ricky Gervais had great success casting celebrities in funny versions of themselves on his previous comedy Extras (Robert DeNiro and the novelty nudie pen comes to mind). But he really took it to the limit in this series about real dwarf actor Warwick Davis. In this scene, everyone in the room (Gervais, co-creator Stephen Merchant, Liam Neeson and Davis) are playing variations on themselves:
JAMES VAN DER BEEK (DON’T TRUST THE B*TCH IN APARTMENT 23) – Maybe I’m cynical, but this sitcom role strikes me as a desperate attempt by the former Dawson’s Creek star to up his acting cred. And it might have worked. Van Der Beek is really the only reason to watch this comedy – playing an egocentric and and far more successful version of himself. Here’s a promo that’s funnier than the show:
LARRY DAVID (CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM) – I hope the real Larry ain’t half as crazy and uptight as this guy – though I’m not so sure. He’s been playing this version of himself so long, maybe he doesn’t even know anymore. Not hard to see where the inspiration for George (on David’s previous show Seinfeld) came from: