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"There is no me. I do not exist. There used to be a me, but I had it surgically removed."

 Interviewer: Are you hilarious offscreen?

Rowan Atkinson: Definitely not, as this interview is probably proving.

Exactly What It Says on the Tin: The comedy counterpart of Mean Character, Nice Actor.

Some people have a great talent for comedy, and are absolutely hilarious onscreen. Everyone expects them to be hilarious all the time. Not the case. Comedy is difficult to do well, and often takes a lot of planning and writing. These comedians are some of the greatest in the field, but they were/are very serious or dry in real life.

Note that a true inversion would not simply be a funny actor who plays serious roles, but a comedian who plays deadpan and is actually hilarious off screen. See Zeppo Marx below.

To their friends and family who knew them before they became famous there's a hint of Beware the Quiet Ones.


  • Al Pacino is notable for--among other things--having none of his on-screen charisma in Real Life, if interviews are to be trusted. He's pretty interesting in the documentary Looking for Richard, but admittedly he's talking about theater and it's his own damn documentary.
  • Woody Allen, while he wrote many hilarious movies, is apparently unable to tell jokes in Real Life. He admitted himself that he's a pretty boring person and many of his colleagues confirmed that.
    • Allen initially rose to fame as a stand-up comedian, so perhaps it's more that he's boring and unfunny when he's not using the comedic persona he's created.
  • Rowan Atkinson, famous for his role as Mr. Bean, among other things, finds it difficult to be witty spontaneously. As a result, interviews are kind of dull. He is also a maddening perfectionist.
  • Tony Hancock could be hilarious on stage, TV and radio, but was notoriously shy and introspective in real life, as witness his rather nervous replies to his Face to Face interview. This introspection was a major factor in his eventual suicide.
  • Julian Barrett of The Mighty Boosh is extremely nervous in interviews, and very quiet indeed when separated from Noel Fielding.
    • Although, in an interview, Noel says he is actually really funny, but just doesn't realize it.
  • Peter Sellers (from The Goon Show, the original Pink Panther movies, Dr. Strangelove, etc.) was known for this. His friends thought he was kind of weird and quiet but as soon as he was given a character to play he was super animated and hysterical. Directors described him as not having any real personality of his own -- which made him a perfect actor.
    • In his The Muppet Show appearance, he's told by Kermit the Frog that he can relax and act like himself when he's not onstage. He replies with the page quote above. This was put in after explaining to the writers that he can't "be himself".
    • This probably made him the Only Sane Man during his days on The Goon Show, as his co-stars were, somehow, even weirder off-air.
  • Christopher Eccleston can definitely be silly and eccentric when he's acting, but he's rather calm and flat while being interviewed.
  • Robert De Niro can have some of the most devastating comic timing in the room, but in interviews he reverts way back into his shell, and is a quiet mumbler in real life.
  • Will Ferrell tends to do interviews as the character in his most recent movie because being interviewed as himself, he is shy and reserved.
  • An inversion: Zeppo Marx's movie character was always a bland Straight Man and romantic hero, but off-screen he was said to be the funniest of The Marx Brothers. He would fill in for Groucho when he was ill and performed perfectly.
    • Speaking of The Marx Brothers, Margaret Dumont, who was frequently typecast as snobby widows who acted as the Comic Foil to the brothers, is another inversion - despite urban legend, she got the humour of the brothers, and during a live television recreation of a scene from Animal Crackers, she broke up laughing after Groucho told her not to step on the few laughs he had.
  • Richard Mulligan of Soap, according to castmate Jay Johnson, was an extremely serious, methodical actor. Although Burt's physical comedy looked improvised and off-the-cuff, it was actually painstakingly plotted and reworked by Mulligan.
  • Jack Lemmon, who did great comedies such as The Odd Couple and Some Like It Hot. Apparently, the Academy Award ceremony hosted by him alone (1985) wasn't as funny as expected.
  • Lucille Ball, is this outside the camera. She didn't believe in her ability to improvise, so every gag and physical comedy that she did on "I Love Lucy" was rehearsed to death till she believed she got it perfect, including practicing blowing up and popping a balloon till "it looked funny". (Her dousing her burning fake nose in water was one of the very few times she improvised AND kept it on the tape.) Desi Arnaz, on the other hand, was quite funny in real life.
  • Steve Coogan, who played the awkwardly funny Alan Partridge comes across as moody and introverted in interviews, and doesn't seem to enjoy them a great deal.
  • Johnny Depp, despite playing a number of flamboyant characters (Captain Jack Sparrow, Willy Wonka, Rochester from The Libertine), comes off in interviews more like Edward Scissorhands- a bit shy and on the quiet side.
  • Jensen Ackles. Dean Winchester is more often than not loud and eccentric. Jensen on the other hand has always been reserved and mellow in interviews, and he takes his work very seriously. (It's also possible that his sense of humour is just too dry for some fans to get.) In fact, Jared Padalecki, who plays the more subdued Sam, comes across as much funnier in interviews. When Jensen is funny and/or sarcastic in interviews and/or conventions, it's usually because Jared is right there with him. Although, as of 2010, he seems to be coming out of his shell a little bit, especially when talking about directing.
    • Misha Collins, who plays the angel Castiel, is at least a partial inversion because his character on the show is the completely and utterly deadpan Straight Man, but the actor is really funny and happy in interviews and at conventions. Fans are often surprised when they meet him because he smiles, blinks, and has a very dry sense of humor (with a strangely gentle delivery).
    • Jared is an unusual case, in that despite his perky personality, he's said that he considers himself a better dramatic actor than funny actor, and has said that he'd enjoy it if Sam went dark side.
  • Raocow, of Let's Play fame, has admitted that while he's doing his videos he's incredibly, well, weird, he has difficulty maintaining that state of mind all the time.
  • John Cho and Kal Penn, who play uptight, repressed Harold and loose, freewheeling Kumar in the Harold and Kumar movies, respectively, have stated their real-life personalities are almost exactly the reverse.
  • Bob Elliott & Ray Goulding, aka Bob & Ray were renowned for their ability to improvise subversive, cutting-edge comedy skits -- so much so that interviewers wrote entire articles around how underwhelmed they were to meet the shy, very average men in real life. "By the time we realised we were introverts," Bob is supposed to have once claimed, "it was too late to do anything about it."
  • Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Said in interview: "I'm not a wit. I'm a comedy writer. A wit says something funny on the spot. A comedy writer says something very funny two minutes later. Or in my case, two weeks later."
  • Christopher Lloyd made a career of playing loopy, over-the-top characters like Reverend Jim Ignatowski and Doc Brown, but in real life is very shy and laconic. According to Bob Gale's commentary on the Back to the Future Part III DVD, when he tried to do promotional interviews on talk shows, he froze up and had to be gently coached by the interviewer. Robert Zemeckis says it took the entirety of shooting the first Back to The Future movie just for Lloyd to strike up a conversation with him.
  • Peter Lorre is an inversion: Known for playing the first serial-killer on screen and many more was known to be extremely witty and funny and a great comedic actor.
  • Brent Spiner as a Data is also an inversion - a completely emotionless character played by an utter goofball of an actor.
    • Speaking of Series/{{Star Trek|The Next Generation]] the uptight and stuffy Worf was played by easygoing and laid-back Michael Dorn, who has also described himself as a bit of a giggler.
  • Christopher Guest has said that many people are disappointed when they find out that he's not non-stop hilarious IRL. According to Cary Elwes and Robin Wright, he also doubles as a Mean Character, Nice Actor.
    • He's actually known for coming across as fairly prickly in interviews, though often because he strongly dislikes questions about his personal life.
  • Jerome "Curly" Howard of The Three Stooges fame was a plucky, chatterbox, bumbling clown who excelled at madcap physical comedy on camera. In real life, he suffered from crippling shyness and barely spoke to anyone he didn't know.
  • Rodney Dangerfield's wife was always a little annoyed that people assumed her husband was a wacky, boorish slob all the time. In person, he was a well-mannered gentleman.
  • Michael Showalter is known for being pretty serious and aloof in real life, a complete 180 from his work on shows like Stella and The State.
  • Doug Walker has admitted in an interview that people find him really boring when he's not playing any of his characters, and tries to avoid being naturally funny all the time in his private life. If you listen to the commentaries on his videos, he's much funnier when he's with his brother Rob.
    • He's a lot more confident with Rob around, too. They usually go to conventions together but in this Youmacon video, there's a few moments when you can just see him looking nervous and freaked out. [1]
    • Much like Rowan Atkinson, he is a perfectionist, and does several takes until he believes he's got a funny one. Because Bum Reviews and Ask That Guy With The Glasses are improvised, the raw footage is said to contain long pauses.
  • Bhargav "Bargo" Dronamraju from is perhaps the largest ham out of all the contributors on That Guy With The Glasses.com, particularly in his performance as Ma-Ti. Outside of his acting, he's pretty laconic, and barely says a word during Doug and Rob's commentary for their review of The Garbage Pail Kids Movie, even though he's there for the majority of the recording. He's also pretty serious during his Transmission Awesome interview.
  • Paul Reubens is this when he's not playing Pee-Wee Herman. During a promotional interview for Mystery Men, he managed to get through the first few minutes without saying a word.
  • Charlie Adler might play some of the most insane characters but in person he is very serious to the point of depressing.
  • Much like Peter Sellers, Zero Mostel was said by his family to usually be very quiet and shy, only to explode into the life of the party when given a character to play.
  • Lindsay Ellis is an inversion. It's not like her character of The Nostalgia Chick isn't funny, but Lindsay is far more prone to hamming it up, making a lot more jokes and is just generally much happier.
  • Harrison Ford is known for charismatic and interesting characters like Han Solo and Indiana Jones, but he is known for being a rather reserved individual who sometimes needs a good interviewer asking the right questions to make his interviews interesting. Even under the right circumstances he has a very sardonic sense of humor, which is likely where Ford meets Solo and Jones.
  • Kevin Smith has said that he's not really that funny when he's in a small group of people. It's when he's in front of an entire theatre full of people that he's funny, otherwise he just kind of shuts up. This tends to confuse his wife's friends, who have been told that one of the reasons she married him is because he makes her laugh.
    • This might qualify as an Informed Flaw, though; if you listen to his primary Podcast (essentially just him and his blue oni producer Scott Mosier recording their conversations once a week), he can be incredibly funny. As they've known each other for years, it could also be a case of opening up in the right company.
  • Hugh Laurie, who suffers from depression, is extremely quiet and insecure when not given a script. This was most notable during the first episode of QI, when Stephen Fry thought it would be very nice to have his best friend on the panel for the show's introduction. Laurie said about ten words.
    • Stephen Fry has said that, in private, Hugh is the funnier, smarter one, although he denies this.
  • Phelan Porteous is actually pretty quiet in real life, according to Rob Walker and Mathew Buck during their Kickassia commentaries.
  • Michael Palin is universally known offstage as 'the nice Python', and comes across in his published diaries as remarkably sane and well-grounded for a man who has spent his performing career being very silly indeed.
  • Stephen Chow an influential Hong Kong comedian, actor and film director, best known in the west for Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle, Stephen Chow Sing-Chi is famous for his slap stick martial arts movies. When not making a film, Stephen Chow is reported to be a taciturn and serious individual who is unenergetic and rarely if ever smiles.
  • Onstage, the late George Carlin was animated, boisterous, hilarious, and relentlessly misanthropic. In his interviews however, he was fairly quiet, and while he retained his famously filthy mouth, but cracked relatively few jokes. He also claimed that he actually hated people a lot less than his stand-up would have you believe.
  • "Weird Al" Yankovic is one of the most lasting comedians in entertainment, but has noted in interviews that because of his stage name people expect him to be crazy at all times. He is generally a friendly guy and cracks jokes at times like anyone else, but besides his music he is never outlandish or "weird."
  • Frank Zappa made (mostly) humorous music, but took it utterly seriously, scoring his compositions as if an orchestra was to play them, spending hours mixing his work for the perfect sound quality, and regularly replacing musicians if he felt they weren't good enough. He treated his music like a business. Steve Vai, who worked with Zappa in the early 80s, has said that he wasn't sure if he was in the band at first because Zappa didn't give him any indication at his audition.
  • Wallace Shawn, who is perhaps well known for playing goofy oddball characters like Vizzini, Grand Nagus Zek, Stuart Best, and Rex, is a self-proclaimed stoic--in an interview about The Princess Bride, Shawn claimed that he completely lacks a sense of humor. If you're used to his funny roles, it's quite jarring to see him in something quiet like My Dinner with Andre, where he's basically playing himself. He also writes incredibly dark and politically charged plays.

Notes

  1. Although that could have been less to do with Rob not being around and more idiot fans always asking the poor boy if they could keep him.
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