While the 1980s were notable for their outlandish projects, the ’90s would prove to be a turning point for comedy movies. With indie filmmakers coming out of the woodwork and studios paying a pretty penny to adapt various Saturday Night Live sketches, it became clear the industry was looking at comedic actors more favorably than they had in previous years. Many maintained steady and fruitful careers, but a select few were unable to shake the personas that made them household names in the first place.
This transition into the following decade would see writers stray away from the screwball comedies that once dominated the box office in favor of projects with more depth and meaning. At the other end of the spectrum was a select group of comedians still clinging to the tried and true slapstick style they knew best (before its inevitable decline as years progressed). These actors made a splash on both the big and small screens at one point in time and deserve their chance to do so once again.
10 David Faustino
The sitcoms of the 1980s are distinct for their cookie-cutter approach to the family dynamic. Each episode focused more on life lessons than laughs, and the networks felt they couldn’t take any risks for fear of cancelation. That is, until Married… with Children premiered in 1987 and changed the mold of the average sitcom for years to come. Met with equal controversy and praise, the show is responsible for launching the career of child star David Faustino. Faustino would portray the quick-witted son of the Bundy family for all eleven seasons of the show (with some spin-offs considered that centered around the character), but he was never able to land a project of similar repute.
A Voice-Acting Master
Although David Faustino’s portrayal of Bud Bundy was integral to the longevity of Married… with Children, his inability to break away from the character in his subsequent endeavors was a frequent issue. His frustration with finding steady work following the show’s cancelation was the subject of his web series Star-ving,where Faustino portrays an exaggerated and strung-out version of himself. He has since made a name for himself as a voice actor, most notably portraying Mako in The Legend of Korra. He is set to reprise his role as Bud Bundy in the upcoming Married… with Children animated series, further adding to his growing resume of voice-acting roles.
9 Kel Mitchell
As Saturday Night Live became a mainstream juggernaut during the 1990s, with various adaptations to their iconic sketches hitting the theaters, television producer Brian Robbins approached Nickelodeon with a kid-friendly alternative to the program. With business partner Mike Tollin also serving as producer and Dan Schneider as the show’s head writer, All That was well on its way to becoming a smash hit for the network. The show launched the comedy careers of teenage comedians Kenan Thompson and Kel Mitchell, though only one was able to remain in the public eye.
Kel Loves Orange Soda!
The instantaneous popularity and natural chemistry between Thompson and Mitchell would lead to the sitcom Kenan & Kel, as well as a feature-length film based on their “Good Burger” sketch from All That. Thompson has since established himself as the longest-tenured cast member on Saturday Night Live, while Mitchell kept getting steady work in children’s television with starring roles such as T-Bone in Clifford the Big Red Dog and Double G in Nickelodeon’s Game Shakers. Mitchell recently reunited with his Good Burger co-star to reprise their titular roles in the 2023 sequel, Good Burger 2, so hopefully there will be more to come from the comedic duo in the near future.
8 Jeremy London
In 1991, Jeremy London asked his twin brother Jason to drive him to an audition for the lead in The Man in the Moon, and on the spur of the moment, Jason would audition for the very same role. Though not his initial intent, Jason London would get the role, with Jeremy working as his brother’s stunt double. This turn of events wouldn’t discourage London from paving his own path as an actor, garnering a cult following for his portrayal as T.S. Quint in Kevin Smith’s 1995 slacker comedy Mallrats. Over time, London opted for a career in television as opposed to his brother, who kept his focus on film. London’s roles in critically acclaimed programs like Party of Five and 7th Heaven were proof of the actor’s mainstream potential, but his public struggles with addiction would see the offers slow down a bit.
He Deserves a Resurgence
London’s drug dependency came to light when the actor appeared in the fourth season of Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew. Since then, his roles have mostly consisted of shoddy B-movies (some of which he directed) and menial television credits. Rumors of a sequel to Mallrats had been in circulation for quite some time, but nothing was concrete until Kevin Smith announced in early 2020 that Twilight of the Mallrats was in active development, with the main cast returning to reprise their roles. The film has been in limbo with Smith attempting to convince Universal to let him move forward with the project, but fans of the “View Askewniverse” hold out hope that these licensing issues can get straightened out sometime soon.
7 Ethan Embry
In 1991, Ethan Embry (originally credited as Ethan Randall) made his film debut in the romantic comedy Defending Your Life at the age of 12. His first starring gig was not too far behind, sharing the screen with Married… with Children and Modern Family actor Ed O’Neill in the 1991 road comedy Dutch. The adolescent actor instantly began accumulating starring roles in noteworthy teen-centric projects of the 1990s, including Mark in Empire Records and Preston Meyers in Can’t Hardly Wait. Embry has since acquired a respectable number of supporting roles as a television actor but hasn’t been able to maintain the same star power he once had.
An Underrated Performer
Ethan Embry continues to get consistent work in both television and film, albeit without many leading roles. He portrayed Detective Frank Smith in the 2003 reboot of Dragnet, reuniting with his Dutch co-star Ed O’Neill before being written out of the show in favor of a more diverse cast. Embry’s further endeavors were met with abrupt cancelations and characters that didn’t make it further than a few episodes before being cast as Coyote Bergstein in Grace and Frankie. His most recent portrayal as Arthur Brown in Gotham Knights seemed to be a step in the right direction for Embry until the show was scrapped after just one season. Ethan Embry has proven time and time again to be a capable and engaging performer, so now it’s just a matter of finding the right project to sink his teeth into.
6 Jeff Anderson
When word spread of Kevin Smith’s low-budget workplace comedy Clerks, AT&T employee Jeff Anderson would answer the call and audition for the role of Jay as a joke. Anderson believed he didn’t have a shot at the role, and, in a way, he was right. Smith was so impressed with Anderson’s audition, that he offered him the role of the film’s second lead, Randal Graves (a role Smith had intended to portray himself) instead. Critics praised Anderson’s performance as the vulgar video store employee, and he would continue to collaborate with Smith in a number of his subsequent projects. Unfortunately, Anderson had difficulties breaking away from his on-screen persona as his career progressed.
A Perfect Addition to Kevin Smith’s Films
Jeff Anderson’s filmography mainly consists of Kevin Smith films both within his View Askewniverse and Smith’s stand-alone movies, the most prominent of which being his depiction of Deacon Anderson in Kevin Smith’s 2008 sex comedy Zack and Miri Make a Porno. Anderson took a stab at writing and directing with the 2002 comedy film Now You Know, but hasn’t directed a project since. Anderson did return to reprise his role as Randal in Clerks III, supposedly his last time portraying the character. With that in mind, Anderson’s career path following the conclusion of the saga remains a mystery.
5 David Spade
Shortly after dropping out of college in favor of a career in stand-up comedy, David Spade was discovered by a talent agent during a performance at The Improv in Los Angeles. The agent then offered Spade a supporting role in Police Academy 4, which would serve as his film debut. In 1990, fellow comedian Dennis Miller assisted Spade in landing a gig as a writer and eventual cast member on Saturday Night Live. His on-screen chemistry with SNL co-star Chris Farley extended to the duo sharing the big screen in Tommy Boy and Black Sheep, two movies widely considered to be Farley’s best.
Not Just Successful as Part of a Duo
Spade’s offers didn’t slow down following Farley’s untimely death in 1997. Networks approached him with various ideas for a program with him at the center. None of these projects intrigued Spade, but an opportunity to join Steven Levitan’s workplace comedy Just Shoot Me! gave Spade the chance to work with a diverse ensemble cast outside a sketch comedy setting. During the show’s run, Spade and longtime collaborator Fred Wolf wrote Joe Dirt, a role that continues to be one of Spade’s most infamous. Despite the film’s immensely negative reception among critics and viewers, Spade and Wolf joined forces once again for the 2015 sequel, Joe Dirt 2: Beautiful Loser. Spade currently hosts and produces the game show Snake Oil, seemingly stepping aside from acting for the time being.
4 Cameron Diaz
After a few good years of modeling as a teenager, Cameron Diaz auditioned for the Jim Carrey-led comedy The Mask based on a recommendation from one of her agents at Elite Model Management. With this project being her first foray into the world of acting, Diaz would begin taking lessons upon being cast. She has since had a very fruitful career, becoming one of the highest-grossing actresses in the industry. With that level of notoriety came prying paparazzi who just wouldn’t let the unlikely superstar be. This, paired with an unrelenting work schedule, would result in Diaz making the decision to retire from the industry entirely.
There’s Something About Cameron Diaz
Before her hiatus, Diaz racked up a healthy resume of noteworthy projects. The actress initially gained mainstream recognition for her leading role in There’s Something About Mary before making the graceful transition to dramatic films. Additionally, Diaz has provided her voice for Princess Fiona in each entry of the Shrek franchise thus far, but it is unknown if she will reprise her role for the upcoming sequel. Diaz announced her return to acting for the upcoming Netflix action comedy Back in Action starring her Annie co-star Jamie Foxx, though an official release date has not been announced.
3 Christian Slater
Born to a family established in various areas of the entertainment industry, Christian Slater rose to prominence as an actor with his portrayal of high school student Jason “J.D.” Dean opposite Winona Ryder in the 1989 dark comedy Heathers. Slater had subsequent roles portraying rebellious teenagers in projects such as Pump Up the Volume, but the performer truly made his bones following the success of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and Interview with the Vampire. With these box office smash hits came subsequent projects that weren’t quite strong enough for Slater to maintain his trajectory as a movie star.
A 1990s Heartthrob
The 1990s saw Christian Slater expand his horizons as an actor, taking on various projects of differing genres. One Christian Slater-led movie that continues to receive just as much praise as it did during its inception is the Quentin Tarantino-penned romantic crime film True Romance. While the project didn’t rake in too much at the box office, it has since become a cult classic for Tarantino enthusiasts. During the 2000s, Slater began to transition to taking on more television roles. His performance in Mr. Robot was nominated for a Golden Globe three years in a row, winning just once. Slater continues to receive smaller roles in both television and film, but fans of his work long for the days when the actor consistently received top billing.
2 Pauly Shore
Inspired by his parents’ respective careers in comedy, Pauly Shore began his stand-up career at the age of seventeen. The aspiring comic had issues finding his voice in the beginning, but would eventually adopt the persona of “The Weasel” while touring with Sam Kinison. Shore gained a significant following during his tenure as an MTV VJ, showcasing elements of The Weasel on Totally Pauly. Following the release of the Brendan Fraser-led moderate hit Encino Man, Shore would receive offers for projects catered to him (each more poorly received than the last.)
Pauly Shore is admittedly an acquired taste. His brand of humor was often seen as obnoxious, even at the height of his career. Despite this, Shore was offered the sitcom Pauly following the commercial failure of the 1996 comedy Bio-Dome. Fox canceled the series after airing five of the initially planned seven episodes. Pauly Shore’s decline in the mainstream coming out of the 1990s was the subject of his 2003 mockumentary, Pauly Shore Is Dead. Though Shore continues to get sporadic work in television and film, he recently began to shift his focus back to stand-up comedy.
1 Mike Myers
Yet another comedian who has faced equal praise and criticism, Mike Myers once ruled the comedy film industry. Each project he was attached to, whether critically acclaimed or not, was a smash hit financially. Myers made his film debut portraying his SNL character Wayne Campbell in Wayne’s World, a role he would reprise just one year later in Wayne’s World 2. The film became an instantaneous cultural phenomenon and continues to be the highest-grossing movie based on a Saturday Night Live sketch to this day. Despite his immense success, the comedian has taken a step back from the spotlight in recent years
Yeah, Baby, Yeah!
In 1995, Shrek was conceived as a vehicle for the late Chris Farley. Farley recorded a majority of his lines for the character before his inevitable demise in 1997. The role would eventually be passed on to Myers, who integrated a distinctive Scottish accent into the character. The film was immensely successful, serving as a worthy opponent to the Pixar films that were dominating the box office at the time. Myers would reprise his role in Shrek‘s three subsequent sequels, with a fifth installment reportedly in the works. With three franchises under his belt and proven skills in both dramatic and comedic acting, it seems unlikely that Shrek 5 will be the end of the actor’s storied career.