I just read this Grantland oral history on Tom Cruise’s turn as Les Grossman, and it got me to thinking: what are the funniest supporting performances in film?
For your consideration–
Tom Cruise as Les Grossman, Tropic Thunder: It’s hard to even recognize Cruise, he is so transformed as a profane hairy-armed Hollywood studio exec, but he steals a film graced by scads of very good comedic performances. My favorite Grossman scene is when he meets the film’s Vietnam veteran writer.
Robert Downey Jr. as Kirk Lazarus, Tropic Thunder. Downey caught some flak for his use of the term “retard” and on that sin alone, he should be honored, but his role as an Aussie actor so “method” he changes the pigment of his skin is nothing short of genius. And yes, his best scene is when he schools Ben Stiller on the perils of playing a disabled character in Hollywood.
Adam Scott as Derek, Step Brothers. Scott’s domineering, obnoxious older brother reflects what most people hate about older brothers, especially overgrown adolescents digging on the “bro'” culture and categorizing success as $$$ and having a family who can harmonize a shitty song.
Fred Willard as Buck Laughlin, Best in Show. This is what you get when you hand color commentary duty for a dog show to a bowling announcer on ESPN’s “The Ocho.”
Sydney Pollack as George Fields, Tootsie. Pollack has two bravura scenes. First, when he explains why his difficult actor client Dustin Hoffman doesn’t get any work and then, when Hoffman approaches him at lunch in drag. They’re both top notch, but Pollack (who was more the director than actor in his career) exudes such memorable terror in the second scene, I have to give it the nod.
Ted Knight as Judge Smales, Caddyshack. Knight basically moved Ted Baxter from the role of anchorman to judge, but his turn as the country club snob is still the funniest thing in what is an otherwise okay comedy. He is at his best when he tries to be “helpful.”
Hank Azaria as Agador, The Birdcage. Physical comedy gold from the super fey “butler” who isn’t used to wearing shoes.
Jane Lynch as Sweeny, Role Models. Her desperate to be “in-the-know” community service director steals every scene she is in, in this, my favorite of the Judd Apatow type comedies which strangely, does not have a connection to Apatow .
John C. Reilly as Cal Naughton, Jr., Talladega Nights. Reilly’s goofy sidekick to Will Ferrell is so earnest and open, you actually feel for him as he steals Ricky’s position, family and dignity. His thoughts on what Jesus means to him are priceless.
Vince Vaughn as Trent, Swingers. As Vaughn drowns weekly in season 2 of HBO’s True Detective (I can think of few actors less suited to Nic Pizzolatto’s increasingly ridiculous take on hard-boiled patter, but to be fair, nobody could really convincingly deliver lines such as, “It’s like blue balls of the heart”), it is fair to remember his frenetic, cheerful best friend to Jon Favreau. His dating advice to Favreau is spot on.