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10 Political Comedies Starring Comedians


Political comedy films starring comedians aren't always very successful. That's probably because political comedy is a tricky thing to pull off; you've got to avoid insulting the intelligence of the audience, find something new to say about politics and still manage to be funny. When you add a comedian to that mix, the first two usually go out the window -- and, in many cases, the movies still aren't funny. Check out this list of 10 political comedies starring comedians and see where some succeed while so many others have failed.

1. The Marx Brothers - 'Duck Soup' (1933)

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The Marx Brothers are comedy's great anarchists, and their best film, Duck Soup, finds them at their anarchic greatest. When Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho) is appointed to lead the small country of Freedonia, the neighboring country of Sylvania dispatches two spies (Chico and Harpo) to infiltrate his government and plot a takeover. Eventually, Groucho declares war on his enemies, with all of the Marx Brothers (including Zeppo!) at the center of the conflict. Duck Soup reduces politics and governments to madness, making a joke out of everything including war. Joke for joke, minute for minute, it's still one of the funniest movies ever made -- and one of the earliest and best political comedies. The Marx Brothers would never top it.
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2. Eddie Murphy - 'The Distinguished Gentleman' (1992)

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Released during one of Eddie Murphy's "slumps" (between Coming to America and The Nutty Professor), The Distinguished Gentleman stars Murphy as Florida con man Thomas Jefferson Johnson. When a congressman named Jeff Johson passes away, Murphy decides to get elected and take his place in order to cash in on lobbyist money. But, once he arrives in Washington, he learns that -- surprise! -- it's more corrupt than the circles he ran in as a con artist. Murphy's attempt at a political satire doesn't have a single new thing to say, but it isn't awful. One would think there's a lot of territory to mine there, with Murphy's hustler headed to the White House, but the movie's pretty limp. Chris Rock would do it slightly better in Head of State.
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3. Jack Black - 'Bob Roberts' (1992)

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Jack Black has only a small role in Tim Robbins' political satire, Bob Roberts, but it's a memorable one. Made before the country really knew who Black was, the mock documentary stars Robbins as a folk singer and conservative politician running for U.S. Senate. Black plays an obsessive fan who also plays in a Bob Roberts cover band. Though his screen time is limited, his crazy-eyed stare makes a lasting impression and hints at the manic energy he would bring to future projects. And, because it's rare that comedians appear in smart political comedies, the movie -- which still isn't totally successful -- is one of the better films on the list.
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4. John Candy - Canadian Bacon (1994)

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Documentary filmmaker Michael Moore's sole venture into narrative filmmaking, the barely-remembered Canadian Bacon actually has a pretty ingenious premise: in order to distract the country from the disastrous state it's in, the President (Alan Alda) creates a war with Canada. Sure, the plot was done to better effect in both Wag the Dog and South Park: Bigger, Longer, Uncut, but some credit should go to Moore for doing it first. The late John Candy stars as Bud Boomer, a Canadian sheriff who ends up as the last line of defense for the country. Comedians Kevin Pollak and Steven Wright also have small roles. The movie is a mess in a whole lot of ways, but should be seen as a curiosity on several levels.
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5. Dan Aykroyd - 'My Fellow Americans' (1996)

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This '90s comedy starring Jack Lemmon and James Garner was clearly aiming to be 'Grumpy Old Presidents,' but failed to reach that decidedly low bar. I defy anyone to actually follow the plot, which can't really be described. Lemmon and Garner are former presidents of opposing politics, and Dan Aykroyd is the current president, and somehow Lemmon and Garner are set up in a scandal by Aykroyd, and have to travel the country and clear their names. It's an incoherent mess, but anyone who thinks seeing Lemmon and Garner march in a gay pride parade is funny may get their money's worth. Aykroyd, as usual, is totally wasted in a movie that manages to fail both politically and comedically.
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6. Denis Leary - 'Wag the Dog' (1997)

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Barry Levinson directed David Mamet's screenplay for Wag the Dog, an unbelievably dark and savage satire of politics and Hollywood. Robert DeNiro stars as a Washington spin doctor who enlists a Hollywood producer (Dustin Hoffman, channeling Robert Evans) to stage a war that will distract the country from the president's latest sex scandal. Angry comedian Denis Leary has a small role as the fast-talking Fad King, who is commissioned to find potential commercial tie-ins for the phony war. Though Wag the Dog gets a little too bleak for its own good, it's easily the best film on this list. Leary would tackle political comedy again in two made-for-HBO films: the very good The Second Civil War (1997) and 2008's even better Recount.
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7. Will Ferrell & Bruce McCulloch - 'Dick' (1999)

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There's no shortage of comedians cast in Dick, director Andrew Fleming's very clever and funny take on the Watergate scandal. Harry Shearer, NewsRadio's Dave Foley, Jim Breuer and Ana Gasteyer (both of Saturday Night Live) are among the comedians tapped to play small roles in the film. But Will Ferrell and former Kids in the Hall star Bruce McCulloch, as reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Berstein, respectively, steal the whole movie. Playing the story-breakers as bickering, vain and whiny, the two comedians' interpretation suggests that Woodward and Bernstein were more lucky than competent when bringing Nixon down. The movie is an under-appreciated gem, and it's never funnier than when Ferrell and McCulloch are on screen together.
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8. Chris Rock - 'Head of State' (2003)

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Comedian Chris Rock's first effort as a writer/director, 2003's Head of State stars Rock as Mays Gilliam, a D.C. alderman who -- through a series of events -- winds up on the ticket for the presidency. Though it sounds on the surface like an update of The Distinguished Gentleman, it's actually smarter and funnier than that film -- probably because Rock is passionate about politics, which he displays in his act (Murphy never really did) as much as he does here. The problem is that Head of State isn't nearly as funny as Rock's stand-up -- a fate all of his movies have suffered. Bernie Mac also stars as Rock's brother and chief adviser, and Tracy Morgan appears in a small role.

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9. Ray Romano - 'Welcome to Mooseport' (2004)

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Comedian Ray Romano tried to make the leap from sitcom stardom to leading-man status with Welcome to Mooseport, a dull and toothless political comedy about an Alaskan hardware store owner who gets talked into running for mayor of Mooseport (that's where the title comes in, I guess). The only catch? The former POTUS (Gene Hackman) has just retired to the town and wants to run for mayor to avoid paying a divorce settlement. Or something. There's a few good satirical shots taken at what happens when Washington politics invade small town government, but the movie is ultimately reduced to a fight over a girl (Maura Tierney). Romano hasn't starred in a film since, which ought to tell you something about this one's success.
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10. Robin Williams - 'Man of the Year' (2006)

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Director Barry Levinson's second film on this list features Robin Williams as a Jon Stewart-like political comedian who runs for president as a goof, then -- surprise! -- actually wins the White House. What sets up a somewhat clever political satire about the nature of celebrity and the political process -- literally anyone can be put in charge -- quickly turns into a leaden thriller about an investigation into election fraud. Nothing in the advertisements for the movie even hinted at what the movie is really about, which had to leave what little audience it had feeling burned. Pretty much a total misfire from some people who should know better -- and did, with Wag the Dog. Comedian Lewis Black co-stars as one of Williams' "advisers."
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