The 22 Best Comic Drunks (and Drunk Comics) of All Time

too-drunk

New Year’s Eve — what a wonderful time of year! When we all have a rare chance to start out all over again with a clean slate…and then generally use the opportunity to commit acts we will spend the beginning of the new year regretting! (Not me — it’s been many a long year since I’ve ushered in the new year with a hangover. In which case my regret now is that I wasn’t at a party.)

At any rate – -thank God we have comedians to show us how asinine we look when we have a few too many. Here are some of the best comic drunks of all time (clink on the links to learn more about each comedian). We cut it off at 21 — the drinking age.

imgres

Charlie Chaplin

It’s seldom foregrounded, undoubtedly because Charlie Chaplin does so many things so well, but he is one of the greatest comic drunks of all time. There have been certain comedians down through the years who have made drunkenness their whole act. Chaplin could easily have gone this route. His bit in A Night at an English Music Hall had gotten him widespread notice; on the strength of it he was hired by Keystone. The routine was a favorite with audiences; during his Keystone stint he would showcase his talent as an inebriate in around 20% of his films, starting with his second picture Mabel’s Strange Predicament. He never abandoned this reliable comedy wellspring. It appears in his work as late as Limelight (1952), one of his last films.

images

Joe E. Brown

A hilarious comic drunk, as he has the opportunity to showcase in many of his films of the 1930s.

not-dressing-errol-drink

Leon Errol

In his years in burlesque and with the Ziegfeld Follies, Errol developed a top notch comic drunk bit, which he milked for most of his career. The character was not a down-and-outter. Usually, it was more of a bourgeois hail-fellow-well-met…a Rotarian, trying to sneak in at 2 in the morning so the wife won’t hear. The piece de resistance to his characterization was his patented, rubbery-legged walk, which made it look as though he would collapse to the ground any minute. You can see him do this in countless comedy shorts of the 1930s, and in Lupe Velez’s Mexican Spitfire comedies of the 1940s.

imgres

Marie Dressler

Trust me. Watch her drunk bits in Chasing Rainbows and Anna Christie (both 1930). Stage and screen veteran Dressler was mighty expert and mighty funny at being blotto.

ziegfeld-follies-red-skelton-1946-everett

Red Skelton

Multi-talented, multi-media comedian Red Skelton was famous for his “Guzzler’s Gin” routine.

Jack_Norton

Jack Norton

Jack Norton played a drunk in walk-ons almost exclusively — best remembered today for his turns in Preston Sturges comedies and in W.C. Field’s The Bank Dick. 

Arthur Housman

Housman had actually starred in his own series of comedies in the teens and twenties. By the ’30s he was a bit player who specialized in drunks, appearing in many of Hollywood’s great comedy classics.

download

John Berkes

Early in his career, John Berkes had co-starred in comedy shorts with the likes of Bob Hope and Shemp Howard. Later he was a bit player who specialized in “drunks” and “bums”.

Bert Roach

Bert Roach also had a career going back to the silent days. Come talkies, he amassed 15 bit player credits with character names being some variation on “drunk”, with many additional credits as “bartender” or “partygoer” — frequently lit ones.

Thomas Mitchell

The great Thomas Mitchell could play all sorts of characters, but we remember him particularly for drunk turns, like the alcoholic doctor in John Ford’s Stagecoach (1937), and Uncle Billy’s celebratory “Ole Building and Loan Pal” moment in It’s a Wonderful Life (1947).

Hal Smith

Hal Smith played Otis the town drunk on The Andy Griffith Show, generally the only occupant in the jail cell. In some episodes, out of habit, he would wander in and lock himself up.

Dick Wilson

Best remembered as Mr. Whipple in the Charmin toilet tissue commercials, Dick Wilson also had a lucrative sideline playing drunks in sight gags on tv shows like Bewitched and The Flying Nun. Basically the shtick was that he would be walking down the street, loaded, and see something weird (usually caused by magic, or something). Then he would do a double take, or stare at his liquor bottle as if to say “What’s IN this stuff?” and throw the bottle away.

36517057001_2338401403001_vs-517edd1ce4b0ffe00d9ae3fe-782203297001

Foster Brooks

I don’t think I’ll hear much dissent if I call him the greatest comic drunk of all time. When ya find yer niche, baby, work it!

Dudley Moore

I refer to the Arthur movies, of course, although both they and star Dudley Moore, though funny at first, rapidly grew tiresome. Like straight liquor itself, a little bit goes a long way.

images

Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley

It may not be too much to say that the stars of Absolutely Fabulous rewrote the history of comedy. Trailblazers, and among the funniest people who ever lived. They are slapstick pioneers, in that it’s fairly unprecedented (rare, at least) for women to take the brakes off and totally humiliate themselves for our glee. I only put them this far down the list because they are contemporary.In terms of how highly I rate them as comic artists, it’s near the top.

amy_schumer

Amy Schumer

Again, blazing new comedy trails even as we speak. Full equality means the freedom to be (or, in this case, portray) a woman who’s capable of being as big a train wreck as a man. I don’t know enough about her, though, (since she’s so convincing) to know for sure whether she belongs in the present category, or in THIS one:

DRUNK COMICS WHO WERE ACTUALLY KIND OF DRUNK A LOT OF THE TIME

Downing suds in "International House"
Downing suds in “International House”

W.C. Fields

We love him for bits like the funnel he uses to get his housekey in the lock in You’re Telling Me, and for leaping off an airplane to retrieve a falling whiskey bottle in Never Give a Sucker an Even BreakBut the laughter masked serious consequences. Booze took a serious toll on his health during his last decade, and eventually took his life in 1946.

tumblr_lu8hgr2GVd1qi4jsvo1_500

Buster Keaton

‘Nuff said.

imgres

Joe E. Lewis

Definitely the originator of the whole Rat Pack thing of comically celebrating and glamorizing booze from the night club stage, this comedian was a big influence on the two men pictured below as well as the guy who played him in The Joker is Wild, Frank Sinatra.

jackie-gleason

Jackie Gleason

How Sweet It is!

dean-martin

Dean Martin

Dino had a lot going for him — great pipes, many hit records, decent acting chops, and for a time he was one of the best straight men in the business. On his tv variety show and his later Celebrity Roasts, he generally made out that he was half sloshed. Was that tea in his glass? Or whiskey? I’ve heard both.

At any rate, Have a Happy New Year! And may all tonight’s inevitable alcoholic fueled nonsense result in comedy, not tragedy.

15 comments

  1. Great list, Trav! I recently had someone express their concern about me portraying alcoholism for comedy. They were concerned for people that actually struggle with alcoholism that may come to the show. My experience at an AA meeting was that some drunks have a great sense of humor about it. Others don’t.

    Like

    • Thanks Lynn! I actually wrote a bit about that conundrum in “Chain of Fools” — I’m shocked I didn’t transplant it into this post but I guess I didn’t want to (hic) spoil the party. But seriously, it is among the things worth contemplating. I don’t think it’s all cruelty. I think there’s tragedy we can all relate to mixed in, not unlike the pain that comes with slapstick. We’ve all either been that person or had them cause a commotion in our lives, or in our subway car. Ultimately, I think there’s something healthy about laughing about it. I don’t know why. Maybe because we’re all headed to the same place in the end — we have to prioritize what we get grim about, and laugh off the rest. And that’s up the individual, I guess. Have a happy new year!

      Like

  2. I spent many of my late mornings with that wonderful crooner Dean Martin at The Hamburger Hamlet on the Sunset Strip before going to work for Hollywood’s Hip Hypnotist Pat Collins. By the time I would arrive at the Hamlet at 11:00 a.m. , Dean would be there with 3 empty martini glasses and one he was sipping on hardly moving. His son had died in an airplane crash. I don’t think he ever recovered from the loss.

    Like

    • I’d heard that. His last stretch on this earth sounds very sad, given the happiness he gave to millions. You paint a very vivid picture. Thanks for writing!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I might nominate for inclusion on this list character actor Will Stanton, who specialized in playing drunks in the 1930s (and he’s pretty good at it!).

    Of his 62 credits from that decade listed at IMdB, 14 of them have “drunk” or “drunken” in the character’s name or description.

    Like

  4. Absolutely NO objection to “The Lovable Lush”, Mr. Foster Brooks! It’ most unfortunate that, shortly after he attained his greatest level of fame, alcoholic humor fell out of favor (thanks to M.A.D.D., and the increased news focus on drunk driving accidents). He managed to reinvent himself somewhat as a straight character actor, but never achieved his prior level of success.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.