The 15 Best Comic Drunks (and Drunk Comics) of All Time

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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 is now…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):

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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.

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Joe E. Brown

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

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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.

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Marie Dressler

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

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Red Skelton

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

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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. 

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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!

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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.

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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.

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Buster Keaton

‘Nuff said.

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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.

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Jackie Gleason

How Sweet It is!

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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.

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13 comments

  1. 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.

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  2. 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.

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  3. 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.

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