Times Comedians Played TV Villains (And Nailed It)

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Some actors who played iconic villains on TV weren't always the most obvious choice. Some of the best TV villains of all time have been portrayed by actors with a background in comedy, or even by straight-up stand-up comedians. Comedians often have an easier time putting themselves out there due to the over-critical nature of comedy and often come out with some of the boldest performances on television. In this list, we note the best TV villains that were played by normally comedic actors and why they nailed it. 

Warning: Spoilers to follow.

  • Bryan Cranston As Walter White In 'Breaking Bad'
    Photo: AMC

    Bryan Cranston might just be the most notable case of a former comedic actor breaking through with a major dramatic role. Starting off as a humble family man, Walter White eventually spiraled into a murderous, meth-dealing criminal who lost sight of everything that mattered in his life. Walter White's descent from hero to villain is one of TV's greatest performances, which is still largely unmatched to this day. 

    Cranston previously had been known for playing Hal Wilkerson on Malcolm in the Middle and guest-starring on various sitcoms such as Seinfeld and How I Met Your Mother. It wasn't until Breaking Bad that Cranston would be recognized as a serious dramatic actor and the recipient of just about every acting award there is. 

    119 votes
  • John Lithgow As Arthur Mitchell In 'Dexter'
    Photo: Showtime

    John Lithgow has been acting since the 1970s but you may remember him most from his role as Dr. Dick Soloman on the sitcom 3rd Rock From The Sun or as Lord Farquaad in Shrek. By the late 1990s / 2000s, the prolific actor had opted for predominantly comedic roles, until he emerged as Arthur Mitchell a.k.a. The Trinity Killer in the fourth season of Dexter

    The Trinity Killer was the alter ego of Arthur Mitchell, a seemingly normal family man who you'd never guess had brutally killed nearly 300 people in his 30-year tenure as the enigmatic serial killer. Lithgow was the perfect choice to play Mitchell due to his inherently comical and gentle demeanor, making Arthur Mitchell a truly unassuming psychopath. 

    95 votes
  • Katey Sagal As Gemma Teller In 'Sons Of Anarchy'
    Photo: FX

    Before playing Gemma Teller in Sons of Anarchy, Katey Sagal was known for her roles in Married... with Children, 8 Simple Rules, and Futurama. Suffice to say, Sagal went through her fair share of sitcoms before eventually landing arguably the best role of her career, which was a bit of a step in the opposite direction, based on her previous work. 

    Though Gemma Teller wasn't that far out of her wheelhouse, (she was used to playing overbearing mothers) Sagal was surprisingly natural at portraying the den mother of a biker gang and all the criminal activities that come with it. Gemma later becomes a primary antagonist in the series, showcasing Sagal's talents at playing the morally conflicted but loving character. 

    87 votes
  • Bob Odenkirk As Saul Goodman In 'Breaking Bad' / 'Better Call Saul'
    Photo: Better Call Saul / AMC

    Although Saul Goodman might not appear like an outright villain, it would be sincerely wrong to classify him as anything else. Saul is a conniving, morally bankrupt, self-serving criminal who aids in the distribution of methamphetamine and is an accomplice to murder. So yes, he's definitely a villain but he also happens to be our favorite character thanks to Bob Odenkirk's hilarious portrayal of the greasy lawyer. 

    Before Saul, Odenkirk was known for his sketch comedy (alongside David Cross) and his various guest roles on sitcoms such as Curb Your Enthusiasm, Arrested Development, The Larry Sanders Show, and Seinfeld. It wasn't until Vince Gilligan offered him the role of Saul Goodman that Odenkirk was able to flex his acting chops and create a character that has now garnered more screentime than Walter White, having his own 6 season spin-off series. 

    63 votes
  • Michael McKean As Chuck McGill In 'Better Call Saul'
    Photo: AMC

    Michael McKean, another Saturday Night Live and This Is Spinal Tap alumni, got his start as Lenny Kosnowski, the annoying neighbor on the Happy Days spin-off, Laverne & Shirley. Although he's had a long and prolific career in comedy, McKean began to receive critical recognition for his role as Chuck McGill on yet another spin-off series, Better Call Saul

    Chuck served as the main antagonist on Better Call Saul for the first three seasons of the show. He played Saul Goodman's smart but highly eccentric older brother who wanted nothing but to see Saul fail in the world of law. Chuck was not the kind of villain that Breaking Bad fans were accustomed to and brought some new and interesting aspects to the spin-off, proving once again that comedy actors can excel in dramatic roles. 

    34 votes
  • Harry Shearer As Mr. Burns In 'The Simpsons' 
    Photo: Fox

    Mr. Burns is not only one of the most iconic characters on The Simpsons but one of the most renowned villains on television, period. In case you didn't know, Charles Montgomery Burns is the owner of the Nuclear Power Plant (and also Homer's boss) and perhaps the wealthiest inhabitant of Springfield. He's known for speaking in a sinister voice and having no sense of morality whatsoever. Long story short, he is inherently and unapologetically evil, yet we love to hate him. 

    Mr. Burns is voiced by Harry Shearer, a veteran comedian known for Saturday Night Live and the heavy metal mockumentary, This Is Spinal Tap as a writer and band member. The Simpsons creator Matt Groening was a fan of Shearer's work and asked him to do voice work on the show, having never done it before. Along with Mr. Burns, Shearer ended up being the voice of Smithers, Principal Skinner, Reverend Lovejoy, Kent Brockman, and Ned Flanders just to name a few. 

    49 votes