Ever since he found stardom as Don Draper, the brooding center of the acclaimed series Mad Men, Jon Hamm has faced two obstacles in proving his comedic chops, at least in the public’s mind: He’s really, really, really ridiculously good-looking, and he’s more known for drama. Edgar Wright, Hamm’s director on Baby Driver, encapsulated this problem when he gave the actor a backhanded compliment: “It’s rare to find a dramatic actor who’s also funny,” he said. “Handsome people aren’t usually funny either.” When Hamm was told of Wright’s comments, he got annoyed: “I bring more to the table than what I represent physically. And it’s a daily struggle to prove that. … Sometimes [being complimented on my handsomeness] comes with a shitty dig underneath.”
While it may be hard to feel sorry for Hamm — many would kill to have his looks — his complaint does speak to the pigeonholes that the most glamorous stars have to face. (Let’s not even start on the negative assumptions made about beautiful actresses.) But since the early days of Mad Men, the now 47-year-old actor has worked hard to demonstrate his comedy credentials, appearing in TV shows and movies in which he’s fought to break free of the Draper straitjacket. But as culture writer Teo Bugbee pointed out in 2016, Hamm’s humor is often based on our association with his most famous role. “There’s no denying that Hamm is game for comedy… but is he actually funny?” she asked, noting that a lot of his comedic performances require our understanding that, well, they’re funny because he’s Jon Hamm. “So long as the writing for Hamm acknowledges the anachronism of his presence,” Bugbee notes, “the audience will laugh because they’re watching one of the most respected actors in television act the fool.”
Hamm will again try to sell us on his funnyman potential with this Friday’s Tag. We haven’t seen the movie yet, so we thought we’d look back at Hamm’s previous comedic stints, judging them on how funny he is in them, and just as importantly, if the roles would be as funny if the character wasn’t being played by Jon Hamm. (Quick note: We’re not including every instance of Comedy Hamm — we’re skipping cameos and the like.)
‘Saturday Night Live’ (2008-present)
How Funny Is Jon Hamm in This? The night before the wrap-up to Season Two of Mad Men, Hamm hosted SNL for the first time, and naturally, he spent much of the episode lampooning his Don Draper persona. (One skit, “Don Draper’s Guide to Picking Up Women,” offered a four-step plan to seducing the fairer sex. It basically boiled down to: Be Don Draper.) But he also got a chance to step away from the character’s cigarettes-and-booze trappings. Hamm seemed to have a great time doing a fake ad for “Jon Hamm’s John Ham” — it’s meat you can eat while you’re going to the bathroom — and was terrific in Bill Hader’s great “Vincent Price’s Halloween Special” skit, where he does a killer James Mason impression, portraying him as a drunken, womanizing buffoon.
Would It Be Funny If He Wasn’t Jon Hamm? He’s hosted SNL three times now, all during Mad Men’s run, and it’s inevitable that Hamm’s Draper-ness would always be part of the humor. It’s the deal any celebrity makes when appearing on the show — you’re allowing the writers to spoof your public persona — so every time he’s on SNL, we’re laughing because it’s ridiculous that Jon Hamm is, for instance, playing a shirtless, ponytailed demon saxophonist named Sergio.
Would the Character Be Better If Jon Hamm Played Him Seriously? The appeal of SNL is watching serious actors be funny, letting their somber persona serve as a hilarious counterpoint to whatever goofiness they’re doing in a sketch. So, in a sense, Hamm is always being serious on SNL, which is why he’s a pretty reliable presence. (In other words, he’s far from reaching maximum smugness, aka Justin Timberlake Disease.)
’30 Rock’ (2009–2012)
How Funny Is Jon Hamm in This? It’s very possible Hamm’s best post-Mad Men character is Dr. Drew Baird, the sweet hunk that Tina Fey’s Liz Lemon falls for. Drew ought to be perfect for her: He loves Monty Python; he’s a sensitive guy; and he lives in the same building. There’s just one problem: He lives in the bubble of his own handsomeness, never realizing how terrible he is at everything because no one’s had the heart to tell him. Hamm is hilarious in the role, very successfully playing a total dummy.
Would It Be Funny If He Wasn’t Jon Hamm? Sure, 30 Rock used Hamm’s impossible handsomeness as the joke, but the show developed Drew enough so that he stopped feeling like just a one-note gag. And Hamm took the character and ran with it, turning this gorgeous dolt into a three-dimensional person. (It’s especially funny when Drew starts getting angry when he realizes how inept he is at the most basic things, like tennis.) Lots of good-looking actors could have played Drew, but Hamm figured out how to make him sympathetic as well as pathetic.
Would the Character Be Better If Jon Hamm Played Him Seriously? In general, Hamm is really good at resisting the urge to preen — he rarely does anything with a wink that says, “Look, it is I, Emmy-winning star Jon Hamm, doing a bit!” Hamm’s commitment to outrageous 30 Rock humor was also on display during the show’s two terrific live episodes. Seriously, if you can pull off blackface, you’re doing something right.
How Funny Is Jon Hamm in This? As Ted, the faithless fuck-buddy to Annie (Kristen Wiig), Hamm is very funny playing a self-centered cad who’s more than content with their no-strings-attached sexual relationship. Ted’s got an awesome car, plenty of women to have sex with and the looks of Jon Hamm. What’s to worry about?
Would It Be Funny If He Wasn’t Jon Hamm? Bridesmaids came out during that period of Hamm’s Mad Men breakthrough where people were discovering that he was a good sport who’d happily send up his Draper demeanor. (“I seem to be the go-to douchebag,” he joked at the time. “I don’t know if that’s something I’m particularly proud of. I guess it’s a bizarre thing to be able to play a terrible person convincingly.”) You laugh at him in Bridesmaids because you know that he’s in on the joke.
Would the Character Be Better If Jon Hamm Played Him Seriously? No, because he already did that for his day job.
‘The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret’ (2012)
How Funny Is Jon Hamm in This? David Cross’ surreal, short-lived IFC series loved relishing in it weirdness, which was certainly true in its casting of Hamm as a hapless assistant to Dave (Blake Harrison). Eventually, it’s revealed that Hamm’s character is, in fact, Jon Hamm, who just really wants to get back to filming Mad Men. He has some fun rolling with the show’s conceit that Jon Hamm the real person isn’t nearly as suave as Jon Hamm the actor.
Would It Be Funny If He Wasn’t Jon Hamm? No, that’s the whole joke.
Would the Character Be Better If Jon Hamm Played Him Seriously? As usual, Hamm’s commitment to playing it straight is commendable. But here, that dedication sorta feels wasted.
‘Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp’ (2015)
How Funny Is Jon Hamm in This? He’s great as the Falcon, a chiseled-jawed assassin who goes undercover at the camp. (Using “Weird Al” Yankovic as your disguise is a pretty boss move.) This prequel was criticized for its unevenness, but Hamm gets into the series’ silly spirit, especially during a note-perfect parody of hand-to-hand-combat action scenes.
Would It Be Funny If He Wasn’t Jon Hamm? First Day of Camp is one of those instances where Jon Hamm’s Jon Hamm-ness isn’t necessarily integral to appreciating this dopey character. Like a lot of the high-profile stars who did cameos on the Netflix series, Hamm was just a big Wet Hot American Summer fan having a blast play-acting with his buddies.
Would the Character Be Better If Jon Hamm Played Him Seriously? Thus far, Hamm hasn’t played an actual, serious assassin in a movie. This seems like a thing he could do fairly well.
‘Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’ (2015-present)
How Funny Is Jon Hamm in This? Hamm seems to always bring a little extra when he’s working with Tina Fey. First collaborating on 30 Rock, they teamed up again on her acclaimed follow-up series Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, where he played the crucial role of Rev. Richard Wayne Gary Wayne, the insidious cult leader who tricked young Kimmy (Elle Kemper) into thinking that she was a survivor of the apocalypse. Wayne is a perfect Fey creation — a smarmy egotist who succeeds because Americans are easily manipulated — and Hamm is fabulous as this smug, charming conman.
Would It Be Funny If He Wasn’t Jon Hamm? It’s possible that, by the time Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt debuted on Netflix, there were some viewers who only knew Jon Hamm through his post-Mad Men work. Wayne is nothing like Draper, and Hamm isn’t spoofing or referencing that character — it’s its own goofy, smart portrayal.
Would the Character Be Better If Jon Hamm Played Him Seriously? Hamm is compelling enough to be a believably creepy religious leader. But in UKS, he’s mostly just playing a great country bumpkin who’s far craftier than he lets on.
‘Keeping Up With the Joneses’ (2016)
How Funny Is Jon Hamm in This? Well, he tries, playing a handsome stranger who moves into a quiet suburb (along with equally stunning wife Gal Godot), arousing suspicion that he may be a spy. But Keeping Up With the Joneses was such an unfunny, strained comedy that his efforts at underplaying his character’s badass action savvy mostly fell flat.
Would It Be Funny If He Wasn’t Jon Hamm? This comedic black hole would have sucked the funny out of any actor.
Would the Character Be Better If Jon Hamm Played Him Seriously? Between Joneses and Wet Hot American Summer, there’s no question that Hamm could have a future playing a high-tech killer/spy in some franchise. But the betting is that he’d only do it if there could be some jokes in it, too.