“Dying is easy, comedy is hard,” goes the old show biz cliché. Unless you’re looking for an Oscar, of course. That’s when comedians face death, disease, and hardship, without cracking a joke. Because as Oscar reminds again and again, comedy just doesn’t get you much appreciation when you’re up against Meryl Streep as Britain’s first female prime minister or Daniel Day Lewis transforming himself into a legendary (and doomed) American president.
This year, Matthew McConaughey picked up his first Oscar nomination by applying his easy charm to a reckless Texan gaunt with AIDS in Dallas Buyers Club, erasing memories of his tired rom-coms in the process. And he’s not the only comedy veteran who got the Academy’s attention by turning to drama.
Jonah Hill, best known for goofing his way through Judd Apatow comedies, picks up his second Oscar nomination for his offbeat turn in Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street, a labor-of-love role he took just so he could work with his directing hero. Though previously nominated for playing a nerdy statistician in Moneyball, this one still took him by surprise: “I am in complete and total shock,” read Hill’s official statement. “I honestly was not expecting this, on a level you can’t even imagine.” (The 30-year-old actor will be able to flex his comedy chops again this weekend when he hosts Saturday Night Live.)