One of the oldest staples in movies is the comedy relief character. Especially in darker movies, the comic relief character serves to provide levity in times of dire straits and, if used correctly, they can be the highlight of the movie, and usually tend to be fan favorites. There’s a fine line to walk with a comic relief character, and although many of them can be annoying, these are the comic relief characters that we think did the best job of serving the role while being a memorable part of their respective films.
Iago from Aladdin
If you’ve seen a single Disney movie, then you have to know that there will always be a comic relief character somewhere. It’s part of their winning formula, and to this day the comic relief characters remain the most memorable. In Aladdin, the comic relief comes in the form of a colorful parrot named Iago. Although initially a crony of the evil villain Jafar, Iago spits out witty remarks as the film goes on both at the expense of his master and the main protagonists. Iago is one of those comic relief characters that isn’t really very good hearted in the traditional sense. Instead, he uses his abrasive attitude to point out the absurdity of the situation and mostly wants to look after his own skin. It’s his relatable nature that also makes him a particularly memorable comic relief character.
Eric Cartman from South Park
South Park is legendary in the animation community. The show has single handedly managed to get away with the most outrageous of publicity stunts, all the while making fun of everything and everyone. No one can avoid the writing wrath of South Park, and much of this wit and sting comes from the famous Eric Cartman. The fat kid from down the street, Eric Carman, normally known as Cartman, is unabashedly a selfish, annoying brat. However, in a show where there are sentient poops and Jesus hosts a TV chat show, annoying and selfish are some of the more admirable traits you can find in these characters. At his heart he is mostly a scared kid that wants to impress everybody, but by impressing everybody he tends to find himself in positions of power, which he in due course makes sure to abuse and he looks down upon mostly everyone else. On paper he doesn’t sound like a very good character at all, but in the contextual madness of South Park, Cartman works as a great outside dose of reality and foil to the other more morally correct characters.
Timon and Pumbaa from The Lion King
The Lion King is the epitome of the three act structure. The beginning is known for its innovative use of rousing African tribal music and delivering one of the most surprising deaths in cinema and the end is a satisfying conclusion to the long character arc of Simba, both in how he aged and thematically, but many would forget about the second act of The Lion King if it weren’t for Timon and Pumbaa. After Simba is exiled, he finds himself in the jungle where he meets these two interesting characters. Their ideology, embodied by perhaps the most famous song from the film, “Hakuna Matata,” is to live life day by day and enjoy every second of it. Not only do these two prove to be the comedic foil in a relatively dark plot, but they have proven to be fan favorites as time went on. Their song and ideology has stuck with many a young fan of the animated classic, and I doubt they’ll be forgotten any time soon.
Leo Getz from Lethal Weapon 2
If you were to look at the Lethal Weapon franchise now, it’s not much of a surprise that a lot of the corny action and overly masculine dialogue can be considered funny by today's standards, but upon its release much of what make it cliché today would have made it innovative and ground-breaking then. Therefore, to break up what some could see as a dark story, in Lethal Weapon 2 the character of Leo Getz, played by Joe Pesci, shows up. His immortal catchphrase of “Ok… Ok…” has almost eclipsed the entire character and is now a fan favorite moment of the entire franchise. Leo doesn’t have many defining characteristics, but he sure as hell talks, and he talks a lot, so much so that he’ll even talk to himself if no one wants to talk with him. The strange character seems to switch jobs from film to film, implying that he is so damn annoying that he gets fired from each of his jobs, but he makes a great dramatic character to place against Riggs and Murtaugh and an iconic comic relief character who is still remembered to this day.
Olaf from Frozen
I still can’t quite believe how successful Frozen was. Up until its release, many presumed, quite rightly, that Pixar was the king of the animation world and they had absolutely dominated the 2000s with some of the greatest films, not just animated, but of all time. So, initially when Frozen was announced there was little to no expectation for it to become the smash hit that ended up being. Frozen was everywhere on the planet, and it was helped in part by the funny little snowman character of Olaf. Olaf is, in a word, charming. His one character goal is to go to a beach and enjoy the sun, but because he’s a snowman he’ll never be able to do that, but he still tries feverishly. This relentless optimism fuels his character and he becomes a dear friend to both Elsa and Anna by the end of the film with his heart warming messages and unique perspectives.
Bender from Futurama
This is one of those rare cases where the comic relief character may have actually eclipsed the main characters of the show. Initially focused upon Fry and Leela in the futuristic year of 3000 on planet Earth, Bender the autonomous robot stole the show with his drunken antics and sardonic outlook on the world. Much like Cartman from South Park, Bender makes no effort to appear any less morally reprehensible than he actually is, and his many deals with the devil and other such morally grey activities paint him as a robot who doesn’t care what anyone thinks of him. However, he still sticks by Fry through thick and thin, and when the plot gets a bit too heavy the show’s creators tend to throw him into the mix to give proceedings some more levity. Bender after a while became the face of Futurama and embodied the feeling of optimism about the future of the planet, but cautiousness of where our scientific progress might take us.
Darcy from Thor
Just like Iago, Olaf, and Timon and Pumbaa, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has adopted the tenant of the Disney animated films of having a permanent comic relief character with full force. Where the heroes are not inherently funny as themselves, such as Thor, the writers have thrown in funnier characters to make up for his deadpan righteousness. One such character is Darcy, one of the main friends and colleagues of Thor’s romantic interest Jane Foster. Despite the fact that Darcy seems to be a fairly capable scientist, Darcy is seen to be the clumsiest of the lot and is relatively hapless. She strikes us as a puppy that’s been thrown into a world shattering event; relentlessly innocent and clueless as to what’s going on. This cluelessness informs much her character, but it also is used to comedic effect to point out the ridiculousness of the events in the movie. Despite many critics insistence that they do not like Kat Dennings as an actor, we really enjoyed the character of Darcy in both Thor films.
Genie from Aladdin
When you read earlier that I highlighted Iago from Aladdin, you must have been wondering how I managed to miss one of the most prominent comic relief characters in recent memory, Genie from Aladdin. Well, you’ll be glad to know I didn’t, not even slightly. What makes Genie such a great comic relief character is that he is almost entirely unique due to the erratic, esoteric, but altogether entertaining ramblings of Robin Williams that gave the character so much life. This Genie is far from a wise old sage, and instead he has the personality of an energetic TV presenter, wheeling and dealing his way through to the next item. This was perhaps one of Robin Williams' best roles, and I doubt it’ll ever be forgotten.
Donkey from Shrek
Speaking of trying to defy genre conventions, let’s talk about Donkey from Shrek. Shrek was originally made to try and make fun of fantasy/medieval conventions in fairy tales and the first Shrek film is the perfect example of this. All of our favorite fairy tale characters seem to be a little bit different than what we remember, and this unique perspective on the sub-genre is why I think Shrek has stayed in the public consciousness so long. However, I also think that it is in large part due to Eddie Murphy’s brilliant voice over work for the character of Donkey. Many going in might have expected Donkey to have voice like Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh, but what they got instead was an energetic performance from one of the legends of comedy, one that proved to have a staying comic relief character in pop culture for years to come.
Alan from The Hangover
When The Hangover first came out, critics came out of the woodwork to praise it for its innovation in an increasingly stale genre, and much of that is to do with the landmark performance of Zach Galifinakis. The comedian turned actor was the standout highlight of the entire film, as a doofus on the surface with a heart of gold, he was easily the most memorable part of the movie due to his side splitting jokes and antics. Despite the fact that The Hangover is full to the brim with comic relief characters, the character of Alan is far and away the funniest.
Brick from Anchorman
But let's not forget one of the greatest comedies from the 2000s, Anchorman. The film followed the adventures of a strange and erratic group of TV presenters, one of which was Steve Carrell’s Brick. In his opening lines, Brick refers to himself as mentally retarded, and from that we can pretty much figure out what his entire schtick is. However, he does a damned good job at making the idiot comic relief character stand out with legendary lines (one involving a particularly interesting toilet store) and consistently giving levity where the film may risk delving into more dramatically heavy territory. Despite the fact that Anchorman is very much a Will Ferrell film, Brick very may well steal the show as one of, if not the best comic relief characters in recent memory.