Your assignment, should you choose to accept it, is to provide examples of two kinds of “comic” performances. The first kind is a performance that’s intended to be comic within a comedic film, but in fact isn’t the least bit funny or even chuckle-worthy. The second kind is a performance that is, in fact, quite funny if not hilarious but in a weird, perverse way — a performance that you cant help but be tickled by even though it unfolds in a film that in no way presents itself as a comedy.

HE’s example of the first kind is Mindy Kaling‘s comedy-writer character in Nisha Ganatra‘s Late Night, a 2019 feminist relationship comedy. Kaling’s “Molly Patel” is hired to write jokes for Emma Thompson‘s (“Katherine Newbury’s”) late-night talk show, but (a) she isn’t the least bit funny, (b) she hasn’t the personality or attitude of a good (i.e., brilliant) comedy writer, and (c) she doesn’t deliver a single funny line. All Molly cares about is being respected in the work environment and not being treated as a token POC hire, which of course she is.

Why is it a struggle to believe that Molly (who has never before written professional-grade comedy and has mostly been hired because she’s a woman of color) is a comedy writer worth her salt? Because most jokes that “land” and actually make people laugh are always a little cutting and sometimes flirt with cruelty. A certain pointed irreverence is essential. Molly has none of that.

HE’s best example of the second kind of “comic” performance is Ben Kingsley‘s in Sexy Beast (’01). During a Four Seasons interview I told Kingsley that I regarded his “Don Logan” as one of the funniest I’ve ever seen in a film that obviously wasn’t a comedy, and he got it — he was delighted that I understood what he was going for.

I’m guessing that maybe 5% of those who saw Sexy Beast found Kingsley’s performance “funny,” if that. But that was partly the point — you had to have a perverse attitude about that kind of psychotic gangster character in the first place. Ian McShane‘s “Teddy Bass” wasn’t the least bit amusing, of course — he was an ice-old sociopath start to finish. As was Don Logan, except Kingsley went for something more — he pushed the energy and absurdity of that enraged character so that you couldn’t help but at least snicker. Especially in the very last scene, which is one of the “funniest” ever in this vein.

Other examples of either kind?