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Back in 2010, during the run-up to the release of Adam McKay’s The Other Guys, our own Katey Rich wrote an editorial titled “Rant: Mark Wahlberg Is Not That Funny, And We Need To Stop Telling Him He Is.” In the article she argued that while the actor has his moments, his particular style suffers from diminishing returns and that he would be better off sticking to the dramas and action flicks that made him a star. Let’s now fast forward to the present, where the latest Wahlberg film, the Seth MacFarlane-directed Ted, is about to hit theaters. The new movie has the actor showing a whole new side to his style, dropping the always-angry routine in favor of playing a laid-back stoner who enjoys spending his days with an anthropomorphic teddy bear. But has the argument changed? Is Mark Wahlberg now considered "funny?"
To settle things once and for all, Eric and Sean have gone head-to-head in our latest Great Debate to not only talk about their personal opinions of Wahlberg’s comedy skills, but also to analyze his choices in the genre and determine what his best course of action is for the future. Check it out!
Eric: So I guess to start, my review is already on the site, but what did you think of Ted?
Sean: I liked it a lot more than I expected. I went into it thinking it had one joke -- its central premise of a crude talking bear. And while that's pretty much what Ted's about, that's not always what is funny about it. It has some huge, off-tangent jokes that are so pop-culture driven, they'll be outdated a month from now. But during the screening they are EXTREMELY funny!
Eric: I really liked it too, and while I found that Seth MacFarlane kept a lot of the jokes for himself, I was also really surprised by how much I enjoyed Mark Wahlberg's performance in the movie. It's a really different character for him, as he's no longer playing the angry guy.
Sean: Yes, but here's my issue with it. He is playing the straight guy in a comedy, the set up to the main comedian's punch line. He did it in The Other Guys (for Will Ferrell). He's doing it here for MacFarlane. So my question, after seeing Ted, is this, Eric: Is Mark Wahlberg funny? I'm honestly not sure, am I'm leaning toward, "No."
Eric: That's where I disagree. While I see your point about him playing the straight man, if you look at movies like Ted and The Other Guys a lot of it is about give and take and he's regularly a great scene partner. Considering his background in drama I think he has really good timing and knows how to deliver a joke: case in point the long, rapid list of white trash girl names. I think he needs a partner, but I don't think you can write him off completely as not being funny.
Sean: OK, that trailer-trash marathon of names was extremely funny. And I'm not dismissing the possibility. But I don't think Wahlberg got into the acting business to try comedy. You say he needs a partner. I tend to agree. Do you think Wahlberg could ever carry a comedy on his own? He does appear to have good timing. And he doesn't need the spotlight in a comedy. But there are some seriously funny people who have yet to receive a halfway decent comedy role. Is Wahlberg eating up their opportunities?
Eric: Well, he is taking the straight man roles so I don't think he's taking parts away from the bigger comedy stars. That said, I am going to take this moment to cite The Departed. That movie can't be designated a comedy, but it's a perfect example of Wahlberg being absolutely hysterical by himself. Albeit it's him using that angry-guy shtick that I was happy to see him not use in Ted, but you can't deny his performance in that part. Also, at this point in his comedy career I don't really think he's looking to steal leading comedy parts away from "real comedians." The parts he is taking are written for actors like himself.
Sean: He was very funny in The Departed. Scanning his resume, he also was funny in Date Night, though that clearly was a vehicle built for Steve Carell and Tina Fey. And he found ways to be funny in I Heart Huckabees. I guess a bigger compliment I'd pay Wahlberg, when it comes to comedy, is that he's genius at picking the absolute right parts or his comedic skill levels. He's never going to create an original character, a la Sacha Baron Cohen. And he can't hold his own in a flat-out joke fest. He'll get eclipsed. But he can pick strong character work that has very funny moments, and make the absolute most of them. I'm still not sure if I'd say he's as funny as he is smart, though!
Eric: He knows his limitations, which is more than you can say about a lot of lead actors who would probably be better suited in supporting roles. It will become an issue if he does start trying to create characters like Baron Cohen or taking on parts that would normally be played by a Will Ferrell or Jim Carrey, but at this point in his career he seems totally satisfied being the guy who sets up the ball for someone else to spike. And if it works, why take it away from him?
Sean: Dude, you kind of nailed it about Wahlberg. He's the opposite of Jim Carrey. Remember how much was made of Carrey when he transitioned to drama? It was always in quirky, oddball character pieces like The Truman Show or Man On the Moon. And he was great, but everyone was like, "But he's a comedian!" So Wahlberg starts off in action films. He's the tough guy. Yet he keeps trying comedies. The right comedies. And he's great! But we don't want to accept him as a comedian. It's fascinating.
Eric: It's sad, but it's probably going to be something that follows him for the rest of his career, no matter how many quality funny movies he makes. I think that taking parts like the one he has in Ted will help, though, because at the very least he's showing that he can be flexible within the genre. So let's make a call here: what would you say is Mark Wahlberg's future in comedy?
Sean: I'm going to take the negative side and just say that his future in comedy is limited. He won't carry his own comedy, and he won't create his own original characters (like Mike Myers or Baron Cohen). But he'll wait for the right, clever script and pounce when possible. In the meantime, he'll crank out five easy crime thrillers while he's waiting. Agree? Or do you see a rosier comedic future for Mr. Wahlberg?
Eric: I have yet to see him make a comedy that I didn't like - which is actually more than I can say about his action films - and until he takes a part that's completely out of his depth I say: Mr. Wahlberg, keep doing what you're doing.