Dying is easy, comedy is hard, and getting an Oscar for doing comedy is downright impossible. For various reasons, the Academy does not like to recognize actors doing comedic roles, often preferring somber, heavy dramatic turns in “Oscar Bait” projects that overlook how much craft goes into a comedic role. This might change this year (temporarily, I guarantee) if either Sacha Baron Cohen or Maria Bakalova earn much-deserved Oscar nominations for their work in Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm. But even those nominations can’t make up for the number of times Eddie Murphy gave awards-worthy performances in a comedy and got snubbed.
Eddie Murphy has one Oscar nomination to his name, and it’s for appearing in Bill Condon’s musical, Dreamgirls. Even he has admitted in interviews that he doesn’t think he acted as hard in that film as he does in most of his comedies. The performance that gets the most analysis, in hindsight, is The Nutty Professor, where Murphy used makeup and prosthetics to play the entire Klump family. He does a similar bit in the Coming to America films, particularly in the barbershop scene.
It really bothers me. And I feel that it's even more stilted against Eddie because the problem that I think people have with Eddie is that they think that it's easy for him. I'm sure there are many things in Eddie's life that feel easy. But what people don't know is what I see, which is him sitting in his chair, in makeup, he's putting on music, he's getting into a place, he's rehearsing these lines -- you see him where he doesn't fool around on set. When you're in between takes, he goes to his chair and you see him get into this trance where he is working and working and working. There's craft there. And I worry that people think that like, ‘Oh, well, Eddie's just showing up and being funny, like he's always done.’ And that's just not true. Yes, he's showing up and being hilarious, but it's not like he's just flipping a switch.
This is an unfair assessment leveled at comedians, and Eddie Murphy isn’t the first or only funny person to get shafted because the Academy doesn’t want to fully shine its light on comedic performances. Craig Brewer brings up the year that Kevin Kline won Best Supporting Actor for A Fish Called Wanda, but for every victory, there are tremendous comedic performances by Kristen Wiig or Jim Carrey that get left out of the race.
Craig Brewer went on to say:
You take every dramatic actor or actress, and they will all say the same thing. Comedy is so much harder. There's no one in the room laughing. Everyone's got to be very quiet. You're dealing with timing, with an audience who is not there. … I think that it involves so much more awareness and so much more craft, at times, depending on the material, then some of these [dramatic] roles where people are kind of just screaming and yelling, doing things that feel right on a human level, that are kind of easier to do.
It does feel like this year, Maria Bakalova will make the Academy break down and realize the craft that goes into a comedic performance. But her Borat 2 co-star, Sacha Baron Cohen, probably will get nominated for The Trial of the Chicago 7, where he’s comedic in a more serious movie. Such is life in Hollywood.