For six seasons (and hopefully someday, its long-awaited movie), Community proved to be the little show that could. Despite its inconsistent ratings, a seemingly indifferent network, the firing (and subsequent re-hiring) of its showrunner, and the controversial exits of a number of its prominent stars – including Chevy Chase and Donald Glover – the show stayed strong, resulting in an underdog success that provided a consistently fun, ultra-meta spin on the familiar sitcom format.
Created by Dan Harmon, the series starred Joel McHale, Gillian Jacobs, Alison Brie, Jim Rash, and Ken Jeong, many of whom have only continued to rise in fame since the acclaimed sitcom left NBC (and the short-lived Yahoo! Screen). But in addition to these familiar names, there were several other stars who made appearances — both brief and not — during the show's extended run. From John Oliver to Brie Larson, here are 10 actors you might have forgotten were on Community.
John Oliver (Ian Duncan)
John Oliver is best known nowadays as the host of HBO's Last Week Tonight, where he comedically recaps/breaks down some of the biggest news stories/political events of the past week. But when Community began, Oliver periodically appeared as Professor Ian Duncan, a psychology teacher at Greendale Community College who was close friends with Joel McHale's Jeff Winger. While Oliver was away from Community for awhile, he returned for several episodes in Season 5 – but he was absent again in Season 6 (as he was committed to the first season of his aforementioned talk show). Oliver's inconsistent time on Community was due to his involvement as the temporary host of The Daily Show when Jon Stewart was absent, which paved the way for his solo HBO series. Beyond the small screen, Oliver also voiced Zazu in 2019's The Lion King, starring fellow Community star Donald Glover.
Brie Larson (Rachel)
A few short years before her Oscar-winning performance in 2015's Room, and several years before she played the title role in Captain Marvel, Brie Larson appeared in a few episodes of Community — in the fourth and fifth seasons, specifically. Brie played Rachel, a love interest for Abed (Danny Pudi). While there were several elements from the fourth season (i.e. the Dan Harmon-less "gas leak" year) that didn't carry over into the last two seasons, Larson was one of the few newly-introduced characters who leaped into the showrunner's return. When Larson was introduced into Community, she was already an established actress, notably in the acclaimed indie Short Term 12. She also had prominent roles in The United States of Tara, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, 21 Jump Street, and The Spectacular Now. Since then, however, Larson has since been seen in Kong: Skull Island and Avengers: Endgame.
Kumail Nanjiani (Custodian Lapari)
Fans will remember 2014 as a big year for Kumail Nanjiani. After making brief and/or supporting roles in Saturday Night Live, The Colbert Report, The Five-Year Engagement, Veep, Drunk History, Burning Love, Franklin & Bash, and more, Nanjiani finally broke out with a main role in HBO's acclaimed Silicon Valley, and he had his own short-lived Comedy Central series, The Meltdown with Jonah and Kumail. The actor-screenwriter gained more attention and exposure, thus continuing his Hollywood ascension and leading up to his Oscar-nominated work in the autobiographical dramedy, The Big Sick, and building up to roles in Men In Black: International, Stuber, The Twilight Zone, Dolittle, The Lovebirds and Marvel's upcoming The Eternals. As it happens, 2014 was also the year that Nanjiani made one of two guest star appearances on Community as Custodian Lapari, Greendale's deputy custodian, in the fifth and sixth seasons, respectively.
Tig Notaro (Bartender)
In 2012, Tig Notaro was a hard-working comedian with a hard luck story. A few days after she was diagnosed with stage two breast cancer, Notaro performed a brazen, deeply personal set at the Largo, which was subsequently released online. Shortly thereafter, it became a huge success, turning the deadpan comedian into an overnight sensation. Notaro received a double mastectomy and thankfully found herself on the road to recovery, thus propelling her career in show business. She's now a Grammy-nominated performer with credits including The Office, Bob's Burgers, New Girl, Star Trek: Discovery, Transparent, Instant Family, and more, as well as the documentary, Tig, and a short-lived autobiographical Amazon series, One Mississippi. Two years prior to all that, though, Notaro was seen in Community's second season as a bartender serving drinks to Allison Brie's Annie Edison while the Greendale student pretended to be a whole different person.
Adam DeVine (William "Willy" Winger Jr.)
In 2013, a couple years after Workaholics premiered on Comedy Central, and only a year after the release of Pitch Perfect, Adam DeVine appeared in Community's fourth season. Playing the part of William Winger Jr., a.k.a. Willy Jr., the half-brother of Jeff Winger, DeVine was a guest star on the NBC series. The appearance came at a mid-point in DeVine's career. Due to the growing popularity of Workaholics, DeVine was turning into a household name in the world of comedy, though this mid-period Community episode was before he transitioned into leading roles in movies like Game Over Man, Isn't It Romantic?, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates, and Jexi, as well as his principal role in HBO's The Righteous Gemstones and his leading role in Netflix's Green Eggs and Ham.
Brit Marling (Page)
When Brit Marling appeared in Community's second season, the actress/writer/producer was breaking out as an indie darling, having starred in, produced, and co-written two of the hottest movies at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival: Another Earth and Sound Of My Voice. In response to the acclaim for those two small-budget movies, Marling gained a few prominent acting roles, including the Community episode "Early 21st Century Romanticism" — which became Marling's first paid acting gig, by her own admission. Marling played Page, Britta's new friend whom she believes is a lesbian. This episode received attention for an on-screen kiss shared between Marling and Jacobs. Since her time on Community, Marling continues to expand he career as a multi-hyphenate, most notably with Netflix's cult-favorite sci-fi series, The OA. The mind-bending streaming series was cancelled after two seasons, though diehard fans are adamant about bringing it back.
Vince Gilligan (Devon)
Best known as the creator of AMC's masterful Breaking Bad and the co-creator of its exceptional spin-off series, Better Call Saul, Vince Gilligan has earned a wealth of acclaim as a writer, showrunner, producer, and director. But in 2014, Gilligan added his first acting credit to his resume when he appeared in the Community episode "VCR Maintenance and Educational Publishing," where the Emmy-winning writer-director played Devon, a struggling middle-aged actor and host of Pile of Bullets — a cheesy 1990s VCR-based video game. Other than a cameo on Comedy Bang Bang and an appearance as himself on What Just Happened??! with Fred Savage, Community was one of Gilligan's select few on-screen acting roles (he also did voice work for American Dad and Penn Zero: Part-Time Hero). He rarely appears on-camera outside of interviews. Therefore, if you didn't recognize Gilligan here, you're forgiven.
Drew Carey (Ted)
By the time Drew Carey appeared on Community, the actor-comedian-television personality was already a household name. Thanks to shows like The Drew Carey Show, Whose Line Is It Anyway?, and, eventually, The Price Is Right, Carey was a familiar face to television audiences in the United States. Thus, it was a fun surprise to see him in the second season of the cult-favorite NBC series playing Ted, the head of the law firm Hamish, Hamish & Hamlin and Jeff's former boss. If you forgot that the game show host made a brief appearance on the program, that's understandable — especially since the character died off-camera in Season 3 (by Jeff's admission, at least). Nevertheless, Carey continues to be seen on The Price Is Right, though he recently took a break from the popular CBS series when his ex-fiancee was tragically murdered.
Paul Walter Hauser (Student #3)
In recent years, Paul Walter Hauser has stood out as one of our most impressive up-and-coming character actors. With strong supporting turns in BlacKkKlansman, I, Tonya, Cobra Kai, Late Night, Super Troopers 2, and the title role in last year's Richard Jewell, Hauser has stood out in parts big and small... although you would be forgiven if you missed him in Community. The actor made a blink-and-you-miss-it appearance in the Season 2 episode, "Messianic Myths and Ancient Peoples." He was billed simply as "Student #3," though he has a line and modestly prominent screen-time. It was one of his first professional credits, and it paved the way for what we would see from him today — including upcoming roles in Cruella, Spike Lee's Da 5 Bloods, and more. He's certainly an actor to watch for, especially after his outstanding performance in Clint Eastwood's newest.
Jack Black (Buddy Austin)
Unlike several other actors on this list, Jack Black was a well-established name when he walked onto Greendale's campus. The Golden Globe-nominated actor-musician is best known for School of Rock, Tropic Thunder, the Kung Fu Panda trilogy, Nacho Libre, High Fidelity, Tenacious D In The Pick Of Destiny, Goosebumps, and the recent Jumanji films, to name a few. He was a big get for the plucky NBC sitcom, playing the role of the hapless Buddy Austin, a would-be member of the study group. His brief mid-season role in the sitcom's first year was a splashy surprise, and it came at a point when Community was finding its groove (namely in the episode right after its first-ever mid-season break). As Community advanced into the more meta series fans know it for today, one could easily forget the surprises found in the first season — including Black's starry appearance.
In addition to these names listed above, Community also saw Randall Park, Nick Kroll, Martin Starr, Katharine McPhee, Matt Walsh, Eliza Coupe, Owen Wilson and other big name stars briefly roaming the halls of Greendale before the doors closed. Although the series was never a huge hit in the ratings department, nor was it ever the awards contender it should have been, the Dan Harmon-created meta-sitcom did have both critical acclaim and a devoted following in its favor. Suffice to say, it makes sense why it would attract so many high-level talents throughout its unlikely run. Now that the show has concluded, it's also easy to see why so many famous faces who appeared on this fan-favorite series went on to do so many great things. Who was your favorite celebrity appearance on Community? Let us know in the comment section below.
Will is an entertainment writer based in Pittsburgh, PA. His writing can also be found in The Playlist, Cut Print Film, We Got This Covered, The Young Folks, Slate and other outlets. He also co-hosts the weekly film/TV podcast Cinemaholics with Jon Negroni and he likes to think he's a professional Garfield enthusiast.
Your Daily Blend of Entertainment News
Thank you for signing up to CinemaBlend. You will receive a verification email shortly.
There was a problem. Please refresh the page and try again.