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10 Comic Actresses Who Deserve A Big-Screen Leading Role

by Oliver Lyttelton
April 28, 2014 2:15 PM
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Shelby Fero

Shelby Fero
Whereas once a comedian would break out by performing stand-up on Letterman or Leno, now you can reach a substantial level of fame purely through your Twitter presence. Alongside the likes of Chelsea Peretti and Megan Amram, one of the most promising prospects who’ve taken this route is the disgustingly young and talented Shelby Fero. The comic was barely in high school when she started writing articles for Cracked, before establishing a Twitter presence that gained over 100,000 followers, and remains one of the most consistently funny feeds around. After moving to L.A to attend USC (she’s subsequently dropped out to focus on comedy), Fero started gigging as a stand-up, and already feels like she’s been doing it for a decade, with a preternatural confidence and smart, sometimes button-pushing material. Fero’s currently focusing on writing, having penned an episode of FX’s animated series “Chozen,” and has a gig on the writing staff for late night show “@midnight,” but her relatively brief acting appearances (most notably a few appearances on “Key & Peele”) have suggested that it won’t be difficult to make the transition. As a former screenwriting major, we imagine she’s cooking up her own projects for herself, but it surely can’t be long before some canny studio executive gives wisely gives her a vehicle to call her own.


One of the benefits of a long-running show is that it gets to delve into and expand the supporting characters who at first might have been one-note or one-joke. Having unexpectedly made it to seven seasons, despite low ratings, NBC’s “Parks and Recreation” has been particularly good at this, with everyone from disaster-area news anchor Joan Callamezzo to the incomparable Jean-Ralphio getting extra shading, but one of the finest beneficiaries of this is Donna, the “Scandal”-loving man-eater played by stand-up comic Retta. Born Marietta Sirleaf, she’s been successful on the live circuit for a few decades, and picked up small roles in the likes of “Fracture” and “First Sunday,” but she’s been present pretty much from the beginning of “Parks and Rec,” and has been more and more vital as it’s gone on, often walking away with scenes despite competition from the series’ killer ensemble. Indeed, the last few episodes, which have finally seen her enter a real relationship with Keegan-Michael Key’s schoolteacher, have been a reminder that Retta isn’t just a comic force, but capable of some real emotional range. There aren’t many leading ladies who look like her, admittedly, but in a time when Melissa McCarthy is arguably the biggest comedy movie star around, few would doubt that someone with her presence and skill could explode with the right role.

Gillian Jacobs

Gillian Jacobs
Speaking of shows that are unexpectedly still on the air, “Community” is coming off its fifth season firmly back on form after the return of Dan Harmon, and with a return looking remarkably likely, given its long-term status as the brilliant runt of NBC’s Thursday night litter. The fabled Six Seasons And A Movie approaches, which is great news, except for the fact that, short of someone doing a Donald Glover and bailing on the show, we’ll go another year without certain cast members becoming the movie stars they deserve to be. Alongside the great Alison Brie, the one we’ve been tipping for longest is Gillian Jacobs, whose inept campaigner Britta has gone from slightly bland love interest to inept social justice campaigner and show highlight. Jacobs picked up some impressive theater and TV credits after graduating Julliard, landing a substantial role in Clark Gregg’s “Choke” opposite Sam Rockwell, before signing on for “Community,” and her deft, somewhat fearless comic chops have been a huge asset to the series even in the Harmon-less fourth season. And more so than most, she’s managed to fit in movie roles in between other things, with “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone” and “Bad Milo!” among her credits, while coming up she has “Hot Tub Time Machine 2," Blumhouse horror “Visions” and indies “The Lookalike,” “Black And White” and “No Way Jose” coming up. She actually plays the second banana to Elizabeth Banks in “Walk Of Shame,” which has the unintended effect of making you wish she had a similar vehicle of her own...

Erinn Hayes

Erinn Hayes
There are some actors where it’s understandable that it takes them a little time to get the right foothold to the stardom, and there are some where it becomes a touch baffling that they’re not bigger than they are. Erinn Hayes is definitely in the latter category. The 37-year-old actress is ludicrously beautiful and even more talented, and has credits going back to the turn of the 21st century, but despite being seemingly omnipresent, has never quite found the one role that would launch her into the stratosphere. Early one-offs in “CSI” and “The West Wing” turned into a recurring role opposite Bradley Cooper in “Kitchen Confidential,” and then a regular in Seth MacFarlane sitcom “The Winner." That was swiftly cancelled, as was the better-received “Worst Week,” but since then Hayes has turned up on everything from “Parenthood” to “Parks and Recreation,” but her own leading roles on TV have been on material that’s been somewhat beneath her. There’s been one major silver lining, though, with the great, and unhinged “Children’s Hospital,” in which Hayes really gets to let loose and show what she can do. On the big screen, she’s a big favorite of comics-turned-directors like David Wain, David Cross and Matt Walsh, and shone in the underrated “It’s A Disaster,” so she’ll surely soon end up with a bigger part worthy of her skills.

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  • Dennis | May 15, 2014 3:52 PMReply

    That fat colored girl from Parks and Recreation in no way, shape, or form deserves a leading role. She single handedly ruins that show for me. Scenes that she is in are completely unwatchable. She is an eyesore and the whole "strong, black woman" attitude is disgusting.

  • Elway | May 17, 2014 1:41 PM

    Colored girl? What is this the 60's.

  • frnk | May 15, 2014 5:43 PM

    Damn, racist.

  • laughtrack | May 13, 2014 6:48 AMReply

    I love this article , and I fully support the love for Kate McKinnon ( she does the best SNL impressions since Bill Hader ) , Krysten Ritter ( absolutely brilliant in Don't Trust The B… In Apt. 23 ) , the very charming and likable duo of Jessica St. Clair & Lennon Parham , and great scene stealers Michaela Watkins Eliza Coupe . But , you forgot to mention , the always terrific Lucy Punch . She owns every film that she is in .

  • scott | May 11, 2014 10:41 PMReply

    I would love to see the actress brandy norwood get a lead role. She's more of a julia roberts/meg ryan type. She also plays a great straight man too.

  • huh | May 7, 2014 4:04 PMReply

    Isla Fisher.

  • Mike | May 7, 2014 12:50 PMReply

    Alison Brie. Gillian Jacobs, no offense to her, seems like Judy Greer. Yeah, they're great, but just not leading role potential.

  • Patrick | April 30, 2014 5:24 AMReply

    Kristen Schaal, Melissa Fumero, Stephanie Beatriz

  • Nichelle | April 29, 2014 12:30 PMReply

    Great list! I like to add Judy Greer, Michelle Buteau, Helen Hong, Livia Scott.

  • Carlos T. | April 29, 2014 11:21 AMReply

    I thought you'd forgotten my two faves, but they're in the "postscript" at the end: Krysten Ritter! Ellie Kemper! Like Alison Brie, they're both hilarious and smokin' hot.

  • Blip | April 29, 2014 1:52 AMReply

    I guess they just got a TV show, but hope to see Garfunkel and Oates in a movie some day.

  • Annie | April 29, 2014 12:50 AMReply

    Re: Gillian, check out Life Partners. Re: Eliza, look up The Last Time You Had Fun. The indie filmmaking crowd is ahead of the curve :)

  • NewYorker | April 28, 2014 9:48 PMReply

    10 funny actresses i love to see get a lead role in films are
    1-Ari Graynor
    2-Wendi Mclendon Covey
    3-Casey Wilson
    4-Chelsea Peretti(from Brooklyn Nine Nine)
    5-Kate McKinnon
    6-Beth Behrs
    7-Alia Shawkat
    8-Whitney Cummings
    9-Jennette McCurdy(shes just super funny on sam & Cat, and yes im 21 and still like nickelodeon, shes just such a funny person)
    10-Kate Simses(shee steals alot of scene to me on Mixology)

  • Kolio | May 7, 2014 11:10 AM

    laughed so hard when I read jenette mccurdy, it made your entire list a complete joke

  • Lucille | April 30, 2014 8:59 AM

    A film with Alia Shawkat as the lead would be a dream, she is great as supporting in Whip It and The To Do List, not to forget her excellence as Maeby in AD. Ari Graynor, as well I think, is severely underrated!

  • Gina | April 28, 2014 5:45 PMReply

    Gillian Jacobs & Alison Brie ftw!; the whole cast of Bridesmaids, Parks & Rec, Sarah Silverman, they all deserve to star in more movies and I'm glad is happening more often

  • Tommy Do | April 28, 2014 5:24 PMReply


  • lexie | April 28, 2014 4:56 PMReply

    Livia Scott!!!!!!!!! UCB and Comedy Rock Star!!!

  • Jonathan | April 28, 2014 4:50 PMReply

    Where is Marina Franklin on this list?

  • H | April 28, 2014 4:34 PMReply

    Maria Bamford

  • amy | April 28, 2014 3:27 PMReply

    shelby fero sucks

  • Adam | April 28, 2014 4:37 PM


  • Joe | April 28, 2014 3:06 PMReply

    "Indeed, the last few episodes, which have finally seen her enter a real relationship with Keegan-Michael Key’s schoolteacher, have been a reminder that Retta isn’t just a comic force, but capable of some real emotional range." Nice try, Oliver, but you just completely made that up. Key was in ONE episode of P&R, at the end of which they decided to go out on a date. In no way have we seen her "enter a relationship" with anyone, and so that non-event did not give us a reminder about Retta's emotional range. It seems like you just watched that one episode and just Mitch Albom'd the rest of that capsule, pulling assumptions about their relationship out of your a** so you could make a point about Retta that could have been made with a whole host of other subplots she's actually been involved in. and which were not made up by you.

  • Y | April 28, 2014 2:30 PMReply

    "The longest-serving hands, Nasim Pedrad and Vanessa Bayer, have long since become utility player..."
    You're gonna eat those words when Nasim Pedrad becomes the only star of this cast in post-SNL years.

  • Y | April 28, 2014 6:13 PM

    The article's supposed to be about talent not screentime. EW, Vulture...and bunch of other entertainment websites have already covered all of these names(except perhaps some bizarre choices like Shelby Ferro who-the writer admits-doesn't have any acting credit).
    Anyway, that particular comment is asinine because some of the best talents on SNL are the ones that getting sidelined.

  • Mongoosecmr | April 28, 2014 4:46 PM

    That doesn't change the fact that Pedrad is barely on the show most episodes. I would expect her to be cut if NBC wasn't scared to lose more "older" talent

  • DArtagnan | April 28, 2014 2:24 PMReply

    Alison Brie!

  • Elway | May 17, 2014 1:52 PM

    Agreed with Alison Brie. Mad Men should drop the Don Draper character and focus on Alison Brie's Trudy Campbell character. Now that would be a show worth watching!

  • tomwrotethis | May 3, 2014 12:20 AM

    Agreed. Not to go too far into a Brie vs. Jacobs argument, but I think Alison has the better screen presence and is funnier.

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