If you think it’s weird that Louis C.K. and Matt LeBlanc are competing against each other again in the same Emmy Awards category for roles in which they play themselves, in name and essentially in spirit, in TV comedies, consider this: C.K. and LeBlanc were high-school classmates, too. Newton North High School (Newton, Mass.) Class of 1985.
But acting as yourself is an odd duck of a role normally reserved for cameos in TV shows and movies.
Seeing someone carry a sitcom for multiple seasons, in which fictional characters refer to that comedian or comedic actor by his or her actual name and refer to their real-life, can blur the lines both for the viewer and for the actor.
Let’s hear it, then, straight from the mouths of nine such comedians who successfully have made their name even more of a household name by putting it into the show.
LOUIS C.K., Louie (FX).
“It’s the way I would act in those situations. I let myself make huge, terrible mistakes that I wouldn’t make in real life. I let myself have terrible judgment because it’s more entertaining.”
— Louis C.K., at the Paley Center for Media conversation, Nov. 3, 2010
MATT LeBLANC, Episodes (Showtime)
“As the seasons go by, I tend to look at myself in the mirror while I’m shaving, and the line gets more blurred,” LeBlanc told The Los Angeles Times yesterday, upon receiving a morning celebratory bottle of champagne for his Emmy nod. “I have to remember that I’m not an alcoholic, and that I am a good dad and I’m not so self-centered. I have to remember who I really am.”
“I don’t mind being the brunt of the joke as long as it’s a good joke. People say, ‘Are you worried that people will think that’s what you’re really like?’ If I do my job right, they will — but I’ve made my peace with that. The people who really know me, know who I am. My job as an actor is to alienate the world from Matt LeBlanc.”
LARRY DAVID, Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO)
In a podcast this year with Jeff Garlin, Larry David revealed: “The show is an idealized version of me.”
How is that? David said his TV persona is more honest than he is. “He says the things I think and don’t say,” David told USA Today.
MARC MARON, Maron (IFC)
“It’s definitely based on my life, and there’s no question about that. But I don’t know. I would still be wary to call it in any way reality. Because no matter what you’re doing, reality is not interesting in the same way as a scripted show is. When we were breaking stories for this, I brought in all of these stories from my life. Really, a story isn’t a story until you make it one. It’s just things that have happened. So I’ve got a series of things that happened, and then, alright, how do we fill that out? So. A lot of this just happened in my house. Well, I think we need to get you out of the house. You know what I mean? So it becomes that. It’s really its own separate thing, loaded up with the emotions of what really happened, but I would be wary to call it reality. It is based on your life. But life isn’t that tight.”
JIM JEFFERIES, Legit (FX)
“I’m just winging it. I think I’ll take an acting class if I’m playing someone other than myself,” Jefferies told The Comic’s Comic when his first season debuted, using his stand-up bits as plotlines for multiple episodes. “They say your stand-up is way funnier as your show. Hell, I hope so.” Jefferies plays himself as himself, the stand-up comedian, but you don’t see him perform as one on the show yet. “We didn’t want to be compared to Louie, so we didn’t do any stand-up on the show.”
As he told The AV Club about being Jim Jefferies on TV:
“First of all, the real me at the moment is sitting next to a 2-month-old baby, who I’m trying to keep from crying, so that’s a vastly different guy. The fictional guy is basically the stand-up character, which is me, I would say one hour a night. I will say the jokes I come up with are only my emotions or my opinions for the fleeting moment that I have an argument with someone and I think, “Oh, that’s funny.” They’re not really how I live my life on a day-to-day basis. But in saying that, the fictional me is probably me from five years ago. I don’t get myself into as many scrapes as possible now. I’ve tried to clean my act up so that I can have some proper career, where before, it was all just drugs and hookers and I was pretty self-destructive. Now I feel like it’s a show about me trying to get to where I am now.”
JAMES VAN DER BEEK, Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23 (ABC)
“They said, “We want you to play a version of yourself, kind of like you did in the FunnyorDie videos” and I thought, “OK.” So I went in and met with them and laughed for 45 minutes. They said, “We’ve written a character around you and will you take a look at the script?” and I said, “Absolutely.” I left, read it and thought it was funniest pilot script I’ve read in years and far-and-away the funniest script of that season. I hesitated for about half-a-second and then realized that this was the comedy dream team that I’ve been waiting to work with my whole career and I jumped in with both feet. I said, “Alright, I’ll do this on one condition: Nobody ever be afraid of offending me. Let’s always go for what’s funniest and if you absolutely need to pull it back, we can. But let’s just have it.” So far, we haven’t found anything that’s offended me yet,” Van Der Beek told HitFix. “Well, I’m married with two kids and that’s not as funny as me being single and living in New York, so those don’t come into the equation and that’s more just because we’re going for comedy. But there’s really nothing that we’ve put off limits. As long as it’s fun and as long it’s funny, it’s been fair.”
“Honestly, I very quickly stopped looking at it as playing myself and we just created this character. The formula is that he’s incredibly talented, almost in a savant kind of way. He’s completely self-absorbed. He’s fallen into just about every trap you can fall into as an actor when people are putting you on a pedestal and giving you anything you want. At the same time, he’s kind of sweet. And then we just throw him into just the most ridiculous situations and give him a very strong point of view on things.” — Van Der Beek, to GQ
“If I was really worried about what people thought about me, I would not being doing this. That’s one of the things that comes with age and kids and marriage. You realize what’s important, and when something this fun comes along, worrying that people are going to confuse the fake me with the real me is nowhere near important enough on the list to not do it.” — Van Der Beek to US Magazine, 2012
JERRY SEINFELD, Seinfeld (NBC)
When Seinfeld played himself again more recently in 2007, he said:
“I was thrilled to be asked to guest star on NBC’s hit comedy 30 Rock. I think it’s going to be so refreshing for me to be playing myself in a show that has nothing to do with neurotic, dysfunctional New York characters.”
Back in 1991, he told EW: “This is not a show about being on TV, like Garry Shandling’s. This is a show about being a human being — or, in my case, about being a comedian, which is almost the same thing.” He plays an unmarried comic, and nothing about his television persona is exaggerated. ”I’m exactly the way I really am.”
JENNIFER GREY, It’s Like, You Know…(ABC, 1999-2001)
“They’re using my name and certain facts from my life, but they’re magnifying things to make it more dramatic and fun. I am playing myself, but not myself. A lot of the appeal of the role is in blurring the lines of reality and fiction.”
SARAH SILVERMAN, The Sarah Silverman Program, 2007-2010 (Comedy Central)
“My name on the show is Sarah Silverman, which is probably a mistake because I’m not playing myself. I used it out of laziness.” — Silverman told The Village Voice
GARRY SHANDLING, It’s Garry Shandling’s Show (Showtime)
“This is the theme to Garry’s show/The opening theme to Garry’s show / This is the music that you hear as you watch the credits” — his opening theme song
Honorable mention? Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, Life’s Too Short
Close but not quite? Lucille Ball, I Love Lucy; Roseanne Barr, Roseanne; most other stand-up comedians starring in sitcoms adapting their points-of-view