Supporting Actor in a Comedy

[Note: These candidates were selected by Cultural Learnings as the seven individuals, in series that we’ve watched, worthy of Emmy consideration. If people are missing from this list, we probably don’t watch the show in question. Enjoy.]

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series

Neil Patrick Harris (Barney)

How I Met Your Mother

I started watching How I Met Your Mother at the beginning of May, and have gone through the entire two seasons within a month. After watching the pilot when it premiered in 2005, I remember thinking closely about the performance of the former Doogie Howser. In the pilot, you can tell that he was meant to be wacky, with the focus on catchphrases like “Suit Up!” and “Legendary”. And, as a result, part of me wrote the character off as I lost touch with the series. I now realize that this was a terrible mistake, and after a fantastic two seasons of work Neil Patrick Harris deserves an Emmy nomination.

Barney has become something more than a womanizing flack with a high-end job and a lair-like apartment over the past season, and the result was some strong character moments. We saw the inside of his apartment, we learned that he had played a major role in Lily’s return from San Francisco, and we got to become an Uncle to his gay brother’s adopted boy. The character got a fair amount of dynamism in his storylines to go along with his usual strong supporting comedy, and that is the mark of a great supporting actor. When he needs to be simple and foil for the leads or other characters, he is fantastic at quips, comebacks, and all of that fluff. However, when the show asks more of him, Neil Patrick Harris always steps up to the plate. Even in its more derivative moments, Neil Patrick Harris raises How I Met Your Mother to whole new levels of awesomeness.

Episode Selection: Showdown (Airdate: April 30th, 2007)

There is no better example of Neil Patrick Harris’ finest moments than within this tour de force that literally becomes the Barney show in its last act. Believing since childhood that Bob Barker was his biological father, Barney finally gets the guts to travel to Los Angeles and confront him live on the show. From his price memorization (He knows everything) to his fake surprise, it’s all fantastic comedy…but then the moment where he prepares to inform Bob that he is his father is just heartbreaking, and the arc actually means something to him as a character to see that he couldn’t go through with it. If Emmy voters see this episode, I do not see how Neil Patrick Harris won’t be on the ballot.

YouTube: Showdown

Jeremy Piven (Ari Gold)


HBO’s Entourage has been receiving attention from the Screen Actor’s Guild and the Golden Globes for the past two years, and it is about ready to break through in a big way in the series category at the Emmys this year. However, ahead of the show itself, Jeremy Piven won an Emmy in this category last year. While there is no question that the show as a whole has its merits, it is Piven’s performance that has often garnered the most attention, and for good reason.

Ari Gold is a high-powered Hollywood agent, but you wouldn’t know it from his behaviour. He’s crash, rude, vulgar, quick to anger, neurotic, and usually out of sorts for a variety of different reasons. All of these things could become overbearing, but Piven’s performance sells us on Ari’s inner sanity while still providing some hilarious and occasionally touching character moments.

And that is what makes Ari such a strong supporting player: despite being outside of the titular entourage, Ari is constantly a presence in their lives, and when the show cuts to Ari’s non-Vince related projects it’s actually a welcome break. He’s strong enough to sustain his own storylines, but plays a fantastic role within the core ones as well. He’s a strong foil, a brilliant performer, and without a doubt is going to garner his third straight nomination for this role.

Episode Selection: Manic Monday (Airdate:April 22nd, 2007)

While Entourage’s entire third season will be eligible, it is this episode from just a month ago that represents Ari’s finest moment. Asked to fire an agent, Ari is unable to pull the trigger (despite it being an experience he relished in the past). His therapist tells him that it’s because he’s still hung up over losing Vince as a client. Ari, still unable to get it out of his system, tracks down his therapist on her day off (on a golf course) and in the process gets his anger back and delivers a memorable firing to the agent in question. It is an arc that deals with his emotional connection with Vince, his more hilarious moments, and even his relationship with his wife. It’s over-the-top, but grounded. And it’s the best performance to win Jeremy Piven his Emmy.

YouTube: “Manic Monday”

Justin Kirk (Andy)


After a Golden Globe nomination in a notoriously difficult to enter category, Justin Kirk is looking to be in pretty good shape for the upcoming Emmy awards. While the Hollywood Foreign Press has been notoriously kind to cable television, especially compared to the Emmys, I still think that Kirk has a real chance. Andy is the obnoxious brother-in-law, the knowledgeable uncle, the scheming Rabbinate student, and pretty well the male comic highlight of this series. In a show heavy with drama, Kirk always offers a light-hearted sensibility that is both welcome and hilarious. You never really become emotionally invested in his storylines, but they are a breezy ride that allows the drama to flow from Nancy and Co. without bogging the series down. Whenever the show needs comic relief, it’s very easy to throw Andy into a situation, or give him a monologue…and comedy just happens. That quality, noticeable within even a single episode, makes Justin Kirk worthy of Emmy consideration.

Admittedly, I haven’t finished the show’s second season, but already Andy’s presence is just as strong as it was in the first one. From the moment Andy arrived in the family’s kitchen setting off the smoke alarm after breaking in, the character has been a breath of hazy but wonderful air for the show’s dynamics. This season has seen him expand into his own storyline, joining the Rabbinate and trying to romance his dead of admissions…and getting into some sexual exploits in the process. This is nothing new, perhaps, but Kirk just keeps getting better in the role. Flashes of brilliance within Andy are fantastic: his explanation of Noreaga and Panama to Shane was just a brilliant line reading from Kirk, and the entire series is chock full of them. I would compare him most to Neil Patrick Harris on How I Met Your Mother: often not in the show’s “main” storyline, he steals every single scene he’s in. And that’s an Emmy worthy performance.

Episode Selection: “Last Tango in Agrestic” (Aired August 28th, 2006)

I don’t really need to say anything about this episode. It involves all sorts of things: Silas putting a hole in a condom (Argh, Silas, you frustrate me), Nancy getting married to her DEA agent boyfriend so that he won’t be forced to testify against her, and then Nancy rents a house to grow weed out of. Really, Andy doesn’t even have a storyline.

But he does have this scene. And this scene could very well single-handedly win him an Emmy award.

YouTube – “Last Tango in Agrestic”

Jack McBrayer (Kenneth the Page)

30 Rock

Kenneth the Page is perhaps one of the simplest characters in all of television. A lowly NBC page for the cast of the fictional The Girlie Show, Kenneth believes in the power of television and little else. We see glimpses of him talking to his skeletal mother, we see moments of absolute naivety, and on occasion his innocence can seem quite exaggerated. And yet, what we originally believed was cluelessness was actually just a different perspective, simple without being stupid. Kenneth believes in the magic of television, and I, as a result of Jack McBrayer’s performance, believe right along with him.

What McBrayer brings to the role is just the right balance of simple and smart, which is such a hard thing to balance. When Kenneth becomes a poker all-star, Jack spends days trying to figure out his tell. However, the point is that Kenneth has no tell. He is capable of looking and acting entirely smart, even when he’s really clueless. However, on the other hand, he is often able to be entirely smart even when he seems simple on the outside.

And it is that innocence that makes McBrayer’s performance so difficult: in the hands of the writers, McBrayer needs to walk the fine line between stupid and naïve every single episode. And yet he always achieves: while certain episodes are worse than others, Kenneth always is as endearing as he could possibly be, and completely funny when required. For being able to strike that balance and create a scene-stealing supporting character, Jack McBrayer is worthy of an Emmy Nomination.

Episode Selection: The Head and the Hair (Airdate: January 18th, 2007)

While the episode’s title refers to a storyline unrelated to Kenneth, and there are technically three stories at play within this episode, Kenneth has by far his finest moments within it. The reason is that he gets copious amounts of screentime with Alec Baldwin, who as per tradition is taking over Kenneth’s job for the day. We get to see Kenneth’s dirty work, the things he has to put up with on a regular basis, plus Kenneth gives multiple impassioned speeches about television. And then, at the end of the episode, he sells his game show idea to NBC executives. While Kenneth plays a major role in other episodes, here his story arc is touching, complete, and funny in a way that is deserving of Emmy Attention.

YouTube“The Head and the Hair”

Rainn Wilson (Dwight)

The Office

While sentimental types might support John Krasinki’s Jim, it is Rainn Wilson’s Dwight that remains, and will always remain, the show’s supporting comic center. Jim’s pranks may initiate the laughs, but it is always Dwight reaction that gives me the most enjoyment. The fact that Rainn Wilson wasn’t nominated last year despite the utterly fantastic work in “Dwight’s Speech” is outrageous, and therefore it is only fitting that he be given a shot at an Emmy this year.

Without Dwight, The Office would not function the way it currently does. Michael would be infinitely less funny if he didn’t have someone hanging off of his every word. Jim would be a juvenile prankster if Dwight’s reactions weren’t so funny that we forget about the idiocy of it all. And, in those moments where Dwight is asked to step up to the plate and be his own starring character, he knocks them out of the park. His relationship with Angela has always been played subtlely, and it is often one of the show’s best qualities.

Rainn Wilson always brings a quality to the character that makes him more likable than he really should be; while there is no question Dwight is a decent guy at his core, Wilson always ensures that we see that just enough to make it work. Whether he’s trying to capture a bat, trying to take over the Office, or actually succeeding in doing so, Dwight is always played with just the right amount of nerdiness, naivety, and gusto. A scene-stealer in every possible way, Rainn Wilson deserves credit for bringing Dwight to the screen each week with an Emmy Nomination.

Episode Selection: “The Job” (Airdate: May 17th, 2007)

Currently, Wilson’s episode entry is the early-season episode “The Coup,” nominated for a Writer’s Guild Award. While a decent episode, and featuring some solid Dwight comedy, it doesn’t work as well for me as the recent season finale as the highlight of Dwight’s absurdity and humanity. “The Job” features Dwight finally having his dream come true: Michael appoints him boss, and he gets to run The Office his own way. Even though I have some problems with the way the season finale played out, Dwight’s part in it was indicative of some of the character’s best qualities, and Rainn Wilson knocked it out of the park. While individual Dwight moments certainly resonate more than any single episode, this one certainly brought a lot to the table for the character comedically. The Coup certainly has more of a character arc, but the hour-long finale has more overall moments for voters to remember.

YouTube“The Job”

John C. McGinley (Dr. Cox)


John C. McGinley really never gets a fair shake when Emmy time rolls around. Dr. Cox, the character he portrays on NBC’s Scrubs, is hilariously funny through most of the episodes, but he is at his best when the series demands dramatic material from him. When Dr. Cox just a few seasons ago lost three cancer patients due to an infection that he missed, he sunk into a deep depression from which he was unable to escape. When his best friend and brother-in-law passed away, he went through an entire episode imagining him to be there, leading him through his life and making up for mistakes along the way. These episodes were touching, emotionally powerful…but not comic. And, as a result, he has struggled in this category. Well, this season lacked such a poignant moment for the character, but I still believe that he is an unsung hero that should be considered for an Emmy nomination.

What Dr. Cox does so well is to basically serve as the sarcastic doctor, a mentor who has not yet become so jaded as to refuse to mentor others, and as someone who is always there to call J.D. girl’s names and let his opinion be known. I’ve written in the past about how I feel Scrubs hasn’t aged well (If I haven’t, I’ll have to do so when the show premieres in September), but I think that McGinley has magically overcome this problem. While other characters seem to spin in circles, McGinley seems to be able to navigate a fairly interesting path for his character even though his brand of humour can often be the most stereotypical.

That sense of humour, however, remains fresh. His long-winded rants about J.D. and others’ incompetence, his refusal to become part of the personal lives of the doctors around him, and his general sarcasm all make him funny and entertaining, while he remains able to humanize himself through his own life with two kids, an ex-wife who he hates and loves at the same time, and an inner heart of gold. McGinley never seems to get lost in the character, or lost in the other characters’ inability to mature over six seasons. McGinley, as the most consistent character in the show’s ensemble, deserves to be recognized more than its lead, who often sits back and watches as McGinley berates him with aplomb. And that, my friends, is why John C. McGinley deserves serious Emmy attention for his comic performance.

Episode Selection: “My House” (Airdate: January 4th, 2007)

Now, I don’t know if I would have selected this episode myself (It is somewhat lacking in some of Dr. Cox’s best qualities), but the premise behind the episode is one that could affect Emmy voters. Faced with two medical mysteries (Four if you count Carla and Eliot’s problems), Dr. Cox becomes the NBC equivalent of House. This quasi-crossover appeal should engage voters, and there are some strong moments for the character, but I think that the episode is just a bit too dull. Hugh Laurie’s performance of House is brilliantly comic within a dramatic setting. Here, McGinley is understated in a show that values absurdist comedy (Too often, to be honest). As a result, I think it won’t gain traction as a comic performance…but stranger things have happened. Via YouTube, here is his final diagnostic, House style.

YouTube“My House”

Harve Presnell (Lew Steziak)

Andy Barker, P.I.

Not very many people watched Andy Barker P.I. It’s understandable: this midseason replacement came and went with only four airings in its timeslot on Thursday nights. Facing Grey’s Anatomy and CSI, the show failed to gain any ratings traction and never became a watercooler success. It is therefore somewhat unfortunate that the performance of Harve Presnell as Lew Steziak, a cranky old man who has long retired from the private eye business but finds himself being dragged back in. I don’t know what it is about Presnell’s performance, but he manages to capture jaded old man so very well without falling too far into senility. His performance is exactly what I’d like to become when I’m older: cantankerous, grumpy, angry, and yet aware that I could be less angry. And, while he’s certainly a long shot, I think that Presnell at least needs to be considered.

It’s not even that Presnell had a huge dramatic moment, or that he had the most hilarious line possible. He just had this way about him, this delivery, that continually brought something unique to this comedy. Although only airing for six episodes, the show created many unique characters who made up quite the team, but I think I’d most like to meet a real life Lew Steziak, in the flesh. I would put the performance up there with an acting master class by any means, but from a comic perspective I think Presnell brings just the right amount of everything to the role. And, well, I can’t really expect much better than that from a 74-year old, can I? Not likely.

Episode Selection: “The Lady Varnishes”

In this episode, perhaps the wittiest of the show’s takeoffs of old murder mystery films (The Lady Vanishes), this episode features Amy Sedaris as a one-legged (She has a wooden leg, which she varnishes) as a long lost love of Lew’s. It’s a cute episode, and Presnell is good in it with Ed Asner as his arch nemesis as well. However, Andy Barker isn’t big on the YouTube. So, head over to to watch the complete episode, and enjoy this clip of Presnell from the hit musical “Paint Your Wagon”.

YouTube“Paint Your Wagon”

Supporting Actor in a Comedy

Michael Urie (Marc)

Ugly Betty

After watching the pilot for Ugly Betty, I felt that the show was far too vindictive. At that time, the various intricacies of the show were tossed aside in favour of fish out of water at its finest. The staff at Mode magazine were downright mean to hapless, unfortunately dressed Betty, and the result was that they all became instant villains from that moment onwards. And, thus, it is to the show’s credit that they managed to take these people and turn them into human beings who we empathize with on a weekly basis. One of those individuals is Wilhelmina’s flamboyant and biting secretary Marc, and Michael Urie’s portrayal of the character has managed to turn heartless into heartfelt. In a show that has transformed itself along with its titular heroine, Urie’s performance is absolutely part of that reason, and for it he deserved to be considered for an Emmy Award.

What Urie excels at it is his various dynamics with the cast. To be honest, his role in badgering Betty got old fast, and as a result it has almost entirely been eliminated from the show in past episodes. Instead, Marc has created his own niche in being catty with Amanda, scheming with Wilhelmina, and even torturing poor Christina in the closet. And yet, they even managed to reconcile he and Betty, something I didn’t think was possible after the pilot. Much of the reason that Vanessa Williams is receiving Emmy attention, in my book, has to do with Urie’s portrayal of this character.

And that’s really why he deserves to be recognized: in a show that is so reliant on its star, and its bigger names, it is the smaller ones that need to work to stand out. And, in the end, Marc isn’t classified by his sexual preference or his flamboyance, but rather by his quick wit and his genuine sense of caring for his friends. At season’s end, when he reunited with Wilhelmina after ending up being traded away, it was a heartfelt moment that I didn’t think the character was capable of. And, without Urie’s performance, I’m not sure it would have been. That fact alone, coupled with his strong comic work, makes him someone voters should consider in this category.

Episode Selection: “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (Aired March 22nd, 2007)

Ironically, considering I just spent a paragraph talking about how he wasn’t defined by his sexuality, his Emmy submission actually revolves around this fact. It features Marc, faced with his visiting mother who doesn’t know he is gay, making a deal with Betty that she will pretend to be his girlfriend. This leads to a sitcom-style dinner where the family needs to play along with the charade, and there’s some decent comedy involved. And while I believe he had stronger episodes, this one has some strong dramatic material and, perhaps most importantly, features Urie and America Ferrera, which is likely to appeal to voters. I can only hope that this episode allows them to notice the great work Urie has been doing.

YouTube“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

8 responses to “Supporting Actor in a Comedy

  1. Pingback: For Your Consideration: Supporting Actors - Jeremy Piven and Michael Hogan « Cultural Learnings

  2. Pingback: For Your Consideration: Supporting Actors - Jack McBrayer and Dominic Monaghan « Cultural Learnings

  3. Nancy

    You forgot Gerald McRaney for DEADWOOD!!

  4. Pingback: For Your Consideration: Supporting Actors - Rainn Wilson and Jack Coleman « Cultural Learnings

  5. Pingback: For Your Consideration: Supporting Actors - John C. McGinley and Zach Gilford « Cultural Learnings

  6. Pingback: For Your Consideration: Supporting Actors - Harve Presnell and John Pyper-Ferguson « Cultural Learnings

  7. Pingback: For Your Consideration: Supporting Actors - Terry O’Quinn and Michael Urie « Cultural Learnings

  8. Pingback: Cultural Learnings’ ‘For Your Consideration’: Week Three Update « Cultural Learnings

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