The Duality of Hamm

Published on July 9th, 2011

James takes a look at Jon Hamm’s split personality of handsome, cold, serious dramatic actor and funny, down-to-earth goofball

A few weeks ago Mad Men fans rejoiced at the news that Jon Hamm signed a 3-year, 8-figure contract to stay with the hit AMC show. After negotiations between the creator of the show, its star and the cable channel/Lionsgate TV had looked a little rocky, everything seems to have worked out. And while all the Mad Men fans were saying “wham, bam, thank you Hamm” for letting the show continue as we know it, I was rejoicing about something else. I was smiling about his well-executed, well-received role as Kristen Wiig’s selfish lover Ted in Bridesmaids. As Hamm is most widely known as cold, stone-faced Don Draper from Mad Men, some were surprised to see him acting in a comedy and doing it well. These people must not have seen any of the 3 episodes of Saturday Night Live he hosted in the last 3 years.

3 episodes of SNL in 3 years? If that sounds like a lot to you, it is. When SNL started it was rather common to have someone host frequently (Candice Bergen hosted twice in a month) but in the last 2 decades, we don’t really see repeat hosts in the same season. The reason he hosted the first time is that he had a hit show but the reason he came back twice is that he’s really good at hosting SNL. He is one of the current favourites for host, along with Justin Timberlake, who has also hosted several times in a few years. Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin are fan favourites of course, having hosted 15 times each, but Martin is becoming less and less relevant, visibly reads more cue cards than some non-actor hosts and continues to believe we want him and his banjo to be musical guests as well. Between Hamm and Timberlake, it seems like SNL is doing a good job lately of taking people not known for comedy and exploiting this untapped mine of laughter potential. Jon Hamm being identified as Don Draper gives the writers some fun stuff to work with. He has some funny SNL skits poking fun at the ultra serious character because celebrities acting against type can be very funny, such as Martha Stewart eating Taco Bell while drinking Olde English on Conan.

Yes, this happened. And she drinks with her pinky extended.

But Don Draper doing non-Don Draperesque things would get stale really quickly if that’s all he had to offer. Luckily, for the writers and viewers of SNL, Hamm is a legitimately funny dude. The laughs he draws aren’t merely out of juxtaposition against his most-known role, he really has comedic chops. His SNLs are funny because he’s funny. That’s why as much as I’m happy to see his Mad Men deal worked out, I would love to see him spend more time on comedy. With 3 seasons of Mad Men to be filmed, he has limited time to do films, and I’m guessing he will choose to make most of those entirely serious or a few romantic comedies that won’t provide enough laughs to make me happy for 90 minutes.

Of course, he can do whatever the hell he wants. If he’s happy never doing comedy again then that’s what he should do. But from my selfish perspective, I want him to go through what Kristen Wiig went through after she set her foot in the world of Judd Apatow. While the two have very different careers, their Apatow roles are rather similar. She had a small role in Knocked Up (directed by Apatow), playing a passive-aggressive assistant who quietly cracked us up at Heigl’s expense. She first appeared a few minutes into the film, and then a few more times throughout, playing someone the main character disliked but put up with. Apatow felt this proved she could be a leading lady, loving her so much he offered her the chance to write and star in a movie. That project became the film we now know as Bridesmaids (produced/commissioned by Apatow.) In that film, Hamm plays Ted, a handsome but selfish lover of Wiig’s character who cracks us up at her expense. He is in the first few minutes of the movie, and shows up a few more times as a character that the protagonist dislikes but puts up with. I hope the similarities don’t end there and Apatow offers Hamm the chance to star in his own comedy. Hamm likely wouldn’t write it but maybe Apatow has a writer or a script in mind that could provide a great vehicle for the budding comedic star.

Sure, I’ll call him a budding comedic star. He already is a star, I just want him to be a comedy star. While SNL is infamously hit-or-miss, all of his episodes are solid. It’s not just that I find him funny but the comedy world could always use more handsome guys. Who else would you cast as Ted in Bridesmaids? Keep in mind he has to be so good-looking that it would make sense that someone sleeps with him, despite being such a dick, and he still has to be really funny. Someone I posed this question to said Bradley Cooper but I maintain he’s not actually that funny and just happened to star in the successful comedy The Hangover. Will Arnett would be my pick for runner-up, but that’s mostly because his voice fools people into seeming sexy. Alec Baldwin several years ago is an acceptable answer too. You probably thought of a few but there aren’t that many; this is because of the nature of funny people.

Many people begin to hone their craft of comedy as a child because of some perceived flaw in their appearance, personality or past. Someone once said that people become comedians to control how people laugh at them, meaning that these people were going to be laughed at no matter what, so they could either be the target of jokes made by others, or start making the jokes themselves. (The road to comedic success is different for women so I will focus on males for now. This is not because women aren’t funny or that their side of things isn’t interesting, but because that is a different topic I want to tackle in full at a later date.) There is a general notion that extremely attractive people don’t need to develop comedically because people will spend time with them anyway (in an attempt to nail them.) If you’re too short or your voice is too high or you have something else that makes you stand out, it’s socially wise to develop a skill like being funny so people will befriend you to get some laughs instead of just insulting you. From a strictly evolutionary standpoint, it makes sense because women always claim they want a guy with ‘a sense of humour,’ and if you’re not the ideal physical specimen, your best chance at pro-creating is to figure out to make them laugh. This is the vague idea behind the negative co-relation between comedic skill and physical attractiveness: many are forced to become funny as a defence mechanism in social situations or to compensate for perceived physical disadvantages. This is why more in-depth interviews with comedians and comedic actors get to the topic of sad childhoods and feelings of exclusion during development than those with dramatic actors.

Yes, there are exceptions and you can find handsome actors who can do comedy well. I’m sure everyone had someone in their high school that was attractive, charismatic and funny. It is not a hard and fast rule that funny guys can’t be good-looking but such cases are the exception, not the norm. This is why good looking actors with comedic chops are a (pun alert!) hot commodity in Hollywood. There are often roles in comedies for males to be an object of sexual desire and it’s unfortunate when we have to take someone who is attractive instead of a funny actor when it could be both. In Bridesmaids, we didn’t have that dichotomy and got the best of both worlds. That’s how we end up with footage like these Bridesmaids outtakes.

So if comedy and vulnerability go hand-in-hand, how do we end up with someone like Jon Hamm? He’s a handsome, athletic guy who looks like Superman and JFK had a baby and can crack me up with a single facial expression. Perhaps there is something else at work. Maybe it is that the suave arrogance of handsome alpha males comes from the same place as the comedic dynamic of the chubby, curly-haired beta males. It’s likely they are both defence mechanisms of a man who sees himself as flawed. Jon Hamm received his role in Mad Men partially because the creator of the series sensed that he was not raised by his parents, like Don Draper. I am not saying that someone raised by someone other than their parents are in any ways “flawed”, but perhaps this contributed to the vulnerability that caused Draper to have such a hard exterior, and caused comedians to create such a soft and jovial one. Jon Hamm’s duality as handsome devil and goofy dude is summed up well in one of the digital shorts during the SNL he hosted in season 35. With Rihanna as the music guest again, they were able to do another Shy Ronnie sketch, in which she and Andy Samberg play a rap duo.  In this one, they are robbing a bank. I love this sketch and you can watch the whole thing here but I’ll explain the pertinent details. The criminal pair hold up the tellers while singing and Rihanna takes bags of money as well as Jon Hamm and musically informs him “We’re gonna have sex.” At this point, Jon Hamm makes this facial expression:

That image is from a Tumblr account that documents nothing but the different facial expressions of Jon Hamm, which I think shows his exceptional range. In this one second, we see the duality of Jon Hamm, both as an object of sexual desire but also someone goofy and funny enough to make such a face.



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