Actors and actresses known for their comedic work can often get boxed into that particular genre. Yet during its 20-year run, Law & Order never shied away from casting both established and up-and-coming comedians in dramatic parts. Here are 15 of them.
1. Jim Gaffigan
Best known for his work as a stand-up comedian, Jim Gaffigan’s appearance during Law & Order's final season had him playing an adoptive father with a household full of children who ends up accused of killing his wife. The twist? The children all have special needs, a situation Gaffigan's character believes makes his family ripe for their own reality show. His deceased wife was apparently a bit less enthused about the idea. The episode was Gaffigan's second Law & Order appearance; he popped up in a 1998 episode, too (plus twice on SVU and once on Criminal Intent).
2. Anthony Anderson
Though his early attempts at stand-up comedy ended in failure, Anthony Anderson has gone on to build an eclectic acting resume made up of all kinds of roles in a variety of genres. Despite that work history, he is most often talked about for his comedic ventures on shows like All About the Andersons (his first starring sitcom), The Bernie Mac Show, and his Emmy-nominated role on Black-ish. Yet Anderson proved his dramatic chops with his role as Detective Kevin Bernard, the serious and sometimes-conservative partner of Detective Cyrus Lupo (Jeremy Sisto), in the series' final two seasons.
3. Samantha Bee
From 2003 to 2015, Samantha Bee has served as a correspondent for The Daily Show, where she conducted interviews at the Republican National Convention and offered a theatrical interpretation of Fox News' The Five. Somehow, Bee made time in her schedule to take her turn on the Law & Order guest star rotation. Playing a talk show host on a show eerily similar to The View, her character becomes part of a blackmailing scandal when one of her former female staffers threatens to reveal their affair ... then ends up dead.
4. Chevy Chase
Between Saturday Night Live and comedy classics like Caddyshack, Fletch, and Vacation, Chevy Chase has been a household name since the mid-1970s. Though rumors of difficult behavior have plagued him for years, Chase was willing to play a man arrested for drunk driving who spirals into an anti-Semitic rant reminiscent of Mel Gibson’s unfortunate tirade in a 2006 episode.
5. Rob Corddry
trained at Upright Citizens Brigade, worked as a correspondent for The Daily Show, and created and starred in Childrens Hospital all before taking on a dramatic role in a 2009 episode of Law & Order. He played the owner of a website that was partially responsible for the death of a fashion photographer after they published his personal information online.
6. Michael Showalter
Wet Hot American Summer
co-creator Michael Showalter appeared in two episodes of Law & Order: First, in 2000, as a forensics expert; then, in 2009, he played a sleazy reality TV producer looking to exploit the family of a fame-hungry man (played by the aforementioned Gaffigan).
7. Jerry Stiller
From his work as one half of the husband-and-wife comedy duo Stiller and Meara to his Emmy-nominated role as Frank Costanza on Seinfeld, Jerry Stiller has been a major comedy force for years. But Stiller went outside the box when he guest starred on two episodes of Law & Order. First, in 1992, he played a lawyer defending a man of fratricide in the show's second season. Stiller's second appearance, which coincided with his time on Seinfeld, saw him playing another attorney—this time a real estate lawyer who is ill-equipped to defend his cousin of murder.
8. Janeane Garofalo
After spending the bulk of the 1990s performing stand-up, starring in romantic comedies, and working on popular comedy series like Saturday Night Live and The Larry Sanders Show, it seemed like an unusual career move when Garofalo appeared in a two-episode Law & Order arc in 1997. As a movie producer in the show’s seventh season, she gets entangled in an investigation when the head of a major film studio is found decapitated.
9. J.B. Smoove
In the early days of his career, comedy was an after-hours thing for J.B. Smoove, who would perform in various clubs after work. Eventually he managed to attract the attention of some major network players and ended up writing for, and occasionally appearing on, shows like Saturday Night Live and Def Comedy Jam. Like a rite of passage for most New York actors, Smoove also guest starred on an episode of Law & Order playing the "criminal of the week" in 1998.
10. Jason Jones
One year before his wife and fellow The Daily Show correspondent Samantha Bee made her Law & Order debut, Jason Jones guest starred in two episodes of the show in 2009. Playing Len Pewls, an unsavory reporter, he first shows up in the episode "Promote This!" as the host of a talk show whose special episode on illegal immigration is seen on an iPhone by a group of jurors, which creates issues for the D.A. Jones showed up again a few months later as the same character, who is this time covering the story of a jewelry shop owner who killed a couple of would-be burglars.
11. Susie Essman
Susie Essman is probably most recognizable as the wife of Larry David’s manager Jeff on Curb Your Enthusiasm. But she’s been working as a stand-up comedian for more than 30 years. And over the past two decades, she has shown up on two episodes of Law & Order, plus additional guest spots on Criminal Intent and Special Victims Unit. She first appeared in 1997, but her second appearance on the show in 2004 had her playing a member of New Jersey’s Organized Crime Task Force who gives Detectives Briscoe and Green the information they need to solve a murder that occurred at a popular mobster restaurant.
12. Tony Hale
People started taking notice of Hale when he starred as the dim-witted Buster Bluth on Arrested Development. However, during Law & Order’s final season, Hale went the dramatic route to portray a desperate father willing to do anything to bring his daughter back into the country, after her mother moves her to Brazil.
13. Candice Bergen
The daughter of a famed ventriloquist, Candice Bergen stated that because of her good looks she never thought comedy was a possibility, even though she felt most at home in the genre. It wasn’t until she landed the title role in the series Murphy Brown—and won five Emmy Awards and two Golden Globes for her work on the show—that Bergen was able to really come into her own. At the same time she was perfecting her comedic timing on shows like Sex and the City, Bergen decided to book a spot on the legendary NBC crime show in 2004, playing a judge presiding over a murder case who ends up having her life threatened. Bergen must have enjoyed her time on the Law & Order set, as she returned a year later to play the same character on a handful of episodes of Law & Order: Trial by Jury.
14. Lewis Black
Though most people recognize Black as a seasoned comedy veteran, it wasn’t until the late 1980s that he began performing stand-up. Black actually began his career as a playwright, then segued into acting, where one of his earliest roles was as a porn director with ties to a young actress who dies from an overdose.
15. Donnell Rawlings
Often recognized for his work on Chappelle’s Show, Rawlings hadn't always wanted to go into comedy; he had served in the military and planned on becoming a police officer. But one night, while at a comedy club after work, he began heckling a comedian, and was dared to come up onstage. He never looked back. Rawlings began fine-tuning his natural ability at open mic nights, but eventually decided he wanted to focus on acting. While taking classes in New York, he booked a 1998 episode of Law & Order; it was his first on-screen credit.