Oscars Alternate History: What if the Academy Cared About Comedy?

Celebrating alternate Oscar winners like Will Ferrell, Rachel McAdams, and Eddie Murphy

oscars alternate history what if the academy cared about comedy best comedic performances
Eddie Murphy, photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images, illustration by Steven Fiche

    “Dying is easy. Comedy is hard.” Some version of that axiom has served as a coat of armor for actors from Edmund Gwenn through Jack Lemmon, and it’s not difficult to see why. During the big scene where you croak, it might be hard to tell if the audience is stifling tears or yawns. But if all your jokes are met with silence, well, you might yearn for your actual demise. So if actors recognize that comedy is at least as challenging as drama, why don’t the Oscars?

    Consequence recently endeavored to rank every Oscars Best Picture winner, and if you scroll through the list you’ll see drama after drama, especially those set in wartime. It’s as if the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences sees blowing each other up as the only noteworthy human activity.

    The Oscars haven’t entirely ignored comedy, though they have tended to take their sugar with a spoonful of medicine. A partial list includes the 1960 comedy-drama The Apartment winning Best Picture, Alan Arkin taking the trophy for his performance in Little Miss Sunshine (his character died), the romantic Moonstruck winning a screenplay award, and Barbara Streisand being honored for her work in the bittersweet musical Funny Girl. When it comes to lighter comedy, the pickings are slimmer yet, though exceptions were made for the likes of Marissa Tomei in My Cousin Vinny, Jack Palance in City Slickers, and Some Like It Hot for just about everyone except Marilyn Monroe.


    As time goes on, there’s been a noticeable decline in comedy honors across the five big categories of Best Picture, Best Actor and Actress, and the two Best Supportings. But what would happen if the Academy cared about comedy? And not just the dark comedies and dramedies — the really silly stuff, too. How would the awards have been different?

    In that same spirit of silliness, we present great moments from an alternate history of the Oscars. The field was open to deserving candidates throughout the Academy’s run, but we have found more misses in recent decades, as the awards have grown increasingly humorless. And finally, we have not unduly stressed about taking away awards from the real, usually very-deserving winners. Maybe this alternate universe doles out more than one trophy. The Academy Awards are already a made-up accomplishment, and our list just happens to be a little more made-up than usual.

    — Wren Graves
    Features Editor

    Katherine Hepburn Wins Best Actress for Bringing Up Baby (1935)

    oscars comedy Bringing Up Baby

    Bringing Up Baby (RKO Radio Pictures)


    Let’s look all the way back to 1938, where Katherine Hepburn went toe to toe with Cary Grant in Bringing Up Baby. The chemistry between the two stars is electric — the story infamously goes that production was even delayed because Grant and Hepburn couldn’t stop laughing during takes — and the film checks off many comedic boxes, from witty dialogue to physical comedy. The script was written for and tailored specifically to Hepburn, but she didn’t secure a nomination for her performance as Susan Vance — and, in fact, Bringing Up Baby didn’t secure any nominations from the Academy at all. Yes, the Oscars were still finding their footing in many ways back in the 1930s, but it feels like a glaring mistake. — Mary Siroky