Most stars in Hollywood do everything possible to stay as skinny as can be.
But there are situations when shedding excess poundage can ruin one’s career, like if you are an overweight comedian who has built a career making others laugh at, or at least in part because of, your overweight state.
“Losing weight can be the ultimate comedic curse if you have established yourself as a fat comedian. Once we create our images of famous people and actors, we don’t like those images to change or to be challenged,” human behavior expert and celebrity life coach Patrick Wanis Ph.D. told FOX411’s Pop Tarts column. “John Goodman and Drew Carey lost weight and lost our attention because we had already embedded in our mind, our association with their old image as the funny fat guy. John Candy and the character he portrays in the movie ‘Uncle Buck’ is the epitome – so warm and funny that you want to run up and hug him.”
But Candy’s “barrel of fun” figure had a tragic ending. In 1994, at age 43, the obese actor died suddenly from a heart attack. In 1997, at only 33 years old, comedy star Chris Farley was found dead as a result of cocaine intoxication and morphine overdose. Before them, original “Saturday Night Live” cast member John Belushi also died at 33 from a lethal drug combination in a West Hollywood hotel room.
While hard drugs were involved in the latter sudden deaths, the incidents may be part of the motivation behind larger comedians losing weight and seeking to improve their overall health and well being.
“Seinfeld” star Jason Alexander is an official spokesperson for weight loss conglomerate Jenny Craig, HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm” funnyman Jeff Garlin last year embarked on a slim-down regime, Drew Carey now tips the scale 80 pounds lighter than before, and actor Seth Rogen trimmed dramatically for his role in “Green Hornet.”
Fellow funnyman Jonah Hill, despite being type-cast as the awkward fat dude in films like “Super Bad” and “Get Him to the Greek,” also recently shed an impressive 30lbs. The Internet is already buzzing with blogs and polls pertaining as to whether his fans prefer them “fat or skinny,” and whether or not Hill is making the right decision moving away from the archetypal “chubby comedian” persona.
“When you’re on stage, you’re constantly getting this affirmation of, ‘You’re funny, you’re good, we like you,” Tom Farley Jr., brother to the late Chris Farley told the New York Times, adding that Chris feared losing weight would “take his edge away.”
But is the audience always laughing with you? Or at you? And does it even matter to a comedian, as long as they're laughing?
“Because of the way thin is defined and judged in America (sexy, smart, sophisticated) and the way ‘fat’ is defined and judged in America (lazy, stupid, flawed), people tend to find it easy to laugh at those who are seen as overweight. This may be because the audience feels that they are ‘better’ than the performer and feel ‘comfortable’ because they aren't threatened or worried about ‘measuring up,’ said body image expert and author Dr. Robyn Silverman. “When certain comedians lose weight, they may need to redefine their relationship with their audience, as well as, at times, redefine their audience, who has seen them in that non-threatening ‘flawed’ role for so long. It can be jarring.”
Jamie Masada, owner of Sunset Boulevard’s famed Laugh Factory, doesn’t believe that a comic necessarily lose giggles when they lose the jiggles, but it often impacts the material and issues they discuss.
“It is possible that a comic’s self-image as a heavy person was formed during the same time the act was formed, and consequently a weight loss becomes a similar topic,” he said. “A heavy person who used his or her weight as a topic of humor can either ditch weight from the act or comment on how the loss of weight had an impact.”
"We recall when Ricky Gervais was a slightly chubby but very kind comedian," presenter Tim Allen told the audience at this year’s Globes, following a slew of tart-tongued remarks about Hollywood’s elite. "Neither of which he is now."
But according to Wanis, Gervais is an exception to the rule.
“Ricky is a unique comedian," he said. "It doesn’t mean that you have to be fat to be funny, but if you start out that way and lose it, in most cases you’ll lose us in the process."
- Deidre Behar contributed to this report.