Behold The Face Of Funny: Portraits Of Today’s Comic Geniuses

Photographer Matt Hoyle talks about the particular challenges of capturing the essence of 130 modern comedic giants.

Your consummate book of laughs has arrived, only it doesn’t include actual jokes. In Comic Genius, photographer Matt Hoyle has collected 130 portraits of show biz’s top comedy talents including Steve Martin, Tina Fey, Carol Burnett, David Cross, and Mel Brooks.


Each photograph was a collaboration between Hoyle and his subjects. He’d study up on each person–watch all their interviews and see all of their movies–and then pitch five to 10 ideas that he believed would convey a sense of their unique comedic sensibilities. Then he’d hold his breath.

Nick Offerman

“Comedians are notoriously the hardest people to take creative [direction] from someone else,” Hoyle said. “It was like pushing crap uphill to get anyone to approve an idea. But I came out unscathed.”

He envisioned Jason Bateman sitting at a bus stop beside a couple of nudists, looking deadpan. “And Jason said, ‘I like this idea, but how can we get their junk in my face?'” Hoyle put an ad on Craigslist and cast the first two nudists who responded.

Hoyle wasn’t sure that Nick Offerman would agree to stick a large steak in his mouth. “It’s a real steak,” Hoyle made clear. ‘It’s thicker than you can imagine. We had brought it in butcher’s paper and got it at the last minute so would still be fresh.” Then Hoyle gingerly approached Offerman about exactly where he’d like the steak to go. “He shoved it in his mouth, and it was awesome,” Hoyle said. These days, when Offerman signs photos for fans, he uses the steak shot. He writes the person’s name and then “meat” and then ‘Nick Offerman’.

Mel Brooks

Mel Brooks wrote the introduction to Comic Genius and appears in its pages looking, obviously, like Hitler. Hoyle recalled Brooks calling him on the phone. “Matt? I got your ideas. Yeah, they all stink.” Hoyle felt his stomach sink. He was sure Brooks was pulling out. “I’m gonna get a cheap drug store comb and put it under my nose and do a Hitler,” Brooks finally said.

Hoyle was ecstatic. “The fact that Mel Brooks can give me a critique and said all my ideas stink–that’s such an honor.” See that photo and other highlights in the slide show above.


See a series of animated GIFs of Hoyle’s photos here. There are also some short movies inspired by the book at Funny or Die. Shown here: Neil Patrick Harris channels Buster Keaton.

About the author

Jennifer Miller is the author of The Year of the Gadfly (Harcourt, 2012) and Inheriting The Holy Land (Ballantine, 2005). She's a regular contributor to Co.Create.