Donny! is the latest TV series about a public figure making comedy out of real life with Donny Deutsch playing an exaggerated version of himself for the sake of laughs. Take a look at this and 23 other shows that star celebrities as themselves, blurring the lines between fact and fiction, and forcing viewers to reconsider what it means to be funny and famous.
In USA Network’s new soft-scripted comedy starring TV personality Donny Deutsch, the non-actor makes his own life the subject of laughs, playing — as he told Rotten Tomatoes — an “idiotic” version of himself in the mostly improvised series.
Jerry Seinfeld may not have invented the genre of celebs playing themselves, but he’s certainly the person most associated with it. Throughout the nine seasons of Seinfeld (1989-1998) Seinfeld, not only does the show portray an outrageous version of the comic’s life, but it also evolves into a meta-sitcom when Jerry and George bring their “show about nothing” to NBC.
In BET’s parody of the Real Husbands of Hollywood (2013-present) Real Housewives franchise on Bravo, Kevin Hart, Boris Kodjoe, Nelly, Duane Martin, J.B. Smoove, and Nick Cannon play a group of married celebrity friends. Hart, who created the show, usually falls flat when trying to climb the show-biz ladder, begrudgingly celebrating his more successful friends’ career moves.
After Lately (2011-2013)
TV host Chelsea Handler has made a career for herself by telling it like it is and in After Lately, the scripted comedy about her real-life writing staff for the E! talk show Chelsea Lately, Handler holds nothing back as she portrays herself as an impatient, insensitive, irascible force of nature surrounded by boobs.
Warwick Davis stars as himself alongside his real-life friends Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant in a wince-inducing comedy about the bloated ego of Britain’s “go-to dwarf.” Further blurring the lines between truth and comedy are notable cameos, including one by Liam Neeson who’s looking to get into stand-up comedy.
Life’s Too Short (2011-2013)
Curb Your Enthusiasm (1999-2011)
Larry David, the real-life creator of Seinfeld, plays himself in Curb Your Enthusiasm, an even more meta-sitcom about being the creator of Seinfeld. In a 2011 interview with Rolling Stone, David said that his onscreen persona is his version of Superman. “The character really is me, but I just couldn’t possibly behave like that,” he said.
Barely Famous (2015-present)
The daughters of mega-hit songwriter David Foster, Erin and Sara Foster, play themselves in VH1’s Unscripted, insisting that they would never do reality TV to further their careers — a smart twist on their almost-reality show which highlights their awkward attempts at landing gigs.
Garry Shandling, whose playfulness with comedic form hit its stride with It’s Garry Shandling’s Show (1986-1990) The Larry Sanders Show, plays himself in It’s Garry Shandling’s Show, a self-referential sitcom that often breaks down the fourth wall, constantly reminding the audience that the Garry Shandling on the show is merely a character.
Author Jill Kargman brings her experience amongst the Upper East Side’s “momzillas” to Bravo, playing herself as the Odd Mom Out (2015-present) Odd Mom Out, based on her book by the same name. In the TV series, all the major players — Kargman included — are extreme archetypes of the housewives who occupy Park Avenue.
Louis CK has made an incredibly personal show with FX’s Louie (2010-2015) Louie, having turned down big network bucks for complete creative control. His onscreen persona has a lot of overlap with the real-life Louie and he’s not afraid to make hilarious and artsy comedy out of his bewildered vulnerability.
Krista Allen, Bryan Greenberg, and Jennifer Hall play themselves as actors in HBO’s 2005 dramedy blending fact and fiction about struggling to be famous. With cameos by huge stars, including Meryl Streep, Brad Pitt, and Uma Thurman, Unscripted (2005) Unscripted‘s characters are less successful than their TV counterparts, setting up some very awkward show biz moments.
Pasty, Hot Pocket-lovin’ comedian Jim Gaffigan makes fun of his own life in the new TV Land sitcom, which he writes and produces with his wife, Jeannie. The series takes self-deprecation to new heights as Gaffigan embraces his “dumb dad” routine and even has a character tell him he looks like a “dead marshmallow.”
The Jim Gaffigan Show (2015-present)
Jennifer Grey stars in It’s Like, You Know… (1999-2001) It’s Like, You Know, a fish-out-of-water sitcom from Seinfeld writer Peter Mehlman. Her famous rhinoplasty becomes a running joke through the series, which also pokes fun at Grey’s dating life and post- Dirty Dancing career.
The Trip (2010)
In the BBC Two series The Trip (later edited into a film for American audiences), Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon are on a culinary tour of northern England. In between their constant bickering, Coogan and Brydon take turns impersonating Michael Caine and testing who has a higher vocal range — interactions which Coogan described to the Guardian as exaggerated for comic effect, but admitting that the arguments are real.
Podcaster extraordinaire Marc Maron stars as himself, making comedy of his real-life struggles, just as he does in his stand-up act. As Maron becomes a bigger star in real life, his character must also figure out how to navigate success and celebrity — often with hilarious and cringe-worthy results.
Long before Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie were the daft duo in their HBO comedy, they actually were a guitar-based digi-bongo a cappella-rap-funk comedy folk in New Zealand. Granted, their TV counterparts are Flight of the Conchords (2007-2009) way dumbed-down but their professional struggles were not always far off from their onscreen challenges — Bret and Jemaine played to an audience of none in their real lives too.
The blunt title of Fat Actress (2005) Fat Actress sums up the tone of Kirstie Alley’s comedy about her Hollywood life, skewering the climate for an aging actress with a weight problem while simultaneously putting a comedic lens on her TV persona’s fat ego. At one point, Alley actually says, “I carried Cheers.”
Subversive and politically incorrect Jim Jefferies, an Australian stand-up comedian, makes his crassness the subject of Legit, an FX comedy about him trying to be more “legitimate” to appease his dying mother.
Matt LeBlanc was one of the biggest TV stars of the 1990s in Friends, which is not lost on his character in Showtime’s Episodes. LeBlanc, forever known as “Joey from Friends,” pokes major fun at himself by portraying an utterly self-absorbed star who sees every Hollywood hurdle as a huge indignity.
) Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23 (2012-2013
James Ver Der Beek exploits his fame as the former star of Dawson’s Creek in Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23, playing an arrogant and advantageous version of himself. Desperate to rejuvenate his career, Van Der Beek makes a number of increasingly bizarre choices, including a stint on Dancing With the Stars.
Doll & Em (2014-present)
Real-life besties Emily Mortimer and Dolly Wells star in HBO’s Doll & Em, putting their onscreen friendship through the wringer when Em, a famous actress, takes on Dolly as her personal assistant. A satire about show biz, Doll & Em is also a cringe-worthy look at friendship and jealousy.
The Chris Isaak Show (2001-2004)
Rock star Chris Isaak blurs the lines between comedy and real life with a scripted version of his own musical misadventures, playing alongside a mixture of real band members and actors and allowing himself to be the butt of most jokes.
Difficult People (2015-present)
Julie Klausner described her Hulu comedy Difficult People as “ Curb Your Enthusiasm if the two leads had never created Seinfeld.” Klausner, a real-life pop culture addict, plays a version of herself that hasn’t quite turned that passion into a success yet. And Billy Eichner, who hosts TruTV’s Billy on the Street, is still a struggling waiter trying to break into show business.
The Comedians (2015)
Billy Crystal is all too aware of his mega-fame in The Comedians, in which he plays the star of a variety show alongside up-and-comer Josh Gad. At two very different stages of their careers, Crystal and Gad have some major hurdles to overcome as co-stars and friends, all while trying not to look too bad behind the scenes.