Jon Hamm: The Go-To Sitcom Guest Star

He keeps popping up in TV comedies, but are we laughing at him, or because it’s him?

If a TV comedy doesn’t guest-star Jon Hamm at some point, does it really exist? Many a show has featured the MAD MEN actor, including 30 ROCK as a handsome yet stupid doctor, PARKS AND RECREATION as a handsome but incompetent colleague, UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT as a handsome kidnapper, and TOAST OF LONDON, THE INCREASINGLY POOR DECISIONS OF TODD MARGARET and CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM as his handsome self. Indeed, whenever Hamm shows up on television in comedy mode, there’s usually a theme. The man best known as Don Draper can’t hide his looks — even with a beard and prison garb in UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT — so they become part of the joke. His first TV appearance was in ALLY MCBEAL as a character simply called “gorgeous guy at bar”, after all.

It’s an effective bit. So, via CHILDRENS HOSPITAL, MEDICAL POLICE and ANGIE TRIBECA too, Hamm has amassed a sizeable sitcom resume. Beyond MAD MEN, he’s had more success in guest roles in TV comedies than elsewhere. But Hamm can’t hide his MAD MEN background either, that he’s so well-known for such a major dramatic role, or that he’s simply Jon Hamm. As such, the fact that the award-winning star pops up in shows like these, plus WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER: FIRST DAY OF CAMP and THE LAST MAN ON EARTH as well, is also part of the gag.

That’s funny, and the kind of guest-casting that works because imagining Hamm in these sitcoms is instantly humorous. But, it also leaves audiences in an interesting predicament. Are we laughing because Hamm is a gifted comic performer, because he’s cast in amusing ways, or a bit of both? It’s impossible to erase MAD MEN from the collective consciousness, but if it wasn’t such a cultural force, would Hamm’s sitcom work strike the same chord? That question has a clear-cut answer, of course, and while it’d prove true for every other high-profile actor guesting in a sitcom, it still speaks volumes about Hamm’s TV comedy streak.

His lengthiest sitcom role, UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT, demonstrates this reality perfectly. When the series debuted in 2015, it took 11 episodes to unveil Hamm as one of its crucial supporting figures. After establishing that Kimmy (Ellie Kemper) was kidnapped as a teenager and kept in a bunker for 15 years with three other women, the sitcom bided its time before showing audiences exactly who was responsible for her traumatic plight. We immediately discover her captor’s inherently amusing name, Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne. And we hear his voice in the show’s very first episode, too. But the series waits to reveal Dick Wayne’s face — because it’s also the face of Don Draper, and that’s funny.

Also known as Methuzalophsteron, the senior prophet of Saviour Rick's Spooky Church of the Scary Apocalypse and DJ Slizzard, Jon Hamm’s UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT character is so pivotal to the overall story that he’s named in the title of the sitcom’s just-released interactive movie. A year after the show finished its four-season run, UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT: KIMMY VS THE REVEREND pits the irrepressibly perky Kimmy against her nemesis once more — when, just as she’s preparing for her upcoming wedding, she discovers he might have a second bunker. So, Hamm is back. Ever since he first appeared in the comedy, he’s never been far away, even if he only featured in 15 of its 51 episodes. And, oozing arrogant, comically over-the-top bluster, Hamm is always memorable as the failed wedding DJ-turned-misogynist cult leader-turned-still sleazy jailbird.

It’s one of Hamm’s best sitcom performances, and one of his silliest. Still, how Dick Wayne is introduced leaves a lingering shadow. In UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT and in pop culture in general, the gag is obvious: that Hamm, MAD MEN’s suave, whisky-swilling ad man, is playing this purposefully ridiculous part. Hence that initial surprise reveal — which, including when paired with winking jokes about Dick Wayne inventing the “buy the world a Coke” ad, always asks viewers to chuckle because it’s Hamm. That said, his involvement also aids UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT’s eager teardown of toxic masculinity, entitled attitudes and benefits of male privilege, with Dick Wayne easily and visibly embodying all three.

UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT didn’t start the trend, though. When it comes to using Hamm for comic effect because he’s Hamm, there are plenty of contenders. In fellow Tina Fey-created sitcom 30 ROCK, he played a man so attractive that the fact he’s terrible at everything — tennis, cooking, sex, being a pediatrician — never matters. He’s an idiot and somehow also medical professional, and only Liz Lemon will burst his handsome bubble. It’s a part that only Hamm, at the height of his MAD MEN fame, could’ve made work so well; however it’s a part that also only works so well due to Hamm’s MAD MEN fame. Cast anyone else, and the idea that this character is alluring and also very stupid just wouldn’t have had the same impact.

Comedy viewers aren’t watching Hamm to see him disappear into a role, after all. So when PARKS AND RECREATION brought Hamm into the fold in a very brief way, it also relied upon Hamm’s general Hamm-ness. In the final moments of its sixth season, the show jumps forward, finding its characters three years in the future. Given it’s a workplace comedy, that includes a glimpse at their work lives, and the presence of a new colleague who is promptly fired by Leslie Knope for being terrible. His time on-screen is very short, but he stands out not because he’ll be at Subway if anyone wants to hang — but because he’s Hamm.

The list goes on. When Hamm features in parodies, the fact that he’s Hamm is always a factor. So, in CHILDREN’S HOSPITAL and its spinoff MEDICAL POLICE, Hamm’s involvement fuels a twist — and while nothing about the two medical satires is serious, ever, it makes sense that Hamm would play the secret alter ego of a female character. In WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER: FIRST DAY OF CAMP, he’s an assassin. In ANGIE TRIBECA, he’s a cop. As keeps proving the case, they’re all parts that are much, much funnier because it’s Hamm, and because of who Hamm is, rather than if someone else had been cast. They also fit the already nodding, elbowing vibe that the shows all sport, which is also true in his one-episode stint in THE LAST MAN ON EARTH — a series that effectively parodies apocalypse scenarios.

Hamm does silly well. Audiences laugh because it’s him, to be sure, but he engagingly makes fun of himself, his appearance and his best-known character. That’s true in all of his sitcom roles in one way or another; however it’s especially the case when Hamm actually plays Hamm — as has happened three times now. Clearly, his very Hamm-ness inspires comedy writers. In his five-episode arc in THE INCREASINGLY POOR DECISIONS OF TODD MARGARET, the fact that his character is really Jon Hamm is the punchline, and it’s hilarious. In TOAST OF LONDON, fawning over Hamm has never been funnier, and not just because it’s Matt Berry as an obsessed Hamm stan who was initially nonplussed, then suffered a head injury.

Then, there’s CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM. Before KIMMY VS THE REVEREND, Hamm had already flexed his TV comic muscles this year — and if UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT is one of Hamm’s best sitcom parts, his CYE performance as himself firmly sits alongside it. Hamm shadowing Larry David as research for a role, and therefore unleashing his inner Larry in the process, isn’t just a joke that works on paper. Again, it hits the mark because of who Hamm is, what we already know about him and our default image of the actor. Also, while the leap from Don Draper to Larry David mightn’t have occurred to many people previously, personality- and attitude-wise, it’s not that huge a jump. However, CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM crucially gives Hamm a part that doesn’t just feel like everything else on his comedy resume.

He’s been in comparable scenarios before, but he finds new range here. You laugh at him in CYE because he’s pretty, pretty, pretty good — unnervingly good at aping Larry David, in fact, and side-splittingly dedicated to the job — and not just because he’s Hamm being himself or making fun of himself. And, it demonstrates that while he’s excellent at Hamm and at finding gags in all things Hamm, he’s even better when his mere presence isn’t the only joke. He’s always amusing, even if just by virtue of his casting, but that’s when he’s truly a great comedic actor.