Ryan Reynolds wants to make you laugh. No, scratch that. Ryan Reynolds needs to make you laugh. Whether it takes a clever, filthy tweet or a mischievous press interview, the Deadpool 2 actor is willing to do what it takes to convince you, and pretty much everyone else, that he is America’s funniest dad and A-list celebrity.
But why? Reynolds is an incredibly handsome and effortlessly charming actor and, historically speaking, incredibly handsome and effortlessly charming actors haven’t felt the need to be too funny. Demonstrate a sense of humor? Sure, but George Clooney chats about onset pranks. Reynolds seems to have gone full method on Twitter in an effort to bolster not only Deadpool marketing, but the popularity of a Van Wilderian persona. It’s a curious gambit that seems to work largely because Reynolds actually is funny (or is good at paying others to be funny). But to understand why the Canadian A-lister seems to have chosen social media as his hill to die on, it helps to understand his jokes in the context of a career.
Reynold’s determination to dominate American dad humor seems to stem from an understandable distrust of all things dramatic and serious. Despite having the looks of a leading man, Reynolds has a long history of chasing laughs onscreen. In fact, the actors’ initial rise in Hollywood was rooted primarily in comedy, as he brought his trademark wit and irreverence to roles in a variety of comedy movies and TV shows, including Scrubs, Just Friends, and, of course, his breakout role in Van Wilder. Nobody would have called Reynolds a comedian during this time, but he was understood to be a comedic actor.
Also, he was handsome.
Studios are sometimes befuddled by handsomeness. They see a face instead of a series of performances. They see the glint of white teeth, but not the snarl. This is what happened to Reynold after his initial comedy hits. He became the sort-of-funny guy in romcoms like Definitely, Maybe and The Proposal. He was suddenly supposed to be likable. He was, it’s fair to say, fine at this. Fine. His next role, in X-Men Origins: Wolverine wound up presenting a good metaphor for this late-early career period. He brought wild energy to the role and, in return for his efforts, got his mouth sewn shut.
And then it all nearly came to end. Green Lantern bombed so hard it nearly brought down Reynolds with it. It wasn’t just a critical disaster. It was a financial disaster and, if we’re to be honest, a crime against projector. The massive misfire was deeply unfunny. Reynolds played Hal Jordan as written: dull, flaccid, blank. And that almost ended it.
It’s undoubtedly the low point of Reynolds’ filmography but it also was the rock bottom that allowed the once rising actor to begin his slow and steady comeback. Post-Green Lantern, Reynolds spent a few years lying low, to the point where many believed that his days as a legitimate movie star were behind him. He would pop up in the occasional studio film but mostly stuck to indie movies, animation, and random cameos in Seth MacFarlane films. It seemed like perhaps he had settled into a solid but mostly forgettable phase of his career.
Except secretly, Reynolds was plotting his path to redemption. While his onscreen antics remained mostly on the serious side, Reynolds slowly began to show fans glimpses of his old goofball self through his cheeky and prominent social media presence. Most celebrities try to use social media to appeal to their fans but few have mastered the art of Twitter quite like Reynolds, whose off-kilter (but not too off-kilter) sense of humor made his tweets required reading. He eventually brought his established brand humor to his Instagram account as well and whether he was putting a fan on blast or framing himself as the world’s worst dad, Reynolds was finally embracing the side of himself that made him a movie star in the first place.
Went to Disneyland because my daughter's obsessed with Mickey Mouse. She was so excited when I got home and told her.
— Ryan Reynolds (@VancityReynolds) January 30, 2017
Then came Deadpool, the role that Reynolds was born to play. Reynolds reportedly campaigned intensely to get the part and once he finally won over the studio, he went all-in immersing himself into the fourth-wall breaking, gleefully irreverent character. It was the complete realization of Reynolds’ comedic powers and the natural extension of his original breakout role in Van Wilder. Reynolds powerhouse performance in the film received universal acclaim from fans and critics to the point where he even generated some legitimate Oscar buzz.
But a great performance wasn’t enough for Reynolds. He wanted to cement his status as a genuine, one-of-a-kind superstar and his ticket to this exclusive club was his commitment to bringing Deadpool off the screen and into the real world. Every public interaction he had was dripping in Deadpool’s trademark snark and he consistently went above and beyond to spread the gospel of this not-so-heroic hero to the masses.
And it worked. Deadpool was not just one of the biggest superhero movies of all time; it became a full-blown cultural phenomenon. While other superhero movies like Guardians of the Galaxy and Thor: Ragnarok have a comic sensibility, Deadpool was a comedy starring a comic character. That distinction is largely a product of Reynolds stepping into the role and owning it.
Which brings us back to the online persona we might call Dadpool. Reynolds loves to make jokes about his family and his private life. He seems to produce humor at a consistent cadence to appease a fanbase that laps it up. One gets the sense that this is not merely an organic outgrowth of Reynolds’s natural good humor (though maybe it is), but an effort made to ensure that no one ever again forgets that Ryan Reynolds is a comic actor and offers him a job pining over a girl or saving the universe while keeping a straight face.
The jokes about fatherhood are the insurance. If he doesn’t take raising a kid seriously, the thinking seems to go, Reynolds must not take anything seriously. Maybe this is true; more likely it isn’t. Reynolds actually seems to be a very thoughtful and self-aware person. He’s just modeling the laugh-at-yourself sort of self-awareness that isn’t always popular in Hollywood. He’s a film star doing his damnedest not to be mistaken for… a film star. And what better disguise than “frustrated dad”?
So, yeah, Reynolds is a careerist, a funny guy, and probably a great father. It’s possible to be all those things. It’s just not possible to be all things to all people. Ryan Reynolds knows this. He’s has had to watch Green Lantern more than once.