For all the concept episodes, elaborate jokes, rapid-fire dialogue, and engaging character growth that’s been amply praised through six seasons, there has been relatively little said about Community‘s ability to attract noteworthy guest stars who, for the most part, are given something worthwhile to do when they stop by to play. So, let’s celebrate those one-off TV pop-ins and blink-and-you-miss-them cameos that have enriched Greendale Community College over the years.
Jack Black — Buddy Austin in “Investigative Journalism” (Season 1, Episode 13)
Buddy, a “bong-ripping good-time Charlie with a song in his heart,” (Annie’s words), shows up trying to just sort-of assume his way into the study group. The show’s first major guest star, his role played off an in-episode joke about the off-putting nature of stunt-casting on TV sitcoms, to the point where he’s clumsily edited into some of the show’s earlier clips. He’s eventually invited to join the group, after one of Jeff’s famous “Winger speeches” helps teach everyone a valuable lesson.
Owen Wilson — The “Other” Study Group Leader in “Investigative Journalism” (Season 1, Episode 13)
Jeff’s invite is short-lived, however, as another study group, led by Wilson in an un-billed cameo, shows up in the final moments to confirm Buddy’s membership. “You don’t have to worry about them, you’re with us now,” he explains. Confused and suddenly upset by his rejection, Buddy explains that their study group was simply his safety before shuffling off back to the halls of Greendale Community College.
Patton Oswalt — Nurse Jackie in “Home Economics” (Season 1, Episode 8)
When Annie fakes a burst appendix to keep Troy’s attention, she ends up in the care of Oswalt’s Nurse Jackie, head of Greendale’s Infirmary. From his initial assumption about Troy and Annie, “you guys are sexual partners, right?” all the way up to his stumbling proclamation that he’s “kinda the Hawkeye around here,” it’s both Community and Oswalt in top form.
Tony Hale — Professor Marion Holly in “Beginner Pottery” (Season 1, Episode 19)
Jeff, in his never-ending search for an easy course credit, enrolls in a pottery class along with Abed and Annie. It’s here that they’re taught by a free-spirited pottery teacher who’s defining characteristic is his hatred of the movie Ghost. As Jeff comes to struggle with his own mediocrity, in his frustration he inadvertently recreates the movie’s iconic pottery scene, causing Professor Holly to come hysterically unhinged.
Anthony Michael Hall — Mike Chilada in “Comparative Religion” (Season 1, Episode 12)
“He used to be a nerd, now he’s a meathead… a dangerous combo,” explains Pierce, describing both Mike, the Greendale school bully, and the typecast history of Anthony Michael Hall. After Abed takes the last of the winter doodle cookies, he draws the ire of Mike and his gang, so Jeff inevitably steps in to his defense. This, naturally, turns into a full-scale brawl between Mike’s gang and the study group, just in time for the holidays.
Lisa Rinna — Mike’s Mom in “The Art of Discourse” (Season 1, Episode 22)
Jeff finds himself the target of an obnoxious high school student who’s earning some college credits at Greendale. The repeated harassment, particularly his being referred to as a “Schmidty,” chips away at his ego to the point where he takes Britta’s advice and tries to sleep with his mom strictly for payback. It’s a delightfully absurd subplot that would also set up a joke that would take 4 more seasons to payoff.
Drew Carey — Ted in “Accounting for Lawyers” (Season 2, Episode 2)
Lured back into his former life by his old co-worker, Alan (Rob Corddry, in a recurring role) Jeff attends an office party at his old law firm. Ted, the head of the firm and Jeff’s old boss, offers him a consulting job and with it a way back into his old life. Though all anyone can really focus on is the big, weird hole in his hand.
Hilary Duff — Meghan in “Aerodynamics of Gender” (Season 2, Episode 7)
Britta, Annie, and Shirley all agree to take a women’s studies class together, as does Abed. While his tagging along is unwelcome at first, once the girls are driven from their desks by Meghan, a catty, quick-witted mean girl, they utilize Abed’s “special set of skills” to get payback. This, as a result, makes Abed one of the girls… for a little while, at least.
Tig Notaro — Bartender in “Mixology Certification” (Season 2, Episode 10)
Realizing that it’s Troy’s 21st birthday, the group decides to celebrate with the standard convention by going out to a bar. With her sparse screen time, Notaro’s bartender character takes an immediate liking to Annie’s alter-ego, Caroline Decker, a character she fabricates based on the fake ID she uses for entry. Unfortunately, she ends up largely underutilized, as she’s mostly a foil for Annie’s increasingly indulgent backstory.
Paul F. Tompkins — Robert in “Mixology Certification” (Season 2, Episode 10)
Abed is approached while playing an arcade game by Robert, who immediately grabs his attention with a reference to The Last Starfighter. Later, as they sit together the bar, Abed talks endlessly about Farscape, seemingly oblivious to Robert’s signals, right up until he simply asks “would you like to go have gay sex with me?” Abed’s polite decline (he really likes talking about Farscape) is met with a drink to the face and a set of scathing words — “Stargate’s better!” — as he storms out the door.
Stephen Tobolowsky — Professor Sheffield in “Competitive Wine Tasting” (Season 2, Episode 20)
One of the many episodes that focuses on the sheer absurdity of the curriculum offered at Greendale features Abed enrolling in a class that deconstructs the 1980s TV sitcom Who’s The Boss? While Professor Sheffield takes a decidedly rhetorical approach to the subject, Abed’s concise and extremely well put together response to the show’s titular question, (which, incidentally, was “Angela,”) makes the professor’s body of work on the subject seem irrelevant.
Eliza Coupe — Special Agent Robin Vohlers in “Intro to Political Science” (Season 2, Episode 17)
One of the earliest attempts to carve out a romantic subplot for Abed occurs when he finds himself a person of interest to the Secret Service, who are on campus to prepare for an appearance by Vice President Joe Biden. Her cold, distant approach to romance suits Abed just fine, as she watches TV with him through binoculars before he bids her goodnight through the wiretap in his lamp.
Josh Holloway — The Black Rider in “A Fistfull of Paintballs” (Season 2, Episode 23)
A mysterious stranger walks Greendale’s campus amidst the chaos of the second annual paintball game. Holloway’s near-deadpan performance as a wild-card ringer whose very presence threatens the future of the school fits perfectly into the episode’s western motif. While his rugged, “network-TV” good looks challenges Jeff’s own self-image.
Martin Starr — Professor Cligoris in “Geography of Global Conflict” (Season 3, Episode 2)
The head of Greendale’s History Department, Professor Cligoris (“either pronunciation is acceptable”), seeks to form a Model UN. While playing off the rivalry between Annie and Annie Kim, what results is a competing Model UN-Off. The study group comes out on top as a result of what Professor Cligoris deems the founding principles of the UN, namely high-minded rhetoric and empty gestures.
Nick Kroll — Juergen in “Foosball and Nocturnal Vigilantism” (Season 3, Episode 9)
Kroll took a break from creating characters on The Kroll Show to bring life to a German mega-douche and foosball enthusiast who challenges Jeff and Shirley’s rights over the Greendale foosball table. He becomes a foosball little man player at one point in a $25 bit that was funny.
French Stewart — Vinnie in “Contemporary Impressionists” (Season 3, Episode 11)
When Abed finds himself pulling further back from the real world, he compulsively hires celebrity impressionists to act out scenes from movies with him. In order to help pay off his debt to the head of the impressionist agency (French Stewart), himself a former French Stewart impressionist, the group is forced to work a Bar Mitzvah as their respective celebrity doppelgängers.
Keith David — Narrator in “Pillows & Blankets” (Season 3, Episode 14)
Before he would return to play Elroy Patashnik in Community’s sixth season, Keith David narrated the epic second part of the infamous Troy vs. Abed story arc. His authoritative cadence gave a certain gravitas to the episode, a faux-documentary that drew heavily on Ken Burns’ style.
Michael Ironside — Colonel Archwood in “Basic Lupine Urology” (Season 3, Episode 17)
One of the show’s most ambitious concept episodes, it serves as both parody and homage to TV’s immortal Law & Order. The case — which involves the study group’s smashed yam — threatens Annie’s perfect GPA while their one-time study associate, Todd, finds himself as the accused. His father, Colonel Archwood, a military lawyer, comes to his son’s defense in the mock trial set up in their biology classroom.
John Hodgman — Dr. Heidi in “Curriculum Unavailable” (Season 3, Episode 19)
Dr. Heidi plays a therapist who winds up examining each member of the group before determining that they are all insane.
Fred Willard — Alternate Pierce in “History 101” (Season 4, Episode 1)
A jarring cold open for the Dan Harmon-less fourth season, the show briefly ditched its standard format in favor of the more traditional sitcom setup. Amidst the laugh-track and the group’s en masse attempt at the hipster look, Fred Willard inexplicably shows up as Pierce. We quickly learn that this is occurring in Abed’s happy place, a trick he learns after Britta “therapizes” him.
Luke Perry and Jennie Garth — American Inspector Spacetime & Ensign in “Conventions of Space and Time” (Season 4, Episode 3)
The group heads to a convention to celebrate Troy & Abed’s favorite show, Inspector Spacetime. While there, Shirley and Pierce are chosen for a focus group by a studio looking to Americanize the long-running, metafictional British show-within-the show. As a result, over the closing credits we get a mini 90210 reunion staged inside a massively dumbed-down final version of Inspector Spacetime U.S., thanks largely to Pierce’s numerous suggestions. Matt Lucas also guest stars.
Brie Larson — Rachel in “Herstory of Dance” (Season 4, Episode 8)
As Abed looks to branch out socially, he attends two different Greendale dances held on the same night with two different dates. While the irony of his attempt to experience real life ending up like an overused sitcom trope isn’t lost on him, once he realizes the girl he had the most in common with was the girl working the coat room, it’s too late.
Adam Devine — Willy, Jr. in “Cooperative Escapism and Familial Relations” (Season 4, Episode 5)
Jeff meeting with his estranged father, played by James Brolin, was a major plot-point of the show’s fourth season. What ends up often overlooked is Devine’s performance as Jeff’s half-brother, Willy, Jr. Given his immaturity in comparison to Jeff’s seemingly well-adjusted character, Willy, Jr. immediately becomes jealous of him and his easygoing rapport with their father.
Jason Alexander — Mountain Man in “Intro to Felt Legacy” (Season 4, Episode 9)
In one of Season 4’s more ambitious episodes, the group recalls some unsettling events that happen after they end up lost in the woods, but with themselves as puppets (this was, of course, Britta’s idea). Naturally, while in puppet/flashback form, they cross paths with a transient mountain man/former Greendale student, who ends up feeding them some psychotropic berries. This, in turn, causes a series of hallucinogenic reactions that leads to the unsettling events that start the episode. Singer Sara Bareilles also pops up as a balloon guide.
Ben Folds — Professor Bublitz in “Baic Intergluteal Numismatics” (Season 5, Episode 3)
Piano man and songwriter Ben Folds played a botany professor in the ass-crack bandit episode. He also wrote the ear-worm anthem for the bandit that is above.
Walton Goggins — Mr. Stone in “Cooperative Polygraphy” (Season 5, Episode 4)
After Pierce’s sudden death, the group is approached by Goggins’ Mr. Stone, a man hired by Pierce to carry out specific instructions that involves each of them being hooked up to a polygraph and interrogated. His cold, unfeeling manner for the duration is in hilarious contrast to how we see him in the episode’s closing moments.
Paget Brewster and Nathan Fillion — Debra Chambers and Bob Waite in “Analysis of Cork-Based Networking” (Season 5, Episode 6)
Another Season 6 cast member who first appeared in a different role, Brewster first played Greendale’s IT head Debra Chambers. A strict by-the-book type, she’s approached by Annie and Professor Buzz Hickey as part of their desire to expedite the hanging of a bulletin board, which is part of their larger ‘Save Greendale’ initiative. This requires them to petition Chambers to allow unfiltered internet access for the school’s custodial staff, which is, of course, led by Nathan Fillion’s Bob Waite. Robert Patrick also appeared.
Mitch Hurwitz — Koogler in “App Development and Condiments” (Season 5, Episode 8)
Arrested Development‘s creator got to play a composite of every smart-ass high school/college King in ’80s filmdom. If the Koogler stand alone movie winds up being the #andAMovie, I would be fine with that.
David Cross — Hank Hickey in “Advanced Advanced Dungeons & Dragons” (Season 5, Episode 10)
Professor Hickey, despite his hardened exterior, desperately wants to try and re-connect with his son, Hank, a Dungeons & Dragons enthusiast. Having some experience with role-playing games, the group helps by orchestrating an elaborate campaign to help bridge the gap between them, which is met with resistance from Hank, who has a much different view of his father.
Vince Gilligan and Gina Gershon — Devon and Wife in “VCR Maintenance and Educational Publishing” (Season 5, Episode 9)
Breaking Bad showrunner Vince Gilligan is remembered as the host of the needlessly confusing VCR-based game “Pile of Bullets.” However, a flashback sequence during the end credits finds Devon hesitant about taking the job with “Pile of Bullets.” He’s fervently pushed to accept it by his wife, who believes VCR-based games are the future of entertainment, and one that will allow them to start an expensive cocaine habit.
Chris Elliott — Russell Borchert in “Basic Sandwich” (Season 5, Episode 13)
A near-unrecognizable Chris Elliott shows up in the Season 5 finale as Russell Borchert, the long-missing founder of Greendale Community College. The group stumbles upon his hiding place, sealed in a computer lab to protect the school’s reputation from his alleged sex scandals. Of course, in doing so, they end up saving their school yet again, this time from a nefarious plot involving Greendale being sold to Subway Restaurants.
Steven Weber — Detective Butcher in “Ladders” (Season 6, Episode 1)
Another post-credits scene, this one serving to explain Shirley’s departure, or from Abed’s perspective, her “spinning off.” Weber plays Butcher, a bitter, suicidal wheelchair-bound former detective, who hires Shirley as a caretaker and cook, hence: ‘The Baker.’
Steve Guttenberg — Maury in “Intro to Recycled Cinema” (Season 6, Episode 8)
Once Chang hits the big time, they’re approached by a sleazy movie producer who tasks them with hammering out an 81 minute movie from a few seconds worth of footage Abed had made with him years prior. Despite putting together a high-concept, low-budget science fiction adventure, Maury informs everyone that the studio funding the project went bankrupt, thanks to YouTube.
Lisa Loeb — Julie in “Advanced Safety Features” (Season 6, Episode 7)
Real-life ’90s superstar songstress Loeb plays the lead singer of the band Natalie is Freezing, who is hired for the Greendale alumni dance. As the group works to pierce Elroy’s gruff exterior, he ends up revealing he and Julie had once dated.
Billy Zane — Honda Boss in “Advanced Safety Features” (Season 6, Episode 7)
As the man once known only as Subway returns as a shill for Honda, Britta is approached by the enigmatic Zane with a proposition, publicly date the man (now known Rick) while simultaneously work to covertly market the cars as a couple. His sudden appearance and seemingly mysterious vanishing act is subverted in classic Community style, particularly when he’s seen crouching behind a table afterward.
Kumail Nanjiani — Lapari in “Modern Espionage” (Season 6, Episode 11)
The highly-anticipated return of Community‘s beloved paintball-themed episodes, this time paying homage to the spy genre (not to be confused for parody). Nanjiani, who also appeared as Lapari briefly in Season 5, ends up the custodial mastermind behind the elaborate underground competition.
Seth Green and Justin Roiland — Scrunch and Ice Cube Head in “Emotional Consequences of Broadcast Television” (Season 6, Episode 13)
The show even managed to squeeze in a cameo by comedic gadfly Seth Green as tech billionaire Scrunch and, more covertly, Community creator Dan Harmon’s Rick and Morty partner Justin Roland as the voice of Ice Cub Head in the Season 6 finale. But will these be the last cameo’s in Community history? Time will tell, but all of these stars and talents deserve a few credits for their contribution to the show’s lore.