Downey had worked in advertising and lampooned that business in the movie everyone associates with him, "Putney Swope" (1969), about the hilarious changes made by a token black member of an ad agency after he is accidentally elected Chairman of the Board. Though his greatest success, "Putney Swope" appears dated today, and the richer-looking (Downey finally had some money to spend) "Greaser's Palace" (1972) may have withstood the test of time. A super-offbeat Jesus Christ parody with a Western setting, it offers some wonderful performances by Allan Arbus as a zoot-suited Jesus, Albert Henderson as head Greaser and Stan Gottlieb as the "wife" of a deformed Mexican with a lecherous yen for the Saviour, but despite the inspired hilarity, its 91 minute running time seems longer than that.
With Chuck Barris, Downey co-wrote "The Gong Show Movie" (1980) and also directed "Rented Lips" (1988), scripted and produced by Martin Mull. Though his acting appearances have been few, he did play an ad agency head in "You've Got to Walk It Like You Talk It or You'll Lose That Beat" (1971), an NCAA investigator in "Johnny Be Good" (1988) and a recording studio manager in "Boogie Nights" (1997). Downey wrote and directed "Too Much Sun" (1991), a weak farce about a competition between a brother and sister (both gay) to have a child first, so as to inherit a fortune from their father. He returned with "Hugo Pool" (1997), co-written with his late wife Laura, about a dedicated, beautiful and lonely Beverly Hills pool cleaner (Alyssa Milano) who becomes involved in the lives of her clients, particularly Floyd, an attractive man afflicted with ALS (the same disease that had felled Laura Downey). His son Robert Downey Jr appeared in "Hugo Pool", the seventh of his father's films in which he has acted.