The Universe of Discourse

Tue, 17 Sep 2019

The straight man comes first

Today it occurred to me that in the many comedy duos that feature a “straight man” and a “comedian”, the straight man is invariably named first. The central example, of course, is Abbott and Costello. But we also have:

  • Laurel and Hardy
  • Burns and Allen
  • Rowan and Martin
  • Martin and Lewis
  • Bert and Ernie

and this even extends to entirely fictitious pairs such as Jeeves and Wooster, Harold and Kumar, or Sam and Max, Freelance Police. Also, if you are a mathematician, Smothers and Smothers. This is why people hate mathematicians.

I did Google search for "Kermit and Fozzie" (hits outnumber "Fozzie and Kermit" by around three-to-one) and "Kermit and Miss Piggy" (hits outnumber "Miss Piggy and Kermit", although only by about 60%.)

Wikipedia says this is no accident!

In vaudeville, effective straight men were much less common than comedians. The straight man's name usually appeared first and he usually received 60% of the take.

But my co-worker Jeff Culverhouse found a counterexample: Silent Bob is certainly the straight man of Jay and Silent Bob.

Wikipedia also has a list of American Comedy Duos. Not all of them follow the straight man / comedian pattern, and I don't recognize many of those that do. More research is needed.

[ Addendum: I wanted to find a gender-neutral term for "straight man", but failed. ]

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Southern Strategy

According to the New York Times of 10 March 1982:

In 1970, for example, President Nixon and Vice President Agnew did a piano duet built around their so-called ''Southern Strategy.'' No matter what song Mr. Nixon played, Mr. Agnew cut in with ''Dixie.'' The audience found it uproariously funny, as they did the spectacle of the Vice President clicking his heels, saluting and telling Mr. Nixon, ''Yes suh, Mr. President, ah agree with you completely on yoah Southern strategy.''

And yet the cruel earth refused to open and swallow everyone involved.


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