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Straightman

"Well, the straight guy is never given enough credit... [Bud] Abbott gets no credit for framing a gag, for the architecture, for the support, for the drive. He does everything except the punchline; he's amazing."

Somebody has to set up the joke so the funny guy can deliver the punchline. That's the Straight Man. He rarely gets the funny lines, but has to have impeccable timing and delivery so that the comic (the other half of a comedy duo) can hit it out of the park. Bud Abbott (widely considered the greatest Straight Man of all time) had to say "Who's on First?" with just the right degree of earnestness and irritation so that Lou Costello could get big laughs saying "Whaddya askin' me for?"

The best Straight Men are so good they can sometimes get laughs just by delivering a straight line so well the audience knows what's coming. (This is essentially the basis of Bob Newhart's "telephone" routines: he was playing the Straight Man to nothing.) Other straight men in comedy duos have included George Burns (with Gracie Allen), Dean Martin (with Jerry Lewis), and Dan Rowan (with Dick Martin of Laugh-In).

In less-comedic works, the Straight Man is a Foil for the Bunny-Ears Lawyer, Magnificent Bastard or Loveable Rogue.

If the Straight Man is the lead in an ensemble or a show with Loads and Loads of Characters, this can lead to them being overshadowed by the rest of the cast because they spend their setting up the rest of the cast instead of themselves (see also Standardised Leader).

The term can apply to women, but "comedic foil" is a more popular unisex term. In fact women in comic pairings have frequently played this role over the last few decades usually with Women Are Wiser coming into play.

In TV comedy, a Straight Man is frequently one half of an Odd Couple. In a Power Trio, they usually play the "helpless observer" role.

If you're looking for the trope for "the only sensible character", you probably want Only Sane Man; the two tropes can and often do overlap, and it's pretty rare to have one of each, but the Straight Man and the Only Sane Man are not automatically the same character. See also The Comically Serious, Straight Man and Wise Guy. Also Deadpan Snarker, which quite a few comedic foils are. If multiple characters take turns playing Straight Man, they have a game of Sanity Ball. Compare Boke and Tsukkomi Routine, where the "Straight Man" takes the tsukkomi role.

A Straight Man need not necessarily be heterosexual nor even male, many examples on this page show.


Example subpages


Examples

    open/close all folders 

    Comedy 
  • Initially, George Burns had his wife Gracie Allen in the Straight Man role in their comedy act... until he realized most of the laughter was at her set-up lines and not the actual jokes. He switched roles with her and spent the next several decades as one of the classic straight men.
  • Carl Reiner to Mel Brooks' 2000-years-old man is another classic of the trope.
  • Dean Martin to Jerry Lewis.
  • Rowen to Martin
  • Dick Smothers to Tom Smothers.
  • Opera singer Marilyn Mulvay was the straight woman for Victor Borge.
  • The infamous staged heckler in Brendon Burns's comedy sketches serves this role; she argues with him about racism with a completely serious attitude, while Burns flings her arguments back at her with humor.

    Comic Books 

    Comic Strips 
  • FoxTrot zig-zags this. In the early years of the strip, Roger and Andy were both rather straight, with Andy occasionally being the funny one. However, someone slipped an Idiot Ball into Roger Fox's shorts and he never removed it, so Andy was pretty much the straight one throughout most of the comic's run, although there have been notable instances where Roger was the straight one.
  • Calvin and Hobbes: Hobbes also acts like this to Calvin; although there are times where Calvin can identify a little bit of quirkiness from Hobbes.

    Fan Works 
  • In the Homestuck fan adventure Alabaster The Doomed Session, there are two straight women: Via and Crossover, which both spend their time kicking the horrible male lead's ass and enduring the madness and mistakes of the entire cast.
  • Queen Of All Oni: Agent Wisker often serves as one for the heroes. Meanwhile, on the villainous side of things, Blankman often serves as this to the more quirky members of the Shadow Hand.
  • Dragonball Z Abridged: Most of the main villains play straight man to their henchmen (particularly Vegeta to Nappa) as well as to Goku. In addition, Kami is the straight man to Mr. Popo, Nail is the straight man to Super Kami Guru and Krillin, Piccolo is the straight man to Nail, Gohan is a straight man to everyone, and Tien Shinhan seems to be unaware that he's in a parody and plays just about everything straight.

    Literature 
  • On the Discworld, Rincewind and Sam Vimes seem to play the straight man for the entire world.
  • The trope is lampshaded and identified by name in The Dresden Files novel Blood Rites when Harry observes that one of the incidental characters is a born Straight Man and could provide some enterprising wise guy with perfect straight lines for life.

    Pro Wrestling 

    Puppet Shows 
  • PPDA, the puppet for Patrick Poivre D'Arvor, acts as the straight man for absolutely everybody else in Les Guignols De L Iinfo.
  • Kermit the Frog from The Muppets is the famous Straight Man to everyone else in the cast. You have to feel sorry for what he has to put up with sometimes, especially from Miss Piggy, Fozzie, Animal... The guy doesn't really get a break. Also, Fozzie plays the straight man to Statler and Waldorf whenever he does an act, though this isn't intentional on his part.
  • One of the all-time great straight men is Bert, the Straight Man to Ernie on Sesame Street (though he did deliver the punchline occasionally, usually in his Aside Glance at the end of the sketch).
  • Jeff Dunham to his puppets. Given that he is voicing the puppets, it is regularly lampshaded that he is being the straight man to himself.

    Radio 
  • Bob & Ray were an exception to this, as each man could simultaneously be the straight man and the goof, all in the same routine.
  • Bud Abbott from Abbott and Costello, most famously in the "Who's on First?" routine.
  • In Cabin Pressure, Captain Martin Crieff is usually this to his co-pilot Douglas.
  • Neddie Seagoon, played by Harry Secombe, was pretty much the Straight Man to the entire cast of The Goon Show — when he wasn't joining in the general surreal mess and leaving the announcer of the day (especially if it was Wallace Greenslade) as the Straight Man instead.
  • Hamish And Andy has Andy
  • The title character of The Jack Benny Program typically played the straight man to everyone else in the cast. As Benny said, "I don't care who gets the laughs on my show, as long as the show is funny."
  • Dougal (Graeme Garden) in Hamish And Dougal ... usually. He's certainly more likely to be holding the Sanity Ball than anyone else, with the possible exception of Mrs Naughtie.

    Video Games 

    Visual Novels 
  • Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney
    • Phoenix Wright, who appears to act as the straight man for everyone.
    • And in the fourth game, Apollo takes on this role, even playing the straight man to Phoenix.
    • And Edgeworth in case 5 of Trials and Tribulations and Investigations. So basically the protagonist is always the world's straight man.

    Web Animation 
  • In the original Red vs. Blue series, this role generally fell to Church, Grif, Simmons and Tex (although Tucker and Sarge had their moments too). After the Blood Gulch Chronicles, while the old characters are unchanged, Agent Washington, the new guy, fits the bill much more so until he starts working for the Chairman and with Maine again, and then once again after his Heel-Face Turn.
    Wash: You are really an odd group of people.
  • Paul from Llamas with Hats, to Carl's Comedic Sociopath.

    Web Original 


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alternative title(s): The Straight Man
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