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Straight Man

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"Well, the straight guy is never given enough credit... 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, Large Ham or Loveable Rogue.

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

Note: A person does not need to be straight or a man to be this trope. 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 Comic Trio, they usually play the "helpless observer" role. If multiple characters take turns playing Straight Man, they have a game of Sanity Ball. By far the most common pairing is Straight Man and Wise Guy.


Not to be confused with:

  • Only Sane Man: The person in the cast who is sensible while everyone else is acting crazy. This may overlap with Straight Man, and it's pretty rare to have one of each, but they are not automatically the same character. (What's required of a Straight Man is not necessarily being "serious," but presenting the setup of the gags so someone else can give the punch line.)
  • The Comically Serious: This character's serious reaction is what gets the laugh; the Straight Man would be the one who sets up their reaction to be funny. It's possible for this to overlap if the Straight Man delivers their lines so well that they're funny even before the actual punch line; again Bob Newhart is a great example of that.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Delivers laugh lines in a monotone sarcastic voice. Again, it may overlap, but it's just as common for someone else to be the Straight Man while the Deadpan Snarker gives the punch lines.

Compare and contrast:

Example subpages:

Other examples:

    open/close all folders 
  • 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.
  • Rowan to Martin in Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In.
  • 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.
  • Abbott and Costello: Bud Abbott took a 60% share of the comedy duo's earnings because vaudeville tradition held that the straight man was the more important member of the duo.
    Lou Costello: Comics are a dime a dozen. Good straight men are hard to find.
  • Bob Newhart was such a master straight man that he didn't even need a funny partner. His famous bits are talking on the telephone with a fictional funny character who is not audible to the audience. All of the humor comes from Newhart's reactions to the ridiculous things the other person is supposedly saying.
    Comic Books 
  • Batman
    • This point is brought up in the comics on occasion; one of the main reasons that The Joker has given for not simply killing Batman is that the Joker sees Batman as his unwilling straight man.
    • Lex Luthor is also the straight man when the villains team up.
    • In the sequel comic series to the DCAU titled Batman: The Adventures Continue, the Joker actually hires a henchman named Straightman. Ironically, he's terrible at being one and Joker continually chastises him for ad-libbing.
  • Tom from the Roger Mellie strips in Viz. Sometimes he's Roger's agent and at other times he's Roger's producer, but he's always Roger's straight man. One strip featured a sign on his desk that had "straight man" as his job title.
    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.
  • Peanuts: In the stories focusing on Sally, Charlie Brown stands back and gets to comfortably be the Deadpan Snarker to his sister's silliness.
  • Garfield: In the early days, Jon was the straight man to Garfield. Most of the humor in the early strips derived from Jon lamenting his status as cat owner whenever Garfield's catlike curiosity led him to do idiotic things. But as characterization marched on, they reversed roles: Jon turned into a socially awkward and weird Manchild, while Garfield turned into a lazy Deadpan Snarker, whose job it was to comment on Jon's strange behavior.
    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.
  • Jason often does this in Sailor Moon: Legends of Lightstorm. All too often, he doesn't respond to the Scouts' antics except to give them a look that makes them realize the ridiculousness of their actions. And most of the time he doesn't even change his expression.
  • Hovat in we're jerry springer, not casablanca. is a female example of this, and so is Gamora to a lesser extent
    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'Info.
  • 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.
    • Kermit also had a role on Sesame Street where he was a reporter, often reporting on fairy tales and nursery rhymes and the like. A lot of the humour came from Kermit trying to maintain composure through all the ridiculousness around him.
  • 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.
  • 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.
    • Compare this rare recording in which Abbott was out sick so Costello performed the routine with Sidney Fields. It's quickly obvious, as Mark Evanier observes, that Abbott contributed a lot more to the comedy than simply setting up his partner to be funny.
  • 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.
  • The interviewer played by Carrie Quinlan in the interview sketches on John Finnemore's Souvenir Programme is the straight woman to various strange characters played by Finnemore. Later episodes name her as Patsy Straightwoman and have her bemoaning her lack of punchlines in her introduction.
    Video Games 
    Visual Novels 
  • Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney
    • Phoenix Wright, who appears to act as the straight man for everyone. He Lampshades this pretty frequently.
    • 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 


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): The Straight Man



Mike and Sulley try to teach the comedy class about a Straight Man.

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