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:
- Boke and Tsukkomi Routine, where the "Straight Man" takes the tsukkomi role but, rather than setting up jokes as such, spends most of his time trying to correct the boke's comical misconceptions (until he eventually gives up and Dope Slaps him).
- Ham and Deadpan Duo, where Those Two Guys are a wacky overactor and a guy who speaks in a dull monotone.
- Gleeful and Grumpy Pairing, where one guy is goofy and the other is cynical. Which one is the straight man may vary.
- Newhart Phone Call, as discussed, where a talented straight man can get laughs by letting the audience’s imagination fill in the offstage half of a phone conversation.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Lex Luthor is also the straight man when the villains team up.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- The setup for Endo and Kobayashi Live! The Latest on Tsundere Villainess Lieselotte is basically, a commented Let's Play session by the Broadcasting Club. Endo, who spent most of his life on baseball but was forced to retire due to a Career-Ending Injury, has a background that is the furthest one can get from gaming. As a result, he's usually the person providing the layman's opinion on Magikoi.
- The Hunger Games: Katniss Everdeen.
- The titular character of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland plays this role to the wacky denizens of Wonderland. Whether she's also the Only Sane Man is debatable: the entire story takes place in her subconsciousness.
- Gorilla Monsoon played this to Bobby Heenan, producing many classic moments. As did Tony Schiavone in WCW, though those moments were less classic.
- Despite it producing being his silliest gimmick (up to that point), American Dragon as a literal American Dragon, he still ended up being the straight one compared to Curryman during their run as IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Champions. Similarly Bryan Danielson tried to go along with whatever Paul London came up with in Pro Wrestling Guerilla, but Paul was just so left field Danielson would often have to slow him down just to make sense of him(usually resulting in something even weirder).
- When Curt Hawkins and Zack Ryder teamed together, they were semi-regulars on John Morrison and The Miz's online show The Dirt Sheet. Hawkins would play the Straight Man to Ryder who was essentially using the "tool" gimmick that he would adopt on WWECW.
- Vladimir Kozlov acted as one to Santino Marella as he softened from guy who likes seeing him in pain to guy who genuinely likes him.
- 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.
- Peter Puppy in Earthworm Jim, who also qualifies as a Deadpan Snarker at times and is usually more serious and sensitive than Jim.
- Sam from Sam & Max: Freelance Police. This becomes a plot point in one episode where a villain specifically wants a straight man to help out with his plan, and Sam is the perfect kind of easy-to-manipulate character who just does what he's told.
- A significant percentage of Merrill's jokes in Dragon Age II come from her interpreting Silly!Hawke's sarcastic remarks literally.
- From Dragon Age: Origins, we have Wade & Herren. As confirmed by the developers, Herren is the straight man while Wade is the funny man.
- Discussed and called by name in Tales of Vesperia during a skit, when Rita comments that the titular guild has Karol as the comic relief, Judith as the love interest, and Yuri as the Straight Man. She also calls Estelle the Space Cadet, prompting Estelle to ask if that makes Rita the straight woman. Rita flatly says she's "not a member of [their] crazy comedy act".
- Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal: Dr. Nefarious for his butler Lawrence, who also serve as a Ham and Deadpan Duo. Contrary to what gut-instinct would suggest, it's the Large Ham, Card-Carrying Villain Nefarious who is the Straight man, as his antics and wild statements frequently lead to a punchline of the Deadpan-and-Servile Snarker Lawrence back-talking, humiliating, or otherwise lampooning his overly-dramatic employer.
Nefarious: They called me insane, Lawrence! We'll see who's insane when my pets devour all life on this miserable planet!Lawrence: That should clear things right up, sir.
- Your partner Kim Kitsuragi in Disco Elysium is the unflappable By-the-Book Cop to your unstable Defective Detective. The Detective can range from funny drug abuser to self-pitying wreck to deranged apocalypse prophet, and Kim will tolerate basically anything with nothing more than restrained snark as long as it gets results. The only things that get under his skin are seriously disrupting the investigation, and outright racism.
- Neptune is usually the Wise Guy in the /Neptunia series, but in Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory, she's forced to be the straight man to Plutia for a while, and she hates it. Eventually they get their eternally exasperated straight woman, Noire back, and she is no less frustrated with having to deal with two wise guys. after they link up with Blanc, she tries to pass the straight man duties off to Blanc after the latter notes that they speak like a comedy routine, even using the term straight man, but Blanc turns her down, saying she prefers to be an audience member.
- Pre-Battle Banter for Mortal Kombat X and Mortal Kombat 11 reveal that Sub-Zero has No Sense of Humor, thus making him the perfect straight man for the wackier members of the cast by virtue of being The Comically Serious. Made all the funnier by his visible yet underacted frustration with the weirder and sillier antics.
Sub-Zero: Must everything be a joke?
Johnny Cage: Yeah. It does.
- Ace Attorney:
- Phoenix Wright, who appears to act as the straight man for everyone. He Lampshades this pretty frequently.
- In the fourth game, Apollo takes on this role, even playing the straight man to Phoenix.
- Edgeworth in case 5 of Trials and Tribulations and Investigations. So basically, the protagonist in each game is always the world's straight man.
- 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.
- Jake of the comic duo Jake and Amir.
- In KateModern season 1, Tariq is often this to Gavin.
- In the Whateley Universe, Fey and Tennyo play this role to their roommates, Chaka and Generator respectively. Also, Greasy is the Straight Man and Butt-Monkey for Peeper.
- During an interview, Vaudeville stage magician turned supervillain Mephisto reminisces over the original Champion (a Superman Expy whom he had great fun outwitting, calling him "Elmer Fudd to my Bugs Bunny"), saying "straight men like him just don’t come along every day.”
- Daniel from Agents of Cracked to Swaim. He himself is occasionally the straight man to other cast members.
- Hellsing920 plays this role in his Reaction & Review series: he creates the set-up for each film, then reacts to whatever oddities he's exposed to.
- Lewis Brindley often ends up playing this role when doing a playthrough with Simon Lane, setting him up for jokes either intentionally or by accident.
- SomeOrdinaryGamers stars Mutahar Anas, who more or less is an exemplified version of this trope playing weird video games, reading Creepypasta and exploring the deep web.
- DarkMatter2525: Jeffrey's role in most videos.
- A one-off video for Door Monster had Ethan become "Straight Man!" after he "walked in front of a nuclear-powered projector that was playing the movie Airplane!" ("That's... not how things work.")
- This is a plot point in I'm a Marvel... And I'm a DC for its second season. The Joker decides that, should he somehow manage to kill Batman, he'll need a new straight man to play with. So he sets up a plan to turn all superheroes into dark, brooding anti-heroes to give him an endless supply to pick from.
- Oozora Subaru of hololive is considered to be the group's premiere tsukkomi, something she lampshades when Haachama invited her for a cooking stream. This is helped along by the fact that she, compared to most of her fellow idols and fans, is not an otaku.