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Straight Man and Wise Guy

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Boomstick: Wiz, I'm the funny one. Just stick to being boring.
Wiz: Aww....
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An oft-recurring trope in comedy. The Straight Man and Wise Guy are an inseparable Odd Couple duo who play off each other for comedy. The Straight Man approaches everything seriously (even things that are patently ludicrous) and presents a straightforward, sane, conventional point of view. The Wise Guy is a jokester who answers the Straight Man's stodgy pronouncements with puns, wisecracks, and wackiness.

Oftentimes, this will involve one bringing up a topic of discussion, only to have the other interrupt, correct, or otherwise play foil to him. Traditionally the Straight Man brings up a serious topic and the Wise Guy riffs on it, but sometimes the Wise Guy brings up a loony topic, the Straight Man objects to its lunacy, and the Wise Guy riffs on that. Though often misunderstood, the point is for the Straight Man to "set up" a situation which the Wise Guy can joke about. The Straight Man typically isn't much of a Deadpan Snarker, though he may have his moments.

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See also Boke and Tsukkomi Routine, where a foolish character sets up the jokes for a straight man to correct, often violently, and Bathos, where mundane and wacky elements, and not just characters, are contrasted with each other for comedic effect. Compare Smart Jerk and Nice Moron, a similar comic contrast pair where no one character is the straight man. Often paired with Fat and Skinny; usually, the skinny one's the straight man but not always. Sister trope to Ham and Deadpan Duo and Gleeful and Grumpy Pairing.


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Examples:

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     Anime And Manga 

     Comedians and Comic Duos 
  • Abbott and Costello: The classic American comedic duo played off of this almost exclusively, with Abbott serving as the Straight Man to Costello's Wise Guy. Their Who's on First? routine is a classic example.
  • George Burns and Gracie Allen used a variant: Straight Man And The Ditz. Interestingly, Gracie Allen was initially the Straight Man in their comedy act...until George Burns realized her set-up lines got more laughter than the actual jokes. He switched roles with her and spent the next several decades as one of the classic straight men.
  • Dean Martin served as the Straight Man to Jerry Lewis's Wise Guy in their collaborations.
  • Laurel and Hardy: They mixed Straight Man and Wise Guy with slapstick physical comedy. In either case, Oliver Hardy (the fat one) was the straight man.
  • Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner: Especially in their legendary "2,000-year-old man" routine, which involved a news reporter (Reiner, the straight man) interviewing a Jewish fellow who happened to be 2,000 years old (Brooks, the wise guy.) This routine was actually created on the fly; the two spontaneously came up with it at a party.
  • The Mark & Brian Radio Program:
    • Mark Thompson and Brian Phelps often had this dynamic during the twenty-five year run of this show, with Mark as the Straight Man & Brian as the Wise Guy. Often during sketches, it's Brian who would perform whatever outlandish character they needed while Mark interviewed him and tried to keep a straight face.
    • When Mark retired from radio, Brian also left their radio station and joined with longtime friend Jill Whelan to produce The Brian & Jill Show. However, as self-described "Comedy Soul Mates", Brian & Jill are often both wise guys and rely on staff members Donnie and Kathy to provide the Straight Men.
  • Marx Brothers: In the movies, Groucho was always the Wise Guy; whoever he was talking to (except for Chico) would be his Straight Man (or in Margaret Dumont's case, Straight Woman).
  • Morecambe and Wise: Morecambe (wise guy) and Wise (straight man). However, they are often cited as a Subverted Trope in their later (and funniest) years—one description was "Ernie Wise is a wise guy who isn't funny, Eric Morecambe is a straight man who is".
  • Traditional clown routines often would work in pairs where one — typically in whiteface — would act as the straight man to the wilder, more obviously silly other. In circuses, the part of the straight man could also e. g. be taken by the ringmaster.
  • Penn & Teller have a variation on this setup - in terms of the spoken comedy, Penn is the Wise Guy. However, in the physical acting and trickery, it's Teller who's the wise guy while Penn guides us through the trick.
  • The Pork Chop: This duo plays with this trope, alternating between the roles of Straight Man and Wise Guy after every punchline is delivered.
  • In Sweden, Henrik Schyffert made a highly successful career playing the straight man to Johan Rheborg's and Robert Gustafsson's Wise Guys, cutting his teeth as the show host in I manegen med Glenn Killing and as the radio DJ in NileCity

     Comic Books 
  • Batman:
    • The Joker invariably plays the Wise Guy to Batman's Straight Man... a psychotic, murderous, twisted genius of a Wise Guy, and an obsessive, violent, angst-ridden Straight Man. Mental health is not the strong point of the Batman oeuvre. Given that Batman is the The Comically Serious of the entire DC universe, he plays the straight man to the more flamboyant of his Rogues Gallery, and often other superheroes such as the wisecracking The Flash as well.
    • Alfred also serves as a more snarky version of the wise guy to Master Bruce and is quite possibly one of the only level heads in Gotham.
    • Harley Quinn, being not Pyschotic Manchild but also a full blown Cloudcuckoolander act as the Wise Guy to most other characters, even if they would otherwise act as the Wise Guy themselves like the Joker.
  • Cable & Deadpool: This is the main focus of this comic book series. Deadpool is a crazy, No Fourth Wall character who loves pop-culture references and extreme violence. Cable is a serious leader who barely tolerates Deadpool's antics.
  • Quantum and Woody is built entirely on this trope. The Crazy-Prepared straight-laced serious Quantum is paired with the irreverent street-smart Deadpan Snarker Woody. And they're forced to stay paired up to prevent discorporating into pure energy, no matter how much they get on each other's nerves. Also doubles as an early inversion of Salt and Pepper.
  • Spider-Man is the wise guy to most of his villains, much to their annoyance, and almost any hero when they team up. The exceptions are the Human Torch, where they basically take turns annoying each other, and Deadpool, who's so out there it gives even Spidey a headache.
  • In the Star Wars: Darth Vader comics, this is basically the dynamic between Vader and Dr. Aphra. She's a snarky, adaptable archaeologist/thief, he's a 7" impassive Black Knight.
  • Sunnyville Stories: Samantha plays the straight role to Rusty; essentially, Rusty says or does something funny and Sam reacts.
  • W.I.T.C.H.: Has Cornelia as the Straight Girl to Irma's Wise Girl. They're also each other's Sitcom Arch-Nemesis.

     Fan Works 
  • Yukari and Yuyuko are these respectively in Fantasy of Utter Ridiculousness. The former's a Chessmaster par excellence who never stops thinking about Gensokyo's safety, and the latter is her ghost princess best friend who trolls her even during completely serious moments.

     Film 

     Literature 
  • Animorphs
    • Jake is the team's natural leader as he is brave, responsible, cool under pressure, and able to take charge during a crisis. His best friend is Marco who throughout the war always maintains a sense of humor, able to crack jokes and make sarcastic remarks in the midst of battle.
    • On some occasions, Jake cracks a joke... and no one laughs.
    • Ax ends up being the Straight Man more often than not due to being The Spock.
    • On one occasion it's mentioned that if Marco ended up in the Hork-Bajir refuge for a day he'd end up screaming for someone, anyone, who'd understand one of his jokes.
  • Jackrabbit Messiah: Jackrabbit is the wise guy to, of all people, God as the straight man. (God is actually the predominant voice in Jack's head — Jack is schizophrenic).
  • Kovac & Liska: Sam Kovac is a gruff and mostly serious police detective with some soft spots. Nikki Liska is a big mouth detective in a small package.
  • Psmith: P. G. Wodehouse's original wise-guy Psmith has Mike Jackson as his straight man.
  • Thalia's Musings: Apollo often ends up playing the Straight Man to Thalia's Wise Guy. Though, strictly speaking, he's not a straight man.

     Live Action Television 
  • The Andy Griffith Show: Andy Griffith and Don Knotts were like this. Andy's Andy Taylor was the straight man and Knotts' Barney was the wise guy. Although it was originally to be the other way around.
  • Burnistoun: Recurring characters Paul and Walter have this dynamic. Walter is extremely childish and constantly causing trouble for Paul by doing things such as splashing water on him, calling him gay, and in general, indulging in all sorts of whimsical and antisocial fantasies. Meanwhile, Paul is just trying to run the ice cream stand and is constantly exasperated by Walter, trying to keep him under control.
  • The Daily Show with Jon Stewart: Part of Stewart's reformulation of the show from the Kilborn years is that, instead of the correspondents playing the Straight Man part to the antics of the subject, who are cast as oblivious Wise Guys, Stewart himself plays the Straight Man to the correspondents' antics. Most often, the correspondents take on the role of a Straw Man, Up to Eleven version of whatever (usually conservative) political ideology or position the segment is meant to skewer. Stephen Colbert was successful enough at this that his conservative-pundit-Wise-Guy persona was spun off onto its own show.
  • Home Improvement: Al and Tim usually seem to pull off this dynamic in Tool Time, with Tim as the bumbling-but-wisecracking Wise Guy and Al as his competent-but-long-suffering Straight Man sidekick, but at one point they switch roles accidentally and have Tim play the straight man when they do a cooking show.
  • Kamen Rider Ex-Aid: Jerkish, calm-to-apathetic Taiga is stuck with the bratty, overly cheerful Nico. His attempt at acting like proper brooding Token Evil Teammate are followed either by her trolling him or trying to act tough herself. Both ways usually ruin his efforts, much to his dismay.
  • Kamen Rider Build: The quirky Comically Serious snarker Sento tends to poke the more grounded Dumb Muscle Ryuga to get a reaction out of him, usually to a great succes. Their conversations often have the dynamic resembling Boke and Tsukkomi Routine as a result.
  • Kamen Rider Saber usually has easily annoyed Consummate Professional Tetsuo Daishinji get teased by rambuctious, fun loving Ryo Ogami.
  • M*A*S*H: Early episodes were mainly multiple wise guys (Hawkeye and Trapper, with occasionally Col. Blake or Radar) against straight men (Frank and Margaret). Later on, though, Hawkeye and BJ comprised one of these duos, with clean-cut BJ as the straight man (most of the time).
  • Most Extreme Elimination Challenge has Kenny Blankenship play Wise Guy to the snarky Vic Romano.
    Kenny: Heh, that Troper just called me a wise guy.
    Vic: Right you are, Ken.
  • The Muppet Show:
    • Statler and Waldorf unintentionally play the Wise Guy to Fozzie's Straight Man. It's the only reason that Fozzie's act is funny.
    • And Kermit was the Straight Man to the rest of the cast's general zaniness, although he was often the Deadpan Snarker too.
  • MythBusters: Adam, the gleeful, prank-loving Wise Guy and Jamie, the no-nonsense, Comically Serious Straight Man.
    • Turns out to be an Invoked Trope: the show was originally going to star Jamie as its only host, but he asked Adam to be his co-host since Jamie thought he was too boring to host it on his own.
  • Perfect Strangers: Of course Balki (Wise Guy) and Larry (Straight Man) deserve to be listed here, don't be ridiculous.
  • Psych: Gus and Shawn! Or Juliet and Shawn. Or Lassiter and Shawn. Or Shawn's father Henry and Shawn. Or pretty much any other character is the Straight Man to Shawn's Wise Guy.
  • Alex Trebek and Sean Connery form such a duo in the Saturday Night Live "Celebrity Jeopardy" sketches. Trebek wants to conduct a normal game show, while Connery would rather make jokes about Trebek's mother.
  • Sesame Street: The other Muppet show has Bert being the Straight Man to Ernie's Wise Guy.
    • In the original season, a non-muppet sketch series starred Buddy, (Wise Guy) and Jim (Straight Man).
  • The Strange Calls: Officer Toby Banks and his sidekick Gregor have this dynamic. Banks is an earnest, hapless, and mildly dorky By-the-Book Cop who takes everything about his job very seriously, and is always skeptical of any supernatural explanation by things. Gregor meanwhile is an old man with lots of weird fetishes and eccentricities, who constantly makes fun of Banks and ropes him into wacky adventures relating to his expertise on the town's supernatural doings.
  • Supernatural:
    • In the early seasons, Sam often played straight man to Dean's wise guy. This happened less and less often as the show fleshed out their relationship.
    • Castiel and Dean also have this dynamic, with Castiel as the straight man...Played with in that Castiel's "straightforward, sane, conventional point of view" is that of an angel and frequently quite bizarre from a human point of view, while Dean's joking represents a more typical human perspective.

     Podcasts 

     Theatre 

     Video Games 
  • Crash Tag Team Racing has the news reporters Chick Gizzard Lips (Straight man who does the actual reporting) and Stew (Wise Guy who typically says things that are unrelated to the issue at hand, much to his partner's chagrin). This characterization carries over into Crash Team Racing: Nitro-Fueled, both in the Grand Prix introductions and in their racer dialogue.
  • In Disco Elysium, this is mostly likely the form the relationship between the Detective and his partner, Kim, will take. No matter what, Kim is always a Consummate Professional Straight Man who tries his damnest to keep the investigation on track, while the player will mostly likely be living it up as an extremely eccentric and snarky Defective Detective. The game's loading screens even encourages the player to play into this dynamic. The player is, however, also free to subvert this, by playing as a By-the-Book Cop.
  • Dragon Age:
    • Everyone and everyone else at various points in Origins. That the entire cast is composed of sarcastic people doesn't help. The Warden and Alistair is probably the most notable example.
    • In Awakening, Anders, Sigrun, and Oghren are generally the wise guys who bounce off of Nathaniel, Velanna and Justice. Nathaniel gets a little snarkier around Velanna...
    • Dragon Age II gives us Merrill or Anders (how times change) as the Straight Man when placed opposite Silly!Hawke. Aveline and Fenris tend to act as the straight men to Isabela / Varric / Silly! Hawke (again). Especially Silly!Hawke and Aveline:
      Silly!Hawk: [to Aveline] You don't want me as sour-and-dour as you. You need a counterpoint.
  • Fire Emblem: Most of these games have at least one pair:
  • Jak and Daxter fit into their respective roles quite nicely when on missions. Although, even when Daxter is the one making snide remarks about doing someone's dirty work, Jak's not above throwing some shade of his own.
  • Mutant Football League features Grim Blitzro as the sportscaster and "Brickhead" Mulligan providing color commentary. Grim is the straight man who knows the ins and outs of the game of football and usually initiates most of the commentary. "Brickhead" Mulligan is a retired MFL player who has very clearly lost a lot of intelligence from taking a few too many hits to the head.
    Grim: OHH! After a hit like that, he may not be able to comprehend math!
    "Brickhead": What's math?
    Grim: Exactly.
  • No Straight Roads has the leads, the laid-back Zuke and spunky rapscallion Mayday, though they take turns being the voice of reason and goofy one depending on the situation.
  • In Splatoon, idol singers Callie and Marie play the parts of wise guy and straight man, respectively, in newscasts announcing the current stage rotation, Splatfests, and updates. However, they invert the roles of set-up and response: Callie is the jokester that often opens conversations with a bad joke or by saying something ditzy, and Marie is the straight woman that sneaks in a quietly (or blatantly) snarky comment playing off it.
    Callie: Help! I have a sudden craving for peanut butter!
    Marie: Great stage tip, Callie. Really helpful.

     Web Animation 

     Web Comics 
  • Dubious Company: Walter is the Wise Guy to Tiren's Straight Man. Also occasionally, Mary and Leeroy are the wise guys to Sue and Sal respectively:
    Tiren: So where are we...?
    Walter: Nowhere.
    (beat)
    Tiren: Walter, I will beat you to death with a coconut!
  • Existential Comics: Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre, where the former is shown as being a superbly cool, laid-back womanizer who effortlessly picks up women, while Sartre is a stuffy intellectual, mostly the foil to Camus's barbs. This may some-what reflect their real-life relationship. Also Zeno of Citium and Zeno of Elea, depicted as roommates in the mode of The Odd Couple, the latter mostly getting on the former's nerves when he used his paradoxes as excuses.
  • The Fourth Wall: Foul-mouthed, perpetually disgruntled snarker Ric plays the Wise Guy to Greg's Straight Man.
  • Penny Arcade: The straightlaced Tycho and The Ditz Gabe.
  • Stairwell: This webcomic is a little on the odd side as it has Norman as the Straight Man AND the Wise Guy (which is represented by a manifestation of Norman's brain)

     Web Video 
  • Most of The Courier's companions in Courier's Mind: Rise of New Vegas are straight man compared to him to some degree, but Boone is easily the Straight Man to his Wise Guy. Nowhere is there a bigger contrast in personalities than between the No-Nonsense veteran Cold Sniper and the loud, boisterous, and cheerfully bloodthirsty mailman.
  • John Bain and Jesse Cox, with the former as the straight man and the latter as the wise guy. You wouldn't think so, given Jesse's wacky and outgoing personality and WowCrendor's monotone deadpan voice, but this is an Inverted Trope when the two partner up. This is because Crendor's more Cloudcuckoolander traits tend to make Jesse the straight man.
  • Danisnotonfire often plays Straight Man to AmazingPhil's Wise Guy in their collabs.
  • Dragon Ball Z Abridged: Son Goku acts as the Wise Guy and whoever he is playing off is the Straight Man (even if the character would normally be the Wise Guy), barring some moments where he's right. Either way he has a knock for driving the unlucky Straight Man insane, something that he is hinted to be doing on purpose.
    • Unless he's playing off Goku, season 3's Big Bad Cell typically acts as the Laughably Evil Wise Guy and whoever he's playing off serves as the Straight Man.
  • Dragon Ball DC, similar to the above mentioned Dragon Ball, it's version Son Goku (called Kakarot Kent in this series) acts as the Wise Guy while whoever he plays off is the Straight Man, except for Larfleeze who is a lunatic obsessed with hoarding anything of value.
    • In the side story "The JENNY And LARFLEEZE Show" featuring a podcast with Jenny Olson and Larfleeze. Jenny is normal person, who is largely conditioned to the outlandish happenings of the DC Universe, serves as the Straight Man. Larfleeze is still the Wise Guy with his continued desire to hoard anything of value, even immaterial things like views, comments, likes and subscriptions for the podcast.
  • Rin from Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works Abridged as the wise guy to whoever she plays off, usually Shirou or Archer.
  • Game Grumps: When doing Game Grumps, Egoraptor is the Straight Man, while JonTron (or Danny as of June 25th, 2013) is the Wise Guy.
  • The Jeff and David Show: David (Straight Man) and Jeff (Wise Guy).
    • "You[Wise]'ll be short and angry, and I[Morecambe]'ll be tall and stupid. And we'll both be idiots."
  • Spock plays straight man to Q in Spock Vs Q.

     Western Animation 
  • ChalkZone: Rudy is the Straight Man and Snap is the Wise Guy.
  • Goof Troop: Max and PJ though which one is which depends on the episode. As a pattern, PJ is more likely to be the straight man and Max the wise guy, but there are some episodes where the roles are reversed and others where they can switch roles in the span of a single scene. It helps that they're both in the Competence Zone and naturally snarky.
  • Harley Quinn (2019). The title character is as expected, an Ax-Crazy Cloud Cuckoolander. Her best friend Poison Ivy acts as the most common Straight Man. Poison Ivy is a murderous eco terrorist, but compared to most of the criminals in the show she's the Only Sane Man.
    • The show's version of Batman acts as the Straight Man to its Jim Gordon. Years of acting as a cop in Gotham City have taken their toll Gordon's mental health, making him a nervous wreck with a drinking problem. During the show's second season Batman is injured so Batgirl takes the role instead, acting as one of the show's few normal characters.
    • Alfred acts as this to Batman. Batman as turns out only comes off as normal compared to everyone else in the crazy city. Beneath the Mask he's a total Manchild, albiet one trying to do good. Alfred is the Deadpan Snarker foil. Batman's attempts to return to fighting crime despite his injuries in his A Day in the Limelight has play out like a Fantasy-Forbidding Father arguing with his stubborn teenage son.
  • The hosts of KaBlam! — Henry is the Straight Man while June is the Wise Girl.
  • Looney Tunes: This dynamic is a common setup, with a designated victim like Elmer Fudd or Yosemite Sam set up as the Straight Man to Bugs Bunny's Wise Guy tomfoolery. Occasionally, Porky Pig will play a humbler, more unassuming Straight Man to Daffy Duck's even kookier Wise Guy antics.
    • Bugs Bunny, of all people will occasionally play the Straight Man to Daffy's Wise Guy, while the latter lets his inner demons get the best of him and gets himself into hot water almost all the time, Bugs keeps his cool and just tries to relax or get to somewhere he can relax until Daffy's antics become his problem.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
    • Twilight Sparkle is the Straight Mare and Pinkie Pie is the Wise Filly.
    • Pinkie is so bizarre that any interaction with her tends to convert characters who would normally serve as the Wise Guy into the Straight Man, most obviously her seemingly unlikely friendship with Boisterous Bruiser Rainbow Dash.
    • In fanfiction, Lyra and Bon Bon usually end up like this, with Bon Bon having to put up with Lyra's crazy antics.
  • In Phineas and Ferb, Perry plays straight man to Dr. Doofenshmirtz's wise guy. Keep in mind, Perry's a platypus.
  • Pinky and the Brain: With Pinky as the Wise Guy and The Brain as the Straight Man.
  • The Legend of Korra:
    • In Book Four, straight-laced detective Mako gets assigned as the bodyguard to the foppish, hedonistic Casanova Wannabe Prince Wu. Mako doesn't make a secret of how annoying this is and takes some getting used to the whole idea.
    • Bolin, usually something of a wise guy himself, ends up playing the straight man to the eccentric Varrick when the two of them are on the run from Kuvira.
  • Balthazar Cavendish and Vinnie Dakota from Milo Murphy's Law. The former embodies British Stuffiness and is serious about his job, the latter is a fun-loving Big Eater who is Brilliant, but Lazy.
  • Ren and Stimpy are a subversion, with Ren as the straight man, and Stimpy as the "eediot".note 
  • She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, Catra, prior to her Villainous Breakdown, acts the Straight Man to Scopia's Wise Guy. Catra is a dangerous, competent villain. Scorpia is a formidable fighter, but she's a complete idiot who is hopelessly in love with Catra, who clearly doesn't share her feelings.
  • The Simpsons: Early episodes had Lisa and Bart as a classic Straight Man And Wise Guy pair, especially when they investigated mysteries together. Usually, Lisa would compare the situation to some historic moment or classical literature, and Bart would make a joke about it:
    Lisa: This is so cool, Bart. We're just like Woodward and Bernstein.
    Bart: Yeah, except their dad wasn't waiting in the car reading Archie comics.
  • Wallace & Gromit: Notable in that the Straight Man (Gromit) is completely mute and only expresses himself through pantomime. Their exchanges are usually along the lines of:
    Wallace: I know! I'll build a wacky elaborate contraption to solve this ordinary mundane problem!
    Gromit: (gesticulates wildly)
    Wallace: Hm, you're right. It will have to be exceptionally wacky and elaborate to get the job done. Let's go!
    Gromit: (rolls eyes)

    Other 
  • In a meta sense, This Very Wiki is the Wise Guy to the Straight Man that is The Other Wiki. They present the facts in a matter-of-fact manner, while we provide sarcasm and humorous commentary to go with those same facts.

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