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The straight man (in comedy, not sex)

 
 
Reply Wed 20 Jun, 2012 06:33 pm
I read a nice little write up today about the actor Steve Carell.

It discussed that he'd managed to avoid the traps so many other comedians fall into of having to always seem larger than life; that his best performances have been understated.

Who are some of the great straight guys?

George Burns to Gracie Allen, for sure. Laurel to Hardy, absolutely. Ricky (and Ethyl) to Lucy.

Is it only a straight man if it's in a comedy?

I think of the Don Draper character in "Mad Men" as a straight man but I'm not sure if he is.

Christopher Walken always seem to be the straight man even when the movies isn't a comedy.

What defines the straight man?
 
roger
 
  2  
Reply Wed 20 Jun, 2012 06:48 pm
@boomerang,
George Burns once said his job was to just stand there and repeat everything Gracie said. Once you noticed it, that's exactly what he did.

How 'bout Crosby. He didn't really feed straight lines to Hope, so should we consider him more foil than straight man?
boomerang
 
  1  
Reply Wed 20 Jun, 2012 07:02 pm
@roger,
Things get complicated with the introduction of the foil!

I'm going to have to think on that one.....
0 Replies
 
edgarblythe
 
  2  
Reply Wed 20 Jun, 2012 07:05 pm
Abbot to Costello.
Slip Mahony to Satch (The Bowery Boys)
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boomerang
 
  1  
Reply Wed 20 Jun, 2012 07:18 pm
I wish I could edit my topic headline to read "The straight man and the foil".

It seems they do play the same role, but in a slightly different way.

Did you see the movie "Catch Me If You Can"?

Would you say Tom Hank's FBI agent was the foil to Leonardo Dicapprio's con man?


Was Andy Griffith the straight man or the foil to Barney Fife?

Or was it the other way around?
joefromchicago
 
  2  
Reply Wed 20 Jun, 2012 08:51 pm
@boomerang,
boomerang wrote:
Who are some of the great straight guys?

Bud Abbott was probably the best ever. George Burns was also right up there. Dick Smothers and Dan Rowan from the television era. I'd also include Edgar Bergen, although he was feeding straight lines to his hand.

boomerang wrote:
Is it only a straight man if it's in a comedy?

Yes.

boomerang wrote:
What defines the straight man?

He's the guy who delivers straight lines or set-ups to the comedian, who then delivers the punch lines.

It was always considered to be more difficult to be a good straight man than to be a good comedian. In vaudeville, comedy acts were paid a single sum, which was then typically split 60-40 between the straight man and the comedian -- the straight man getting the larger amount. That's also why the straight man usually got top billing -- it was Abbott & Costello, not Costello & Abbott (Laurel & Hardy was an exception to that rule, but that's because Stan Laurel was already an established star in Hollywood when he teamed up with bit player Oliver Hardy).
wandeljw
 
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Reply Wed 20 Jun, 2012 10:44 pm
@boomerang,
Hanks could be considered the foil in Catch Me if You Can. Margaret DuMont was a foil to Groucho Marx. Richard Deacon was a foil to Morey Amsterdam.
roger
 
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Reply Wed 20 Jun, 2012 11:24 pm
@wandeljw,
wandeljw wrote:

Margaret DuMont was a foil to Groucho Marx.


And what a magnificant team that turned out to be.
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jespah
 
  3  
Reply Thu 21 Jun, 2012 04:33 am
@joefromchicago,
Thanks for mentioning Dan Rowan; he was the first guy I thought of. Also, Tony Randall although both he and Jack Klugman delivered straight as well as comedic lines in The Odd Couple.
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boomerang
 
  1  
Reply Thu 21 Jun, 2012 06:50 am
@joefromchicago,
That's an interesting bit of information! Thanks.
0 Replies
 
Joe Nation
 
  1  
Reply Thu 21 Jun, 2012 08:14 am
Greatest transformation from straight actor to playing whole movies as the straight man
http://ia.media-imdb.com/images/M/MV5BMTMzMjY2MjQyMl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMjMwNDQxNA@@._V1._CR0,0,329,329_SS80_.jpg

Lesile Neilsen

Joe(Don't call me Shirley)Nation
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sozobe
 
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Reply Thu 21 Jun, 2012 08:29 am
@boomerang,
Ben Stiller has his moments.
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joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Thu 21 Jun, 2012 08:56 am
Let's be clear here: a comedian who delivers his lines in an understated manner or with a "straight face" is not a straight man. That's called "deadpan." Totally different things.

Oh, and by the way, you all suck at these kinds of threads.
wandeljw
 
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Reply Thu 21 Jun, 2012 08:58 am
In my opinion, both Bob and Ray were comedy straight men. Their deadpan deliveries combined to create very funny comedy bits.

Ragman
 
  1  
Reply Thu 21 Jun, 2012 09:03 am
@boomerang,
Laurel & Hardy: Stan Laurel was the quintessential foil-comic to Oliver 'Babe' Hardy's straight man.
0 Replies
 
sozobe
 
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Reply Thu 21 Jun, 2012 09:05 am
@joefromchicago,
Just read an article about Ben Stiller, was thinking "hmm, I wonder if he's a straight man," and then read the following:

Tad Friend wrote:
From the left, though, Stiller's face seems custard-pie ready. That's the side that amplifies the jittery nods and frustrated winces and wide-eyed outcries -- his eyebrows fleeing the lies his mouth is about to tell -- that make him a straight man nonpareil.

If you ask the average person to name some movie stars .... Stiller will be an afterthought. In part, this is because Stiller is a whetstone, a generous actor who elicits his screen partners' funniest and most unexpected work: think of Cameron Diaz' flighty radiance in "There's Something About Mary," or Robert De Niro's nimble bullying in "Meet the Parents."


Made sense to me. Do you disagree?
wandeljw
 
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Reply Thu 21 Jun, 2012 09:07 am
@joefromchicago,
joefromchicago wrote:

Let's be clear here: a comedian who delivers his lines in an understated manner or with a "straight face" is not a straight man. That's called "deadpan." Totally different things.

Oh, and by the way, you all suck at these kinds of threads.


The terminology is varied. Boomerang asked earlier about Don Knotts. Knotts was "second banana" to Andy Griffith. Art Carney was second banana to Jackie Gleason.
Joe Nation
 
  3  
Reply Thu 21 Jun, 2012 09:13 am
@wandeljw,
You have to forgive joefromchicago, wandeljw,
1) he's a lawyer, not an actuh.
2) he's from Chicago, where they don't have acting.
3) he sucks at these threads.

Joe(4 is also he sucks at these threads)Nation
0 Replies
 
joefromchicago
 
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Reply Thu 21 Jun, 2012 09:21 am
@sozobe,
sozobe wrote:
Made sense to me. Do you disagree?

Ben Stiller is not a straight man. Just because he's not funny doesn't make him a straight man.

It's really very simple. A straight man is part of an act. He delivers straight lines to a comedian, who then delivers the punch lines. In simple terms, the straight man provides the foundation for the joke, whereas a guy like Ben Stiller is the joke. So, for instance:

Straight man: "Who was that lady I saw you with last night?"
Comedian: "That was no lady, that was my wife!"
Audience: (peals of laughter)

In contrast, this is Ben Stiller:

Ben Stiller: "Ow, I caught my penis in my zipper!"
Audience: (confused silence)
joefromchicago
 
  2  
Reply Thu 21 Jun, 2012 09:23 am
@wandeljw,
wandeljw wrote:
The terminology is varied.

No it's not! The terminology is very clear. The fact that people misuse the terminology doesn't make it varied, it just makes some uses wrong.
0 Replies
 
 

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