A comedy duo is a pair of comic performers of, normally, the same sex and age group belonging to the same social background and ethnicity but having very different personalities with contrasting behaviors. Their prime objective is to provide entertainment to the audience and to get their laughter. One of them is known as the straight man, stooge, or deadwood while the other is called the banana man, funny man, or comic. The former, the straight man, is usually a fairly educated, sensible person of normal intellect while the other is usually less educated with some lack of intellect and a bit silly and odd in behavior. The straight man feeds the lines to the comic who gets or causes a laugh from the audience.
1. Laurel and Hardy
Laurel and Hardy were one of the most famous American comedy duos from 1928 to 1945. The duo was comprised of the contrasting Laurel and Hardy. Stanley Laurel was born in Ulverston, Lancashire, England on June 16, 1890 and emigrated to the U.S. in 1912. He died in Santa Monica, California on February 23, 1965. Laurel received a Lifetime Achievement Academy Award in 1961 and was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Oliver Hardy was born in Harlem, Georgia on January 18, 1892 and died on August 7, 1957. Both characters differed physically and temperamentally. Laurel was of average height and weight, but compared with the 6’1’ 127 kgs. Hardy, he looked smaller than normal. They had different hairstyles and clothing. Laurel played childishly in the slapstick comedy while Hardy appeared pompous. Laurel once said, ‘Of all the questions we’re asked, the most frequent is how did we come together? I always explain that we just came together naturally.’ Their 1929 silent film Big Business was added to the Library of Congress as a national treasure.
2. Gracie Allen and George Burns
Grace Ethel Cecile Rosalie Allen was born to George Allen and Molly in San Francisco, California, USA on July 26, 1895 and died in Los Angeles, California on August 27, 1964. The duo comprised a married couple, and Allen played as a comic counterfoil of her husband George Burns. Allen was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for her contribution to the television industry. In his book Gracie: A Love Story, Burns explained that initially Allen was the straight man and Burns delivered the punch lines, but he noted that her straight lines got more laughs than his punch lines; therefore, they changed their roles and Burns took over as straight man. After Allen’s retirement in 1958, Burns tried to continue the show renamed as the George Burns Show, but it was not a success without Allen.
3. Abbot and Costello
William Alexander Abbott was born in Asbury Park, New Jersey, U.S. on October 2, 1895 and died in Woodland Hills, California on April 24, 1974 at the age of 78 years. Louis Francis Cristillo was born in Paterson, New Jersey, U.S. on March 6, 1906 and died in Beverly Hills, California on March 3, 1959 at the age of 52 years. Abbot and Costello formed the most popular comedy duo in the 1940s and 1950s. Abbot and Costello worked together at Eltinge Burlesque Theater in New York City in 1935. Abbot performed as the straight man while Costello performed as the laugh-getting, less intelligent person. Abbot and Costello were among the most popular and highest paid entertainers during the Second World War. The Montclair State University named a student residential complex as Abbot and Costello Center in 2003. Both were inducted to the New Jersey Hall of Fame in 2009.
4. The Smothers Brothers
The Smothers Brothers were born on Governors Island, New York Harbor, USA. Thomas, better known as Tom, was born on February 2, 1937 and Richard, known as Dick, was born on November 20, 1939. Both were raised by their mother in Los Angeles. They were educated at Redondo Union High School and San Jose State University. They were comedians, singers, and musicians. Dick, the younger brother, played the straight man while Tom, the elder brother, played slow. The brothers appeared on television quite frequently in the 1960s and were very popular performers. During the Vietnam War period, their program, Smother Brothers Comedy Hour became controversial, and the CBS network stopped it in 1969.
5. Barto and Mann
Barto and Mann was an American comedy duo best known for their comedic dance acts. The duo was very popular from the 1880s to the 1930s. Dewey Barto was born in Reading, Pennsylvania on June 10, 1896 and died on January 31, 1973. George Kline Mann was born in Hollywood, California on December 2, 1905 and died on November 23, 1977. Both were known as the Laughing Kings of Vaudeville, which was a popular theatrical genre of variety entertainment. Their acrobatic dance was funny on account their contrasting heights. Barto was 4’11’ tall while Mann was 6’6’ tall.
6. The Duncan Sisters
Rosetta and Vivian Duncan sisters were an American comedy duo which became very popular in the 1920s. Rosetta Duncan was born in Los Angeles, California on November 23, 1912 and died in Acero, Illinois on December 4, 1959. Vivian Duncan was born in Los Angeles, California on June 17, 1897 and died in Beverly Hills, California on September 19, 1986. They started their stage career in 1911. In 1923 they created Topsy and Eva, which established them as a well-known duo. Later they performed in
New York and London. In 1917 they appeared on Broadway.
7. Martin and Lewis
Martin and Lewis debuted as a comedy duo at the 500 Club of Atlantic City on July 24, 1946. Dean Martin, the singer, played the straight man, and Jerry Lewis acted as comedic foil. Dean Martin was born in Steubenville, Ohio, U.S. on June 7, 1917 and died in Beverly Hills, California on December 25, 1995 at the age of 78 years. Jerry Lewis was born in Newark, New Jersey, U.S. on March 16, 1926. Both of them worked in night clubs, radio, films, and television. The duo starred in NBC’s debut live variety show Welcome Aboard on October 3, 1948. This program was sponsored by the TV set manufacturer Admiral. The duo also appeared regularly on NBC’s Colgate Comedy Hour.
8. Smith and Dale
Smith and Dale were a famous comedy duo, who performed together for more than 70 years. Joe Smith was born as Joseph Sultzer on February 16, 1884 and died on February 22, 1981. Chalie Dale was born as Charles Marks on September 6, 1885 and died on November 16, 1971. He was raised in the Jewish ghettos of New York City. Both used a heavy Jewish dialect. Smith spoke in a deep and pessimistic voice while Dale spoke in a high and persuasive manner. Both starred in a pair of comedies for Columbia Pictures. They were the longest-living comedy duo in the history of show business. Charlie Marks lived for 89 years while Sultz lived for 97 years. Both are buried.
9. Caryl and Marilyn
Caryl and Marilyn is an American female comedy duo best known for their show Mommies. The show utilized their real experiences of the suburban family, marriage and domestic life. Seeing their potential, they were encouraged by their family friends to go into show business. Both of them had a talent for comedy and it paid. The show caught the attention of NBC, and they signed a contract. The duo hosted a talk show on NBC. On being the mother of two boys Caryl Kristensen said ‘Boys want to obliterate everything in sight. What boy do you know who doesn’t turn every object into a gun? From the moment they were born everything became a gun… Legos sticks, blocks, even their own ‘¦…”
10. Harlan and Collins
Collins and Harlan were a popular comedy duo from 1903 to 1926. Arthur Francis Collins, regarded as king of the ragtime singers, was born in Philadelphia on February 7, 1864 and died in Tice on August 31, 1933. Byron G. Harlan was born on August 29, 1861 and died September 11, 1936. He belonged to Kansas and formed the famous duo with Collins. They performed ragtime standards and also performed the Coon songs which were sung by white singers with a black dialect. Their contemporary recording artist, Billy Murray, called them The Half Ton Duo. They were the first to use the word ‘jas’ on November 8, 1916 while recording ‘That Funny Jas Band From Dixieland.’ The word ‘jas’ later on evolved into the current form, jazz.
Unlike Aristotle’s definition of comedy in Poetics, it is currently considered by most common people as simply a laughter-provoking act. Laughter is taken seriously as good for one’s health in many cultures, but the difference is that while Americans laugh out loud, a laughing Japanese child can only be recognized by a look at their bellies. Laughing out loud is discourteous in the Japanese culture.