One of the things that I think makes writing such a solitary activity is the fact that more often than not it’s something that’s done alone. Of course there are exceptions: the occasional novel has more than one author, but to say it happens once in a blue moon would be remarkable understatement; non-fiction often has more than one contributor; research papers can be found with scores of names underneath the title; and if you’re a fan of comedy, some of the funniest bits have been written by a comedy duo.
You have to go back a long way to see the beginnings of the double act, and even though it was more than 80 years ago you’ll probably still recognize the names – they were that good:
- Laurel and Hardy
- George Burns and Gracie Allen
- Abbott and Costello
As we move into the golden age of television some equally familiar names start to appear:
- Bob Hope and Bing Crosby
- The Smothers Brothers
- Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner
The list goes on and on:
- Dan Aykroyd & John Belushi
- Gene Wilder & Richard Pryor
- Mike Myers & Dana Carvey
- David Spade & Chris Farley
- Cheech & Chong
- Jay & Silent Bob
Granted, some of the pairs listed to this point are another class of comedian altogether and never had to rely on their audience being fantastically high to get a laugh, but they all leveraged the concept of a comedic duo to fantastic success.
So what is it that makes a the double act work so well?
In my assessment it’s because everyone needs a life partner, someone who provides those things that you happen to be lacking yourself. Life, in all is frailty, requires balance. Unfortunately, what this means is that at any given point in time one of you gets to be the idiot, and if any of you have seen my talk “I See Dumb People” you’ll know that it’s usually the dude.
|Image courtesy Linda Ryan|
For better or worse, I’m the idiot in my relationship with my wife. We’ve known each other for more than twenty years, been together for more than eighteen, married for almost fourteen, and I am unable to count the number of times I’ve heard her say, “It’s a good thing you’re cute.” That’s just how it goes. I married my straight man. Um… you know what I mean. Stop judging me, it’s legal in Canada and some part of the U.S.
Comedic duos feed off each other and the good ones have that chemistry that just clicks. They never miss a beat and the audience in turn feeds off them and are ultimately able to relate to one or the other. In relationships it’s slightly different: instead of serving up jokes, the straight man is there to keep the idiot alive just long enough for the insurance money to matter.