The Straight Men of Comedy
"Well, the straight guy is never given enough credit... [Bud] Abbott gets no credit for framing a gag, for the architecture, for the support, for the drive. He does everything except the punchline; he's amazing." - Mel Brooks
I, as a queer woman, am the antithesis of the straight man. But that doesn’t mean there’s no place for the straight man in comedy!
The archetypal straight man, at least. Heterosexual male humans know they belong in comedy already, no one has to tell them.
Also known (perhaps less confusingly in modern times) as the comedic foil, the “straight man” has been around since at least the era of Vaudeville, likely much longer!
Humor is all about (this is going to be a running theme now): CONTRAST. Having a silly character vs a serious character creates said contrast effortlessly and is always a good idea, but the poor straight man has been done a wild disservice, in my mind (again, the archetype, of course).
In fact, the straight man in a comedic duo used to have it so hard that he would typically be paid about 10% more than his sillier peers to compensate for the abuse! Can you imagine? A straight man getting paid more than anyone else? Alright, alright, before I loose half my audience let’s stick with “comedic foil” and move on!
Best example I can give of a true comedic foil? The Simpson's Sideshow Bob. And the irony that his whole shtick is that he's a clown makes his serious nature all the sweeter. He's not just a straight man in context of the show, he's a parody of a straight man; in universe, he was hired to be Krusty's straight man. He's a double straight! And he's fantastic.
However, a good comedic foil doesn’t have to be all serious all the time and, in fact, I would suggest that the best comedic foils have their breaks.
Let’s look at a favorite comedic foil of mine, Captain Holt of Brooklyn 99. Serious to the extreme, stoney faced to the point of near emotionlessness, and the gayest straight man I know. (Sorry, sorry!)
He goes entire episodes without a break, in fact, he could go entire SEASONS without a moment of levity. But some of the funniest moments are those where Captain Holt cracks a very unexpected joke. Why? Contrast (also, the humor of the unexpected which is kinda like contrast but a touch more nuanced).
To bring up Bob’s Burgers yet again, Bob himself is the comedic foil, but only about 80% of the time. When Bob finds something funny (the British call this “corpsing”) or when he himself cracks a joke, it often stands out as the best moment of the episode.
So give your straight man a little slack! As long as you’re still creating contrast, you’ve got something funny on your hands (that isn’t poo). (Oh! I just made a scat joke.) (Look at me go.) (Running with the boys now.) (Absolutely bonkers.) (Totally filthy.) (Low-brow to the max.)