- Comedy duos have a long history in entertainment, with vaudeville theater being the birthplace of this comedic dynamic.
- Some duos work by highlighting the differences between the two actors, while others back each other up in increasingly bizarre situations.
- The most classic form of a comedy duo involves a “straight man” who feeds lines to the “funny man,” but there are plenty of hilarious ways to break away from this framework.
Comedy movies have a long history of creating entertaining duos, and sometimes great chemistry can lead to long-running relationships. So many comedies thrive on the juxtaposition between two central characters, whether they’re best friends with a shared sense of humor or bitter enemies forced to spend time together. The comedic duo has its roots in vaudeville theater, where the interplay between two performers was a natural way to provide a set-up and a punchline. Comedy duos on TV and in movies keep this tradition alive, even with structured narratives and other characters thrown into the mix.
Some duos, like Laurel and Hardy, work by highlighting the differences between the two actors. In other cases, the duo back each other up and get embroiled in increasingly bizarre and untenable situations. The most classic instance of a two-person comedy dynamic is having one “straight man” feed lines for the “funny man” to respond to. The straight man is expected to maintain a deadpan composure throughout. As some of cinema’s most famous examples show, there are plenty of hilarious ways to break away from this framework.
10. Cheech & Chong
More than just the kings of stoner comedy, Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong could be seen as the inventors of the genre. Their seminal 1978 movie Up In Smoke featured the pair as clueless drug smugglers with a van made entirely of marijuana. Their humor may not be for everyone, but it has inspired a devoted cult following. Cheech and Chong produced a few other movies together to add to their long career as stage comics and musicians, but none surpassed Up In Smoke in terms of cultural impact. An upcoming Cheech and Chong biopic will mark the first time the pair have reunited since the 1980s.
9. Tina Fey & Amy Poehler
Friends since the early 1990s, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler have found success both on screen and as writers. Fey and Poehler worked together to crash the Saturday Night Live boys club when they hosted the weekend update together. They later starred in their own sitcoms, creating two of the funniest TV characters of all time in Liz Lemon and Leslie Knope. The pair have worked together in Sisters and Baby Mama, but their most enduring movie collaboration is Mean Girls. Fey wrote the script for Poehler’s scene-stealing “cool mom” character, and it remains to be seen if Poehler will return for the Mean Girls musical reboot currently in production.
8. Gene Wilder & Richard Pryor
Gene Wilder’s partnership with Mel Brooks established him as one of the funniest actors of the 1970s, but he managed to replicate this success a decade later with stand-up comedian Richard Pryor. Stir Crazy features the pair on top form as two best friends who are wrongfully convicted of robbery and imprisoned. Wilder and Pryor had a brief working relationship, but they almost shared the screen for two more classic comedies. Pryor was supposed to star alongside Wilder in Blazing Saddles, but his substance abuse lost him the part. Years later, the pair were tapped to star in Trading Places, until Pryor’s issues with addiction intervened once more.
7. Simon Pegg & Nick Frost
Simon Pegg and Nick Frost have been working together since their sitcom Spaced hit British TV screens in 1999. Since then, they have worked on a number of projects together, most notably Edgar Wright’s “Cornetto trilogy.” Each movie in the trilogy parodies a different genre with Wright’s signature humor and punchy direction. Pegg and Frost’s playful dynamic is perfectly exemplified by their buddy cop spoof Hot Fuzz. Many comedy duos present an artifice of conflict, but Pegg and Frost usually play best friends. The characters are capable of having just as much fun as the audience, even if they’re fighting off zombies or an alien invasion.
6. Terence Hill & Bud Spencer
Born Mario Girotti and Carlo Pedersoli, Terence Hill and Bud Spencer were encouraged to adopt more American-sounding names to distinguish their movies from Italian Westerns. The pair starred in a series of comedy Westerns, but once they had established themselves in both Italy and the United States they branched out into other styles of comedy. Hill and Spencer’s voices were often dubbed for English audiences to hide their strong Naples accents. This didn’t impact their appeal though, as most of their humor relied on slapstick and other forms of physical comedy with roots in the silent film era. They specialized in elaborate, comedic fight scenes with cartoonish, over-the-top violence.
5. Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis
Dean Martin will always be most famous as a singer, but before joining the Rat Pack he enjoyed a successful on-screen partnership with comedian Jerry Lewis. Martin commonly played the straight man to Lewis’ zany, in-your-face humor. The pair credit much of their success to their broad appeal. Martin attracted women to the movie theater, while Lewis’ comedy was a hit with younger audiences. The duo could have achieved even greater status if their relationship hadn’t soured in the mid-1950s. Once great friends, the pair fell out and refused to speak for over 20 years. One of Lewis’ most famous movies, The Nutty Professor, seems to lampoon Martin’s suave persona.
4. Pitts & Todd
In the 1930s, producer Hal Roach paired ZaSu Pitts and Thelma Todd in an attempt to engineer a female counterpart to Laurel and Hardy. The resulting movies were unusual for the time, since they frequently featured men as the butt of the joke. Pitts and Todd were often shown surrounded by a cast of imbecilic and pompous men, and the laughs came from the pair’s rebuttal of the lame advances that came their way. The partnership was frustratingly short-lived. Although Roach tried to revive the duo by recasting the two parts, none of the later iterations lived up to the standard of ZaSu Pitts and Thelma Todd.
3. Bob Hope & Bing Crosby
It’s fairly common in the modern day for musicians to make the jump to acting, but it was practically unheard of when Bing Crosby decided to make the switch. The crooner had already established himself as a big-screen draw by the time he began working with Bob Hope, but the duo struck comedy gold together with their Road To… series of movies. Each movie set the duo off on a musical adventure to an exotic destination. Although they played different characters in each movie, they were almost always a pair of con men attempting an elaborate grift alongside perennial co-star Dorothy Lamour.
2. Abbot & Costello
Bud Abbot and Lou Costello first honed their comedy by working in vaudeville theaters and at burlesque clubs, where their fast-paced routines were a hit with audiences. Their “Who’s On First?” bit remains one of the most iconic comedy routines in any medium. It’s testament to the pair’s exquisite wordplay that the routine endures despite the context of old baseball nicknames now being completely outdated. Abbot and Costello’s comedy helped lift American spirits during World War II, and eventually Universal Studios started featuring the pair’s names in the titles of their movies. They subsequently featured in the classic Abbot And Costello Meet Frankenstein, among many other horror spoofs.
1. Laurel & Hardy
Englishman Stan Laurel and American Oliver Hardy started their career together as silent film stars, but they managed to transition to “talkies” and cemented their place as the greatest comedy duo of all time. Their style of comedy featured cartoonish slapstick and bombastic arguments, often stemming from the pair’s hilariously bad luck. Laurel often played the part of an air-headed milquetoast, which contrasted Hardy’s brash aggression. They typified the kind of friendly rivalry between Britain and the United States which persists through to the modern day. Hardy’s catchphrase “Well, here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into!” perfectly illustrates the duo’s combative on-screen dynamic.