The 12 Greatest Comedy Duos Of All Time24
By Steven Novak
The 12 Greatest Comedy Duos Of All Time
Any standup comedian will tell you how hard it is to be funny all by yourself. Yes, there is always the intentional pratfall, but if no one is there to see it, does it make anyone laugh? As is the case in the KoldCast TV series The World of Corey and Sid, a series about two dudes trying to make rent in the most unethical, unsanitary ways, comedy is often at its best when it comes in pairs. To prove our point, we’re going as far back as the 1920’s – from Laurel and Hardy, to Frost and Pegg, and everyone in between – to give you the greatest comedy duos of all time which showed us that getting a laugh is best with a buddy.
1. CHEECH AND CHONG
Richard “Cheech” Marin and Tommy Chong found an audience in the 70’s and 80’s for their stand-up routines which were based upon hippie-era stoners, the free-love era, the drug culture movement and, more specifically, their undying love for all things weed. A series of Cheech and Chong movies were made, a decade of partying ensued, and then in 1985 the pair split due to creative differences. Tommy’s way included a nine month stay in a federal prison, and playing the role of hippie Leo Chingkwake in That ‘70s Show, while Cheech became Inspector Joe Dominguez on Nash Bridges alongside Don Johnson, among many other television roles. On their split, Chong once said that Cheech was “closer than a wife. The only thing we didn’t do was have sex.”
2. ABBOTT AND COSTELLO
Burlesque entertainers William “Bud” Abbott and Lou Costello’s work in both radio and film made them easily the most famous American comedy duo of the 40’s and 50’s. Their most popular and influential routine, the baseball-centric “Who’s on First?” with its rapid-fire word play and comprehension confusion, has stood the test of time and has been imitated by more comedy duos than I can count. As a result, the comedy duo is featured in the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. By the 50’s the pair’s celebrity had waned due in part to overexposure and the arrival of comedy’s hot new team, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. Costello died in 1959, Abbott in 1972.
3. MARTIN AND LEWIS
Singer/comic Dean Martin, the “straight man,” and comedian Jerry Lewis first met in 1945 while working the stand-up circuit. Their debut as a team occurred a year later at Atlantic City’s 500 Club on July 24th, 1946. Thereafter, they performed together in nightclubs, on radio, and in television and films. Unlike a few of the duos that came before them, Martin and Lewis actually liked each other behind the scenes – in fact, they were great friends – and it came across on stage. As with all things, however, it didn’t last. Did you really think it would? A bit weary of working in Lewis’ shadow, Martin reportedly told him, “You’re nothing to me but a fucking dollar sign,” and left the duo on July 25th, 1956.
4. BURNS AND ALLEN
After meeting in 1922, George Burns and Gracie Allen, working together as a comedy team in vaudeville, films, radio and television, achieved substantial success for over three decades, and even married in 1926. The height of their glory was undoubtedly “The Burns and Allen Show,” which debuted live, before a studio audience, on October 12, 1950, and ran for a whopping 291 episodes before falling into syndication where it continued for years. Gracie retired from performing in 1958 due mostly to her ailing health, and died in 1964 after a long battle with heart disease. George continued to work a long career and enjoyed an Oscar-winning movie resurgence at the age of 80 with The Sunshine Boys. He died at the age of 100 in 1996.
5. FARLEY AND SPADE
The world at large first took note of the comedy duo of Chris Farley and David Spade during their time as cast members on Saturday Night Live, with David often playing the straight-man to Chris’ wild big-guy antics. They were only able to appear in a few movies together before Chris Farley’s untimely death on October 25, 1997. Even though the pairing was somewhat brief compared to some of the other duo’s on our list, the chemistry between the two has remained undeniable, and quite memorable.
6. LAUREL AND HARDY
Thin, English-born Stan Laurel, and heavy, American-born Oliver Hardy, were the single most popular comedic duo of the early to mid-Classical Hollywood era of American cinema. The pair became well known in the late 20’s, and starred together in 40 short sound films, 32 short silent films, 23 full length feature films, and made guest or cameo appearances in 11 others, for a total of 106 films. Their 1932 short, The Music Box, won the Academy Award. In 1956, with their friendship still (pretty much) intact, the pair made their final appearance together on camera in a home movie titled “One Moment Please” (shot by a friend it was without audio and lasts only three minutes).
7. LEMMON AND MATTHAU
With both having had fairly successful careers apart for some years, the comedy duo of Jack Lemmon and Walther Matthau became famous as a pair after working together in 1968’s film version of “The Odd Couple.” More shows would follow, and in 1993 the pair rekindled the magic by appearing alongside one another in the “Grumpy Old Men” series. Jack Lemmon died of colon cancer and metastatic cancer of the bladder on June 27th of 2001. He was buried in Westwood Village Cemetery in California near his friend and co-star of so many years, who died almost exactly one year earlier from.
8. ALLEN AND KEATON
In 1970 Woody Allen cast Diane Keaton in his Broadway play titled, “Play it Again Sam,” for which Keaton was subsequently nominated for a Tony Award. During this time the pair became romantically involved, and though they broke up a year later, they would go on to make a number of memorable films together including my personal favorite “Sleeper,” as well as “Annie Hall,” “Love and Death,” and others. The pair ended their long-time working relationship with “Manhattan” in 1979 but their films have remained as shining examples of near perfect comic chemistry.
9. COOK AND MOORE
While Edgar Cook and Dudley Moore never really got over as a pair in the United States, the duo were an absolute force overseas. The two are most remembered for their sketches together as the working class men “Pete and Dud,” which began in 1965 on the BBC’s “Not Only…But Also.” A series of wildly successful albums followed that proved to be a huge influence on the new wave of British comedy. In the late 70’s, Dudley Moore moved to Hollywood and the working relationship of the two dwindled. Peter Cook died in 1995, and regularly spoke with his longtime friend over the course of his final days.
10. THE SMOTHERS BROTHERS
Thomas “Tom” and Richard “Dick” Smothers began frequently appearing on television variety shows in the 1960’s and even issued several popular recorded albums of their stage performances. Their trademark act was performing folk songs (Tommy on acoustic guitar, Dick on string bass) that usually led to a bit of awkwardly hilarious brotherly bickering. Tommy’s signature line was “Mom always liked you best!” Their show, “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour,” was one of the most controversial programs of the Vietnam War era due to their support of emerging counterculture, which led to the show’s cancellation in 1969.
11. FROST AND PEGG
As the newest pair to make our list, England’s Nick Frost and Simon Pegg are longtime friends that first began working together on the Channel 4 series “Spaced.” Since then, the duo has appeared together in a number of films including the zombie homage, “Shaun of the Dead,” and the action/buddy cop film that was “Hot Fuzz.” Nick was the best man at Simon’s wedding, so the off-screen friendship remains intact – for the moment.
12. WILDER AND PRYOR
These two are my personal favorite additions to the list. Already successful comedians and film stars in their own right, Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor first worked together in 1975’s undeniably hilarious “Silver Streak,” and would go onto appear alongside one another in films like, “Stir Crazy,” and 1989’s vastly underrated “See No Evil, Hear No Evil.” Richard Pryor went into cardiac arrest in Encino, California on December 10th, 2005, and passed away at a local hospital. Wilder continues to write to this very day and even released a collection of stories in 2010.
Episode 2 – Tents for Rent
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Steven Novak is a writer, illustrator, graphic designer and admitted lifelong nerd with an embarrassingly large DVD collection. He is currently working and living in the Southern California desert. His most recent fantasy/action adventure novel, “Forts: Fathers and Sons,” is available everywhere books are sold.