As I was watching Year One, I thought about why the Michael Cera/Jack Black teaming does not work very well. They are both very funny guys, and they have that yin/yang element that propels most comedy teams, with one expansive and impulsive and the other more cerebral and hesitant. But there is not a lot of chemistry between them. That led me to thoughts of some of my favorite comedy teams.
Bob Hope and Bing Crosby This team was unique because it included two mega-stars who were at the top of their fields as solo performers, and yet they made a series of films as a team that rank with any of the best comedy duos of all time. My favorite: Road to Bali, but this number from “Road to Rio” is one of their all-time highlights.
Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy These adorable goofs were holy fools, with a wonderful innocence and grace. My favorites: “Two Tars” and “Big Business” But this charming dance from Way Out West is another treasure.
Bud Abbott and Lou Costello A classic comedy paring includes a straight man who is a bit slick opposite a comedian who is a bit child-like. My favorite of their movies is “The Time of Their Lives,” but I also love “Buck Privates” and of course their classic “Who’s on first” routine:
The Smothers Brothers Tom and Dick Smothers were also a classic straight man/fool team, but they added in superb music and some barbed political commentary. Their best work was on their television series and I love their CDs, like this one: Sibling Revelry: The Best of the Smothers Brothers
Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis This team began as unknowns and became the most successful performers in America, working in clubs, in the early days of television, in recordings, movies, and even in comic books. Then they split, and each achieved stardom as solo artists. Lewis referred to their act as “a handsome man and a monkey.” They had a wonderful fearlessness and obvious affection for each other and an extraordinary chemistry. I prefer their television work to their movies.
Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara Ben Stiller’s parents were a very successful comedy team before they went their separate ways as actors on television (Stiller played George Costanza’s father on “Seinfeld” and Kevin James’ father-in-law on “King of Queens” and Meara appeared on “Archie Bunker’s Place,” in “Sex and the City,” and in movies like “The Daytrippers”). Their comedy played off their real-life differences, especially their Catholic-Jewish intermarriage.
There are many more worth mentioning, including Mike Nichols and Elaine May (who both had successful careers as movie directors), Tim Reed and Tom Dreeson (the first inter-racial comedy duo, whose book about the experience is called Tim and Tom: An American Comedy in Black and White, Dan Rowan and Dick Martin, whose act was very traditional but whose television show, Laugh-In was innovative and hugely influential, and George Burns and Gracie Allen, whose careers included vaudeville, movies, and a groundbreaking television series.