There was the following paragraph in the article that came under the headline, “Hillary Clinton: Dead-on comic, Dull politician" in the New Yorker (September 22):

“Bud Abbott, the most famous of all straight men, faced a personal crisis in the nineteen-fifties. While industry insiders knew he was the genius behind the team, the public loved his far more outrageous partner, Lou Costello, who demanded a disproportionately high share of their pay. Abbott went along for a while but, eventually, quit in fury.”

We call a straight man of a comedy duo “ボケ- boke,” meaning an outright innocent man or a dunce, and his / her aggressive partner “突っ込み‐Tukkomi” meaning a jabber in Japanese.

Can we call a woman of comedy duo who plays straight character a straight woman?

  • @JEL. As I'm 83 year-old senile, I totally forgot that I had placed the question about the antonym of straight man before. Today's New Yorker article just evoked the same query I made then . I'll look back the answer to my old question. So I reedited the present question.. – Yoichi Oishi Sep 24 '16 at 9:33
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    Thanks, Yoichi. I worried that this one would be closed as a duplicate. I've no remaining worries on that score. – JEL Sep 24 '16 at 9:35
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    Hello, Yoichi Oishi. Since your question is no longer explicitly about antonyms, I thought it might be wise to add a couple of tags that are pertinent to the question as it is now expressed; hence my additions. But at the same time I hated to lose the last vestige of a rationale for the beginning of the answer I gave to your original question about antonyms, so I left the tag 'antonym' as a historical marker to commemorate the original question. Hope that's okay with you. – Sven Yargs Sep 24 '16 at 9:58
  • @Sven Yargs. Thank you for your correcting tags in line with my revision of the question. I was totally oblivious of that I've placed a question asking for the word for a counterpart of straightman until being reminded by JEL. Still, "Comedian", that the word I'm looking for in my original question in connection with the quoted paragraph. I'm thankful for all your comprehensive and elaborate input. – Yoichi Oishi Sep 24 '16 at 11:39

In its article on "double act" (aka "comedy duo"), Wikipedia suggests that the "straight man" (or "feed," "dead wood," or "stooge") is paired with the funny man, banana man, or comic. In the Wikipedia article on "straight man," another possible name given for the counterpart of the straight man is comedian.

And yes, there is no reason not to refer to a woman playing the straight man/feed/dead wood/ stooge role a "straight woman"—although the only occasional straight woman I could think of right away was Anne Meara, who often played stolid affectless characters opposite Jerry Stiller's more manic characters in their comedy duo performances as Stiller & Meara. However, Meara and Stiller didn't play the same characters consistently, as, for example, Dan Rowan (straight man) and Dick Martin (comic) or Dickie Smothers (straight man) and Tommy Smothers (comic) did.

Frank Cullen, Vaudeville Old & New, volume 1 (2004) suggests that one of the earliest recorded straight women was Margaret Dumont, in numerous Marx Brothers movies:


Some comedy teams are quite strictly divided into comedian and straight man. Others are not. Relatively rational, compared to the comedian, straight men are the stand-ins for the audience. They anchor the routine in plausibility, which the comedian constantly confounds. The job of the straight man is not to be funny but to ensure that the comedian gets laughs. In the most direct case, the straight man functions as an interviewer, as much in control of the questioning as they are of the pace of the act. ...

Playing straight may also be the role of a comedian's foil. Margaret Dumont is a good example. Most notable was her work with Groucho Marx. Although Dumont was supposed to appear utterly confounded and distressed by Groucho, her delivery, timing and ability to hold for laughs defined her as a straight man (or straight woman) and a feed.

A quotation attributed to Margaret Dumont at the beginning of this YouTube video of film clips of Margaret and Groucho says,

I'm not a stooge. I'm the best straight woman in Hollywood. There's an art to playing it straight. You must build up you man, but never top him, never steal the laughs from him.

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