Oh sure, we laughed at Lou Costello, Tommy Smothers and Jerry Lewis in their heyday, but we know they wouldn’t have been half so funny without their other halves: Bud Abbott, Dick Smothers and Dean Martin.
And Gracie Allen without George Burns? Forget it.
But of course, the famous straight men and women of the entertainment industry were doing their schtick as part of their job. The truly great straight man is the one who performs his function in real life with no hope of monetary reward or public recognition.
Jerry was the waiter/owner of The Blue Wave cafe just across the street from the little studio on Bloor where Samantha and I lived when we first got together. The Wave was our regular haunt both because of its proximity and its genuine greasy-spoon atmosphere. I can’t remember if either of us had a regular meal we’d order, but one invariant for me was a chocolate milkshake, which Jerry made in the proper fashion with vanilla ice cream and chocolate syrup.
And so one day after we and a few friends had settled into our regular table, Jerry asked me what I’d have and this, pretty well word for word, is what transpired.
“I’ll have a chocolate milkshake,” I said.
“Oh,” he said, “I’m sorry. We’re out of ice cream.”
“Ah.” I thought for a moment. “Then how about a vanilla milk shake?”
“No. I can’t. We’re out of ice cream.”
“Right,” I said, and thought for another couple of seconds. “In that case, can I have a sundae?”
“No,” he said. “We’re out of ice cream.”
“Oh, I see,” I said. “Then how about a root beer float?”
“We. Are. Out. Of. Ice. Cream.”
“Ah,” I said, in the tone of someone who is finally catching on. “In that case, how about a coffee?”
“Yes, I can do that.”
“And a dish of plain ice cream.”
Thank you Jerry. Straight men don’t come any better.