The TV Sidekick: Fun Job or Thankless Job?

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Today, let’s talk about great Hollywood couples. Not the kind with the fairytale courtships and paparazzi-friendly weddings. Not the high-profile ones whose every stroll, meal and vacation are documented in the tabloids. Not the A-List glamorous unions, several of which seem to be unraveling as I write this. Rather, let’s take a peek at the critical pairings  we’ve come to know and love on our TVs and movie screens: The Main Guy and The Sidekick. The big talk show news is that funnyman Andy Richter will be back by Conan O’Brien’s side when Conan’s eponymously-titled show premieres  November 8th.  Richter’s been on and off again with Conan since 1993, when Conan first began his late-night tenure. He stayed, he went, and then when Conan took over the Tonight Show he returned. And then of course Conan got the axe and Jay Leno returned to the throne.  So now we begin this next chapter of the Conan/Andy situation. And given that Conan’s gone in a totally new direction with this latest program on TBS, where  he won’t be governed by the same kinds of traditional network rules, we can probably expect some loosened ties and more out-there comedy.  Plus (and I know he was legally restricted from taking pot shots at Jay) I think Conan was still pretty above-boards in his manner over the months subsequent to his departure. I wouldn’t be surprised if the TBS show starts out in a completely bizarre fashion and then evolves slowly back towards a more “mainstream” type of comedic talk show. I’ll watch it. Will you tune in? Being a sidekick on a talk show is always tricky, were told, because you have to be the “straight man” while also anticipating your boss’s next move. In the meantime, all the while you’re trying to make him  (or her ) look good, you need to be memorable  (but not too memorable) yourself, so that you’re not instantly forgotten. Then again you have to make sure your host looks funny/goofy/silly but never foolish – which means the Second Fiddle also has to double as a punching bag from time to time. It’s a delicate balance. (I did a live theater show once here in Los Angeles with Andy Richter, and for some reason there was a very long period of time when everyone else was out on the stage and it was just the two of us killing time backstage, waiting to go on. Regardless of what you might think about Andy Richter on Conan, I can say from personal experience that he is every bit as funny when a camera’s not on him as when it is, and he’s also just as genial. Quite an impressive guy.) So the sidekick role is cool, but it takes a certain kind of personality. It’s also nearly impossible to imagine many characters from film or TV without their sidekicks. And this began long before Shakespeare.  Consider everyone from Robin to Tonto to Mr. Spock, Barney Rubble, Ed Norton, Chewbacca  and Ron Weasley – just to name a few.   Whether they’re a foil, a scapegoat, a bit of comic relief (see this season’s Hawaii Five-O) or someone to prop-up a hero, they’re pretty indispensable. Where would our top bananas be without these guys?  For today’s poll, let’s look at a few of the people who have occupied the talk show sidekick role (sometimes they’re bandleaders). Voice your choice in today’s featured poll and tell us which of these late-night sidekicks is your favorite:

1)    Andy Richter

2)    Paul Shaffer

3)    Ed McMahon

4)    Kevin Eubanks

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