Culture

Comedic Chemistry: Tina Fey and Amy Poehler and 8 Other Hilarious Pairs

Tina Fey and Amy Poehler at the 2013 Golden Globes/Photo © Paul Drinkwater/NBC

Yessss! Tina Fey and Amy Poehler are on board to host the 2014 and 2015 Golden Globes Awards, which means we’ll be treated to the kind of zany humor and carefully crafted jibes that made their 2013 outing the most watchable awards telecast in recent memory.

The two cut their teeth as co-presenters at the 2008 Emmys, during which a mock-offended Poehler claimed her sizeable baby bump was just weight she had gained for a role, and they’ve given each other shout-outs at various other awards shows along the way -- like during the 2013 Screen Actor’s Guild Awards, when Fey won for outstanding performance in a comedy series for “30 Rock,” beating out Poehler’s “Parks and Recreation” turn. “Amy I've known you so long, I've known you since you were pregnant with Lena Dunham," said Fey from the podium.

But in the longer format hosting gig, we really get to watch these funny ladies shine. And shine they do. Whether it’s lobbing barbs at big Hollywood (as when Poehler said of Kathryn Bigelow’s nomination, “I haven't really been following the controversy over 'Zero Dark Thirty,' but when it comes to torture, I trust the lady who spent three years married to James Cameron”) or making fun of themselves (the pair pretending to be drunk after losing to Dunham), the hilarious duo always looked like they were having a great time with each other and so, in turn, we did too. They may not be getting the big $4 million pay day that was originally reported, but we’re hoping they’re making bank because, for the next two years, it’s them we’ll be tuning in to watch.

And so in honor of the extension of one of our favorite comic pairings, we take a look at some other duos that are aces in comedic chemistry, drawing from the best in sketch, live performances, and late night.

Odenkirk and Cross
These days this alternative comic duo may best be known for the roles they’ve played in two of the most celebrated shows in the last decade: Bob Odenkirk as Saul Goodman on “Breaking Bad” and David Cross as Tobias Fünke on “Arrested Development.” But before Walter White and the Bluths came a-calling, they were the creators and stars of “Mr. Show,” an Emmy-nominated sketch show that ran on HBO from 1995 to 1998. Irreverent and satirical (but also very goofy), each episode featured a series of loosely linked sketches that ranged from wickedly clever Beatles parodies to a scene in which the latest incarnation of the Dalai Lama is a mullet-rocking teenager from the Midwest.

Fry and Laurie
Among the many gifts Emma Thompson has given the world -- from “Sense and Sensibility” to “Nanny McPhee” -- is the comic pairing of Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie. Thompson introduced the two while they were all undergrads at Cambridge University, and thus a little bit of television history was made. “A Bit of Fry and Laurie,” the duo’s sketch show, ran on BBC from 1989 to 1995 (with a pilot episode in 1987), blending intricate word play with old-fashioned slapstick. While Fry and Laurie have since gone on to impressively successful careers (paging Dr. House), comedy fans can delight in the knowledge that a reunion show of sorts is in the works: “M'colleague will recount amusing stories and I will sit at the piano and play ditties," teases Laurie.

Broderick and Lane
Forget the 2005 movie version. Those lucky enough to see the original Broadway cast of “The Producers,” the blockbuster musical based on Mel Brooks’ 1967 film classic, knew they were witnessing something special. As an unlikely producing team who scheme to make a fortune by presenting the worst play ever made (a musical about Hitler), Nathan Lane, as Max Bialystock, the flamboyant failure of a theater producer, and Matthew Broderick as his inhibited partner, easily joined the ranks of history’s funniest odd couples. In fact, The New York Times called theirs “the most dynamic stage chemistry since Natasha Richardson met Liam Neeson in ''Anna Christie.''

Nichols and May
It’s one of the shorter-lived pairings on our list, and yet one of the brightest. Mike Nichols and Elaine May, who met while at the University of Chicago, graced the world with their sophisticated comic stylings for only four years -- but what a four years. Each of their three comedy albums, based on improvisational sketches, hit the Billboard Top 40; they did a Broadway show (which resulted in their Grammy Award-winning record “An Evening with Nichols and May”); and they won a coveted slot at JFK’s storied birthday celebration in which Marilyn Monroe did her famous “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” number. And then they were gone -- Nichols went on to direct films like “The Graduate” and “The Birdcage” (which May wrote) and May to act, direct, and write. But even though the partnership was fleeting, its influence has had serious legs, inspiring generations of comics from Judd Apatow to Steve Martin, who said in an “American Masters” documentary of Nichols and May’s albums, “It was like a song: you could listen to it over and over … I used to go to sleep to them at night.”

Leno and Letterman
Before they were bitter rivals, Jay Leno was a frequent guest on NBC’s “Late Night with David Letterman,” and while their styles were as different as ever, the pair had a certain cozy chemistry with Leno talking a mile a minute about the trials of 1980s popular culture (he hated “Lifestyles of Rich and Famous”) while Letterman looked on, bemused with an occasional perfectly timed “oh goodness.” It’s worth a trip back in the old YouTube time machine to see these two worthy adversaries getting on like a house afire -- and to see Leno in a procession of amazingly awkward eighties suits.

Ronna & Beverly
If you haven’t yet discovered the podcast “Ronna & Beverly,” do yourself a favor and get thee to a set of headphones. Comedians Jessica Chaffin and Jamie Denbo play the titular pair, fifty-something Jewish mothers living outside of Boston in Marblehead, MA. In each episode the ladies interview a funny celeb (past guests include Paul Feig, Kate Walsh, and Jeff Garlin) and dish about everything from Elizabeth Smart to Israeli-Palestinian relations to Beverly’s sex life in the wake of her divorce from Allen Ginsberg (not the one you’re thinking of). Chaffin and Denbo are utterly committed to their characters and are unafraid to take the show to provocative, but always very silly places. And don’t take our word for it; Feig, who directed Denbo and Chaffin in “The Heat,” recently named the pair as two of the top funny women he’d like to work with next.

The Smothers Brothers
Tom and Dick Smothers were briefly the kings of comedy as their CBS variety show, “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour,” pushed the boundaries of television, unabashedly tackling political and social issues like Vietnam and racism. Tom was the doofy one, Dick, the uppity straight man, and together they balanced their fierce, anti-establishment wit with an unexpected sweetness. But even that affable folksiness wasn’t enough to keep CBS from pulling the plug on the controversial show in 1969. Still, the brothers got the last laugh: winning a case against the network for breach of contract and going on to maintain one of the longest comedy partnerships in recent history.

Key and Peele
Arguably the best comic duo currently on the small screen, Keegan Michael Key and Jordan Peele, who met while appearing on the Fox series “MADtv,” are the creators and stars of the wildly eccentric, hugely hilarious Comedy Central sketch show “Key and Peele.” Taking the baton from “Chapelle’s Show” and making a quick pit stop at “Mr. Show,” the pair audaciously takes on racial and cultural stereotypes with sketches like one in which two men try to out-order each other at a soul food restaurant or the one where a substitute teacher, accustomed to teaching in the inner city, struggles with the names of his new white middle-class students. The duo has also nailed what Slate called the best Obama impression on television, with Peele as the even-keeled President and Key as his anger translator Luther, telling us how the guy really feels.

Live a Life Well-Read Get the best of news, culture, and books delivered weekly. Join the Signature newsletter