Death of The Sidekick


(By Randy Lane) Ed McMahon was the quintessential sidekick. He laughed in all the right places and never upstaged Carson. He was the butt of jokes and the show whipping boy. As a recent New York Times article points out, today’s audiences view that role as “punching down” or abusive.

The Conan O’Brien Show transformed the role of the traditional sidekick. For the first time on late-night TV, Conan O’Brien elevated the role of Andy Richter from sidekick to cohost.

Conan was secure enough to give Andy space to contribute comedy, but he also often switched roles to play Andy’s “straight man.” The result was a comedy team highlighting two contrasting personalities.

For decades, radio morning shows had sidekick “giggle guys/girls,” whose primary role was to laugh at the host’s jokes. There are still peripheral players who serve as radio’s version of a laugh track. The difference is that a player like Brooke and Jeffrey’s Jose, provides laughter throughout the show, yet he also hosts features like “Phone Taps” and chimes in on discussions as a cohost.

No role is more important than another, they are just different. There are many radio cohosts who provide most of the comedy with the host handling mechanics and playing the straight role. On The Kotter and Marshall Show at Rock 106.1 Savannah, Kotter is the host/straight man and Marshall drives the comedy.

There are still major shows, including big-name syndicated ones, with a host who occupies 80% of the mic time. If the host were more democratic, the show would be more dynamic, entertaining, and generate higher ratings.

We encourage hosts to give cohosts space to perform, contribute, and contrast the host’s character and personality.

Jeff McHugh said it best in his blog Who Talks More or Less on your Show, “Imagine watching a Seinfeld episode where Jerry did 90% of the talking while the others just stood there.”

Randy Lane launched his media talent coaching and personal brand development company in 1996. He can be contacted by phone at 805.231.5746 or email at [email protected].


  1. I love the model, but in reality radio is doing nothing to cultivate lead talent, instead relying of former sidekicks to take the helm when the lead retires or dies (Yeah, I’m talking about you, WABC). Between resenting having to pay an actual person to do anything that theoretically could be automated and the fact that talent no long seems interested in working their way up the old ladder of success because management no longer wants to spend the money necessary to introduce new talent or build them up in the audience’s eyes.


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