Tall Skinny Guy, Short Fat Guy
April 13, 2020 8:58 PM   Subscribe

Is there a name for the trope of having a pair of characters in a movie or tv show where a tall skinny guy and a short fat guy are either posing as, or actually are, workmen using bureaucratic excuses to gain access to a home?

Examples: Horace and Jasper in 101 Dalmatians; Bob Hoskins and Derrick O’Connor in Brazil; the Wet Bandits in Home Alone. I am currently working my way through classic Doctor Who, and there are a pair of characters in 1967’s Fury from the Deep who fit the exact same mold. Can you name this trope, give me more examples, and/or cite its origins in (particularly British) pop culture?
posted by Lokheed to Media & Arts (24 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I feel like this has something to do with the White Face / Red Nose comedy continuum posited by Eric Idle in his book The Road to Mars:

Every comedian can either be classified as a White Face (that is, one attempting to maintain order against all odds) or a Red Nose (one actively promulgating the chaos)
I swear I read a very in depth article about this some time ago that specifically addressed the height/weight thing. I'll keep looking.
posted by ananci at 9:09 PM on April 13, 2020 [6 favorites]

Laurel and Hardy seem like a prototype!
posted by Wavelet at 9:23 PM on April 13, 2020 [13 favorites]

Best answer: As far as TVTropes goes, I think this is more a combination of tropes than one in its own right. Specifically:

Big Guy, Little Guy
Fat and Skinny

Janitor Impersonation Infiltration
Almighty Janitor
posted by Rhaomi at 9:27 PM on April 13, 2020 [2 favorites]

Don't George and Lennie do a variant on this in Of Mice and Men?
posted by aspersioncast at 9:33 PM on April 13, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Mutt and Jeff is an old trope for at least part of what you’re describing.
posted by less of course at 9:41 PM on April 13, 2020 [5 favorites]

Home alone fits this nicely. I agree that there are two tropes here, I think in physical comedy the I / O body type and bumbling burglars are both so common that examples of the combined trope abound.
posted by q*ben at 9:46 PM on April 13, 2020 [2 favorites]

I'm trying to think of Abbott and Costello movies that may have done this, but nothing specific comes to mind. It's been a long time since I watched any of them.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 12:47 AM on April 14, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The traditional name of this kind of two-person comedy act is known as the Double Act, where you've got the Straight Man (a term that applies to any gender), also known as the Stooge, and the Funny Man, aka the Clown. Idle's White Face / Red Nose dichotomy fits with this.

The body type thing is certainly just because of the funny juxtaposition of two substantially different body shapes, which can be played for physical comedy, i.e. each member of the pair does a thing and expects the other person to do the same, without realizing that the differences make that impossible.

Construction just adds opportunities to exemplify their differences: Short guys and tall guys fit differently into things-- tall guys see over fences, short guys walk nonchalantly under low-hanging obstacles. Once you get them on ladders/scaffolding/small attics/deep basements, or doing something that requires an equal contribution from each of them, like carrying a heavy load, putting up a painting in a level fashion, holding anything level, really, that's when the comedy must ensue.
posted by Sunburnt at 12:55 AM on April 14, 2020 [10 favorites]

I always read this archetype as a play on some working-class stereotypes, namely the idea that when two workmen come by one is the "brains" (usually with the orders on what is to be done) and the other is the "muscle" (possibly illiterate).
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 1:44 AM on April 14, 2020

Best answer: C3PO / R2D2
posted by XMLicious at 3:30 AM on April 14, 2020 [14 favorites]

Larry and Jeff play this out in Curb Your Enthusiasm.
Two slight variations: Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton of The Honeymooners entrely fit this trope - although more for weight than height.
And you can see a (now that you've illuminated the trope, most likely intentionally a riff on the male one) female version in I Love Lucy with Lucy and Ethel.
posted by nantucket at 3:35 AM on April 14, 2020 [1 favorite]

This is a trope, as mentioned above.
One deviation from the norm: Penn and Teller. Penn is tall *and* fat, Teller is small *and* skinny. Interesting to note the deviation from expectations and a meta-commentary on the trope.
posted by notsnot at 5:57 AM on April 14, 2020 [2 favorites]

Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, in their various incarnations. Although usually Dr. Watson is fooled by Holmes in disguise.
Penn and Teller.
Lumiere and Cogsworth (Disney's Beauty and the Beast).
posted by TrishaU at 6:05 AM on April 14, 2020

One deviation from the norm: Penn and Teller.

This deviation was already there in Laurel and Hardy. Hardy is taller than Laurel. See this depiction for example.
posted by vacapinta at 7:00 AM on April 14, 2020 [1 favorite]

I think this is international. I just read the latest Deon Meyer novel where two South African forensic technicians are known as Thick and Thin for their statures.
posted by leaper at 9:43 AM on April 14, 2020

I wish to reprise my comment from this previously:

OMG, you guys. ERNIE and BERT.
posted by the_blizz at 9:44 AM on April 14, 2020 [1 favorite]

(See also: Order Muppets vs. Chaos Muppets.)
posted by the_blizz at 9:50 AM on April 14, 2020 [1 favorite]

Jumba and Pleakley from Lilo and Stitch fit this to a T
posted by FirstMateKate at 10:00 AM on April 14, 2020 [2 favorites]

Jeff Goldblume and Harry Shearer in The Right Stuff
(although Harry isn't fat).
posted by Rash at 10:16 AM on April 14, 2020

[Dawn] French and [Jennifer] Saunders, a terrific sketch-comedy duo from UK.
posted by Sunburnt at 2:09 PM on April 14, 2020 [1 favorite]

White face / Red nose is also called Joey and Auguste.

Joey is the bossy orderly uptight one. (Named for famous 1800s clown Joseph Grimaldi)
Auguste is the klutzy silly anarchic goofball.

They are often different physical sizes when possible (like in animation) for contrast, but it’s not strictly needed. Typically the bossy Joey would be the smaller one, I think because if paired with an overbearing personality, also having a much bigger body would give that character too much “power” and scenes would risk feeling mean rather than funny.

Bert and Ernie
Ren and Stimpy
The Brain and Pinky
Stewy and Peter Griffith
Mike and Sully in Monsters, Inc.
Moana and Maui in Moana
Mitch and Cam, and also Claire and Phil, on Modern Family
Amy and Jake on Brooklyn 99
posted by nouvelle-personne at 9:15 PM on April 14, 2020

Worth noting that R2D2 and C-3PO were inspired by Tahei and Mataschichi (tall and short, respectively), two characters from Akira Kurosawa's The Hidden Fortress, 1958.
posted by Sunburnt at 9:44 AM on April 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

> Joey is the bossy orderly uptight one. (Named for famous 1800s clown Joseph Grimaldi)
> Auguste is the klutzy silly anarchic goofball.

That's neat, that's new to me. In the TV age, we might call that relationship Oscar and Felix, after The Odd Couple; Felix being the neat-freak and Oscar the slob.

In more general terms, we refer to two opposing-personality pairings as either oil-and-water (USA) or chalk-and-cheese (UK). No doubt other nations and regions have their own particular idioms.
posted by Sunburnt at 1:45 PM on April 16, 2020

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