Wednesday, June 24, 2009

In praise of second bananas

Hard to believe, but it has been 17 years since Johnny Carson and Ed McMahon left NBC's "The Tonight Show."

Even more difficult to fathom - at least for a kid who never fell asleep before I could hear "Heeere's Johnny!" - is the fact that they're both gone after McMahon died Tuesday morning following a struggle with a number of illnesses. He was 86.

May he rest in eternal peace.

That said, McMahon's death got me to thinking about something a colleague of mine wrote in a thoughtful obit of sorts yesterday:

In many ways, he helped Carson be a better Carson: serving as the ready butt to a joke when the action got slow and pitching products for sponsors so the host didn't have to lower himself.

For a guy willing to stand next to the brightest spotlight, it was a pretty sweet gig.

Indeed. It takes a lot of humility and self-confidence to flourish as a sidekick.

To borrow from sports for a second, most often you see rookies and young players break into the NBA with their eyes set hard on scoring lots of points and becoming a star.

And why not? Most everyone who makes it into the NBA was a high-scoring supernova on some level of hoops. It's natural for anyone who's experienced that sort of success to figure that will only continue in the League.

Of course, only a precious few can really become legends like MJ, Kobe, Hakeem, Wilt, etc. But if someone is willing to swallow their pride and work for it, they too can become an iconic sidekick in the manner of McMahon. Or Pau Gasol.

So, in honor of McMahon - and to rip an idea from the much more talented Spencer Hall, here's my salute to the best of the second bananas:

1. Scottie Pippen - Pip pretty much set the template for the successful beta male. In fact, he was such a superb sidekick that he's still generally regarded as one of the NBA's 50 best players of all-time and a future Hall of Famer. However, I'm still bitter that he only showed up on the first and final days of his basketball camp at the University of Central Arkansas - (why else would my parents have signed me up for a week in Conway, Arkansas?)

2. TC from "Magnum PI" - I can't tell you how many times TC bailed out Magnum's sorry ass with that helicopter. And really, TC handled all the rough stuff when things got a little too heated. Bonus: TC, a former Marine Corps helicopter pilot in Vietnam, never drank alcohol.

3. Phife from A Tribe Called Quest - I wouldn't go so far as to say he was the best ever "second rapper" in a hip-hop group. But he's definitely in the conversation. And his improvement from People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm to The Low End Theory really catapulted ATCQ into consideration as one of the all-time great hip-hop acts. However, it was clear that Q-Tip was running things in that group.

4. Cockroach from "The Cosby Show" - When I was in elementary school, I always wanted a homeboy like Cockroach. He was pretty much down for whatever but respectable enough to bring around the fam. A brown-skinned Eddie Haskell, I suppose. But he totally disappeared when Theo went to NYU. What was that about?

5. Mouse from "Devil in a Blue Dress" - Not only was Mouse from Houston, a loyal friend to Easy and one of the most dangerous characters ever dreamed up for a movie, but he uttered a line near the end of the film that sticks with me to this day: "If you didn't want me to kill him, why did you leave me alone with him?" Just classic.

To honor these honorable men and to validate my list, why not force a hearty chuckle over the crickets? Think of the team.


avery said...

Great post.

One bone to pick: Phife? Nah. Give me Dave, nee Trugoy every day. Or Ren, for that matter. One of my mans 'nem has a special category of hate for Phife. I ain't on that level, but he...nah. He did get better, but imo, he has one great song and one great verse: the song is Butter and the verse is on God Lives Through. Other than that, he never even pushed Tip.

But Pip is definitely the class of the bunch.

blackink said...

You know, in a technical sense, you're right about Phife. Though I never got all the criticism that came his way, Phife was clearly a mediocre to average MC. His solo career has sort of beared that out.

That said, he established an identity separate from Q-Tip and really is one of the best known second bananas in hip hop. Ren, Trugoy, Havoc, Vinnie, all might have been nicer. Bushwick was clearly all character, not much of a rhymer. But none of them have a name that still resonates in the game, you know?

However, you still make a good point. Maybe I should have went with Pedro from "Napoleon Dynamite."

avery said...

i hadn't thought of it like that, becasue we do know phife independently. that's gotta mean something. i'm sayin - i ain't crazy about phife, but i don't hate the bol. vinnie and havoc? that's almost u-god territory right there. lol. la as a group is not as well-known as i'd like them to be, cuz i don't think a whole lot of people could name either emcee.

Jack T. said...

Nice list. I would put up honorable mentions for Jazz from Fresh Prince, The bald black dude from Spencer for Hire, and Mr. Spock. But I've been accused of being nerdy.

avery said...

spock can challenge pip for the GOAT.

blackink said...

Jazz and Spock, good calls. Bof uv em.

I, for one, can't believe I forgot Jazz since "Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" is in my pantheon of all-time TV shows.

avery said...

...all time tv shows.

tag-team post.

blackink said...

Man ... you ain't even said a word.