One of the hardest things to do well in comedy is pairing one comic with another. History is filled with people who tried, but getting the right chemistry isn’t as easy as slapping a couple of names together. For a true comedy duo to work, both members have to bring their A-game, so the team can’t be one-sided.
Movies have offered an excellent medium for comedy duos to stretch their comedic talents, and some of the greatest stuck around for decades. Because they have been around for over a century now, it’s possible to look at each decade to find the best movie comedy duo going back 100 years.
This list features the best comedy duos from each decade, beginning in the 1920s and ending in 2020. Take a look below, and if you think there’s a funnier comedy duo from your favorite decade, share their hilarious exploits in the comments!
10 1920s—Laurel & Hardy
Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy are probably the best-known comedy duo of all time, and they haven’t performed together in decades. The team came together out of vaudeville and the silent film industry, and they complemented one another perfectly.
Comedy duos at the time typically relied on a comedian playing off a straight man, but both Laurel and Hardy were comics to their core. Despite the change-up, they managed to always get laughs, and when one needed to play it straight, they managed to do so with perfection.
The pair came together in the early 1920s, though they weren’t officially considered a team. That didn’t happen until they did a short together in 1926, and from there, the comedy act of Laurel and Hardy was born.
The duo became iconic throughout the 1920s. They continued their success well into the ’40s with their final film collaboration, Atoll K, coming out in 1950. Throughout their partnership, Laurel and Hardy acted opposite one another in 107 films, 32 short silent movies, 40 short “talkies,” and numerous guest appearances on television.
Laurel and Hardy helped shape the direction of comedic cinema for decades, and their influence can be seen to this day. Mark Hamill once said, “If you don’t like Laurel and Hardy, you are no friend of mine,” and he’s hardly in the minority when it comes to the classic comics.
9 1930s—Pitts & Todd
Laurel & Hardy dominated in the 1920s and ’30s, but they weren’t the only team making waves throughout the Depression years. Men like Wheeler & Woolsey produced some great comedy, but there was another team that deserves some attention.
Hal Roach, the creator of Laurel & Hardy, envisioned a team of comedic women. In 1931, he created the first major female comedy team. Thelma Todd and Zasu Pitts’ place in history is important for both comedy and advancements made by women in the craft.
Roach put together a blonde bombshell beauty queen who specialized in playing comic relief with one of the most prolific character actresses in the business, and the pairing worked! They didn’t stick together for long, but what they created stands the test of time.
Pitts & Todd managed to work together for 17 short films. They even managed to snag an appearance of Laurel and Hardy in one of their movies. Their partnership came to an end after only two years when Pitts left the group.
Roach kept it going by replacing women several times. Each attempt at recreating the chemistry between Pitts and Todd resulted in some funny films, but the magic was lost when the original group ended.
8 1940s—Abbott & Costello
Bud Abbott and Lou Costello are probably one of the best-known comedy duos from their era. Both men began working in vaudeville before making the jump to radio, and finally, film. You probably know them for their “Who’s on First” routine, but they did so much more than that.
Throughout the 1940s and ’50s, Abbot & Costello dominated the industry. They toured throughout the ’40s and entertained the troops during World War II, becoming the highest-paid entertainers in the world at the time.
These guys were all over the map in terms of entertainment. They showed up for live shows, popped up on television, dominated the radio waves, and had a massively successful film career.
They started working in films together in 1940 with One Night in the Tropics, though they showed up in supporting roles. Despite this, they stole the show and continued to make hit after hit together throughout the decade.
They made 25 films in the 1940s and continued working together in the ’50s. Ultimately, they disbanded their partnership in ’57 due to career fatigue and the fact that they didn’t really like one another very much. Despite everything they did, they’re probably best known for “Who’s on First,” which they performed an estimated 15,000 times.
7 1950s—Martin & Lewis
Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis are another comedy duo that’s stood the test of time. The pair began working together in 1946 doing live performances in clubs, and by ’49, they were killing it on the radio.
They developed their act through a great deal of improvisation and slapstick. The pair managed to play the straight man/funny man act to perfection. They transitioned their show from the stage to radio to television and film.
Their first film was released in 1949, and the remainder of their movie collaborations came the following decade, which they dominated. Martin & Lewis starred in 16 feature-length films throughout the 1950s. Many were exceptionally hilarious, including Sailor Beware, Living It Up, and You’re Never Too Young.
Throughout the ’50s, the team changed its name to Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis. This was done to help them further their solo careers once their partnership came to an end. That came in 1956, and they didn’t speak to one another privately for 20 years. They finally reconciled in 1976, thanks to some help from Frank Sinatra.
6 1960s—Lemmon & Matthau
The 1960s is a decade that would go to the Smothers Brothers had they specialized in film instead of television variety shows. Since this list is all about film comedy duos, the honor of best team-up from the 1960s goes to Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau.
Unlike the other teams on this list, this pairing wasn’t your typical comedy duo. When they got together on-screen, they were often at odds with one another. While their on-screen characters were often contentious, their chemistry could not be denied.
The two men, who were the best of friends in real life, hated one another whenever they came together on-screen. While that may sound like an excellent recipe for a drama, it was played to the best of laughs in films like The Fortune cookie and The Odd Couple.
That last pairing is probably the duo’s most famous, and it only furthered their opportunity to work together. Decades later, they appeared opposite one another in a similar fashion via the two Grumpy Old Men movies, and their chemistry hadn’t waned at all. Overall, they made eight films together, and their work in the ’60s is some of the best comedy to come out of the decade.
5 1970s—Cheech & Chong
The 1970s was a great decade for comedy, thanks to folks like Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, and Monty Python. When it comes to comedy duos, the decade begins and ends with none other than Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong.
The two began working together in 1971. Cheech & Chong’s popular stand-up routine led to their success in studio recordings and numerous feature films. Pretty much everything they did together revolved around counterculture, free love, and drugs… a lot of drugs (especially marijuana).
These guys loved pot so much, they did a movie about them searching the country for pot while driving a van made of “Fiberweed;” you can guess what the exhaust fumes did. Cheech & Chong were incredibly popular throughout the ’70s and into the 1980s, which is actually the decade featuring most of their movies.
Despite this, they are probably best known for their first movie, Up in Smoke, which was released in 1978. The pairing ended in 1987 when Cheech opted to focus on his solo career by distancing himself from the drug-fueled acts of their work together. They ultimately reunited and began working together in the early 2000s.
4 1980s—Wilder & Pryor
For the most part, successful comedy duos were always the same race, and that race was typically Caucasian in prior decades. Before Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder came together, there were numerous attempts and making a mixed-race duo work. There have been plenty since, but none did nearly as well as these guys.
Their comedy pairing began the previous decade with 1976’s Silver Streak, which did well but wasn’t their greatest hit. That came in 1980 with Stir Crazy, arguably the pair’s best collaboration. They continued to work together in the 1980s with See No Evil, Hear No Evil, and their last pairing came in 1991’s Another You.
Of course, they worked together in other ways, as Wilder appeared in 1974’s Blazing Saddles, which Pryor co-wrote. He was supposed to be in the film, but the studios wanted Cleavon Little instead, so it was a few years before they managed to share the screen.
Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor’s on-screen chemistry is the stuff of legend. They always managed to play off one another perfectly. While they worked together well on-screen, Pryor’s substance abuse problems made their friendship difficult. Despite this, they had a great deal of respect and admiration for one another.
3 1990s—Farley & Spade
The 1990s were filled with all manner of comedy duos, many of them coming straight out of Saturday Night Live. Mike Myers and Dana Carvey’s Wayne’s World led to two films, and while they were great together on-screen, you can’t talk about 90’s comedy duos and not look to Chris Farley and David Spade.
These two guys had some of the best on-screen chemistry in the history of the medium, and they couldn’t have been more different. Spade is all about deadpan snarkiness, while Farley was the kind of comic who would do anything for his laugh, even if it meant crashing through a coffee table or making fun of his weight.
Both comics appeared in Coneheads together, though they played minor characters. Their first true collaboration was Tommy Boy, which pitted the two off-screen best friends against one another in comedic gold. They followed this with Black Sheep the following year, and they managed to recapture their on-screen chemistry.
Sadly, their collaborations ended with Farley’s untimely passing in 1997, only one year after Black Sheep’s release. Spade was noticeably absent at the funeral, fueling speculation of a falling out. Years later, Spade explained that the funeral was too difficult for him, as the two were the greatest of friends.
2 2000s—Pegg & Frost
Picking the best comedy duo of the 2000s is no easy task. It’s the decade that saw exceptional pairings, including Ben Stiller & Owen Wilson, Will Ferrel & John C. Reilly, John Cho & Kal Penn, and many more. Despite all the offerings, the decade goes to Simon Pegg and Nick Frost.
The pair began working together in 1999 on Spaced, and they kept their incredible on-screen chemistry going for years — and they’re still at it. During the first decade of the 21st century, Pegg and Frost appeared in the Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy.
Those films include Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and The World’s End, which came out in 2013, so it’s a bit outside the scope. The first two films are arguably the best they’ve done together, and they continue to work together in both film and television to this day.
Their most recent collaboration is the Amazon Prime series Truth Seekers, which was released in October 2020. Both comics remain close friends and collaborators on numerous projects, which is something that is likely to continue well into the next decade.
1 2010s—Fey & Poehler
Tina Fey and Amy Poehler have known one another since 1993, and it wasn’t long before the two became close friends. They began working with one another soon after, and by the turn of the century, both were working on Saturday Night Live.
They spent the first decade of their career working alongside one another, with most of their efforts being in the world of television. They made their first jump into working together on the silver screen in 2002’s Martin and Orloff, though it’s unlikely many people saw it.
Two years later, they dropped Mean Girls upon the world, and their careers skyrocketed from that point forward. They co-starred in Baby Mama in 2007, and by 2015, they shared the top billing in 2015’s Sisters.
2019 saw them working together once more in Poehler’s directorial debut, Wine Country. The movie dropped on Netflix and scored a Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. They also killed it hosting the Golden Globes in 2021, which isn’t a movie, but it’s another excellent example of this pairing’s chemistry and comedic expertise, which was tested through a few thousand miles of lockdown separation.