Commentary

A celebration of sidekicks

Updated: June 29, 2009, 10:50 AM ET
By Patrick Hruby | Page 2

SidekicksKurt Snibbe/ESPN.com

The scene: a large hotel ballroom in Reno, Nev. A sign outside the room reads:

5-6 PM ED MCMAHON MEMORIAL CASH BAR

7 PM-MIDNIGHT JOHNNY CARSON TRIBUTE GALA OPEN BAR

Inside, a number of the world's greatest sidekicks have gathered, including Tonto, Scottie Pippen, R2-D2, Robin and others …

ANDY RICHTER: Look at this!

Richter holds a copy of the Los Angeles Times. He reads from the newspaper.

RICHTER: "It's easy to underestimate McMahon's accomplishment -- or even to wonder whether it should be called an accomplishment at all."

Richter crumples the newspaper in disgust.

RICHTER: Writers are idiots.

ROBIN QUIVERS: Yes!

THE OTHER GUY FROM WHAM!: You are correct, sir!

Chewbacca beats his chest and groans in approval.

MICHAEL JORDAN: Wait. I don't get it.

QUIVERS: Michael Jordan! What are you doing here?

JORDAN: Scottie invited me.

RICHTER: So what don't you get?

JORDAN: The big deal. Guys like me and Johnny Carson and Batman do the heavy lifting. Meanwhile, you sit on a couch and chortle … enjoy single coverage while Jerry Rice gets bumped at the line and doubled downfield … unclog some pipes and dry-clean your green hat while Mario ambles off to save the princess …

Arthur from "The Tick" frowns. R2-D2 emits an agitated beep, extending an electric prong from his torso.

JORDAN: … being a sidekick is easy. Cushy. And shouldn't this be in Vegas? That's where real stars go.

AL BORLAND FROM "HOME IMPROVEMENT": Exactly.

RICHTER (muttering to self): No clue. Typical. [To Jordan] Hey, remember when you were old and creaky and playing for the Wizards, and you traded Rip Hamilton 'cause he didn't want to play sidekick, and then Jerry Stackhouse didn't want to play sidekick, either?

JORDAN: Yeah?

RICHTER: Maybe you should have been the sidekick.

QUIVERS: A good sidekick is hard to find.

[+] EnlargePaul Shaffer
Scott Gries/ImageDirect/Getty ImagesBeing a sidekick does have its perks, as Paul Shaffer can attest from this pic with the famed Rockettes.

PAUL SHAFFER: Sidekicking is an art, man. A lot harder than it looks.

VANNA WHITE [smiling]: There's more to it than standing around being pretty.

DON ZIMMER: Not everyone is cut out for the job. Kobe couldn't handle it with Shaq. Shaq couldn't handle it with Dwyane Wade. T.O. can't handle it with anyone.

VANESSA KENSINGTON FROM "AUSTIN POWERS": Brutus and Caesar? Didn't work out so well.

ROBIN: You gotta embrace your role. You're not the star, not the co-star. You're a facilitator. Period. Doesn't matter if you have talent or potential. Batman's angst is his calling card. You don't think I could do tortured brooding? Hello! I'm a teenage boy! Every pimple on my face gets darkly re-imagined!

TONY PARKER: Some nights I'm the best player on the floor.

MANU GINOBILI: Some nights I'm the best player on the floor.

PARKER: But the ball always goes through Tim Duncan.

GINOBILI: 'Cause that's what sidekicks do. Make stars shine brighter. Ego and ambition? Check 'em at the door.

RANDOM BAR WINGMAN: Take a romantic bullet, right in the temple. Go home alone to play Xbox. It's never about your needs. I haven't scored in three years. I'm nationally ranked in "Halo 3."

SHORT ROUND FROM "TEMPLE OF DOOM": No time for love, Dr. Jones!

Goose from "Top Gun" joins the group. His head is heavily bandaged.

SHAFFER: Goose! I thought you were dead!

GOOSE [laughing]: I was. That's what it took to make Maverick sympathetic. I understood. Up to that point in the movie, he was pretty much a [expletive].

DOCTOR WATSON: You learn to sublimate. For instance: the urge to ram that pipe down Sherlock Holmes' throat every time he says something is "elementary." Oh, really? It's elementary? Then why did it take Mr. Master Detective 400 pages to figure out who shot J.R.?

SANCHO PANZA: Everyone knows Don Quixote is loco. I'll never say it.

THE OTHER GUY FROM WHAM!: I taught George Michael everything. Then he's up on stage at Live Aid, singing with Elton John. I'm standing back in the choir, surrounded by … a bunch of other nobodies. Every time I hear that freakin' song being played at Safeway, I kick myself over all the lost royalties.

Random Bar Wingman puts an arm around The Other Guy From Wham!'s shoulder.

THE OTHER GUY FROM WHAM!: But as a sidekick, I know I did the right thing.

Chewbacca beats his chest and groans in approval.

JORDAN: But why? Why didn't you put out a solo album, color in a mascara beard and crush George Michael like a bug?

JOHN TAYLOR: It's not about competing. It's about complementing. I didn't need to be the greatest receiver in football history. I just needed to be dangerous enough so Jerry didn't face quadruple coverage. Also, he was too valuable to return kicks.

MARTY McSORLEY: Gretzky was the best, OK? A magician with the puck. No debate. But he wasn't exactly George Foreman. That's where I came in.

ARTHUR FROM "THE TICK": I'm smart. The Tick is a moron. Carson was a bit nebbishy. McMahon was boisterous.

[+] EnlargeDanny Glover
Alex Wong/Newsmakers/Getty ImagesSgt. Roger Murtaugh wants to make sure you know he's much "too old for this [expletive]."

SGT. MURTAUGH FROM "LETHAL WEAPON": I've been too old for this [expletive] for at least two decades. But Riggs? That loose cannon keeps on playing by his own rules.

STEVE WILLIAMS: Tiger would never throw someone's camera into a lake. I dream about chucking people into lakes. We clicked from the start. Sidekick's creed: Through your flaws, always flatter the top banana's best qualities.

TEX WINTER: I make Phil Jackson look even taller.

SHORT ROUND: Same thing with me and Indy!

TONTO: And through your strengths, paper over Kemo Sabe's weaknesses.

Laughter can be heard from the other side of the room, where C-3PO has locked himself in a broom closet. R2-D2 rolls over, extends a coat wire from his torso and pops open the door. Jerry Seinfeld enters.

JORDAN: Finally, someone I can relate to. Jerry, how about we blow this city and hit the tables at the Bellagio?

SEINFELD: Excuse me?

JORDAN: You know, two stars on the town. Like me and Barkley.

SEINFELD: Sorry, but I'm a sidekick.

JORDAN: No way.

SEINFELD: It's true. Costanza and Kramer? They were the stars -- got the biggest laughs, had the best storylines. Even Elaine was funnier and more neurotic. I was just the straight man.

JORDAN: But your name was on the show!

SEINFELD [grinning]: And I'm still cashing the checks. Sometimes, being a sidekick pays.

BARNEY RUBBLE: Fred can keep his Bronto Burgers. I'm the guy who goes home to Betty.

Rubble and Donkey from "Shrek" share a fist pound. Tinker Bell and Sideshow Bob giggle. Chewbacca beats his chest and groans in approval.

PIPPEN: Jerry's right. Of course, you have to do the dirty work that the big star won't touch.

JORDAN: What are you talking about? No one outworked me. I read that in one of my many hagiographies.

PIPPEN: Did you have to cover opposing point guards? Smother the other team's best scorer night after night?

JORDAN: Do Jeff Hornacek and Dan Majerle count?

GEORGE HINCAPIE: I ride into the wind so Lance doesn't have to. Bring him food and water. Heck, I'd throw myself into the printing presses of L'Equipe if I thought it would slow those jackals in the French press.

ERNIE ADAMS: I've watched more film than Janet Maslin.

SMITHERS FROM "THE SIMPSONS": Trust me -- you have no idea how hard it is to find an engineer who will design a sun-blocking machine.

GREG ANDERSON: I've spotted Barry hundreds of times. Handled hundreds of dirty towels. Legally, I can't get into the rest of it.

JORDAN: Well, I'm sure he appreciates your effort.

Woodstock from "Peanuts" breaks into a high-pitched laugh, followed by Magoo, Fonzworth Bentley and the rest of the room.

Q FROM THE JAMES BOND MOVIES: Look here, old chap -- sidekicks never receive a dollop of credit. When James gets busy in a still-smoking lunar escape module with an Eastern European tennis lingerie model, he's not taking time out to thank the creator of the nuclear-powered laser wristwatch that made it possible.

WINTER: I damn near invented the triangle offense. No one calls me Zen Master.

[+] EnlargeBarney Rubble
Getty ImagesSidekick life isn't so easy. Barney Rubble suffered the ignominy of being played by Stephen Baldwin.

LUIGI: I jump the same killer barrels, eat the same man-sized mushrooms, wear the same hideous suspenders as Mario. He has his own golf, tennis, go-kart, puzzle, role-playing, pinball, paint, baseball and soccer games. I have a lame rip-off of "Ghostbusters." But hey, I'm not complaining.

A single tear rolls down Luigi's cheek.

LUIGI: If I complain, Nintendo can terminate my contract with cause.

ANDY PETTITTE: Always remember: No one cares about you. Especially not the main attraction. Doesn't matter how many footballs you slam-dunk -- the minute something goes wrong, the sidekick gets thrown under the bus.

GARTH FROM "WAYNE'S WORLD": That or they won't return your calls when you need a bit part in "The Love Guru."

JORDAN: Damn, that's cold.

Jordan pauses.

JORDAN: Scottie, I've never said this before, but thank you. I couldn't have done it without you …

KITT FROM "KNIGHT RIDER": No!

PIPPEN: Don't say it!

ROCKY THE FLYING SQUIRREL: We'll all break out in hives.

RICHIE PETITBON AND JOE BUGEL: Sidekicks are allergic to praise.

Chewbacca beats his chest and groans in concern.

KITT FROM "KNIGHT RIDER": You know why there isn't a Sidekick Hall of Fame? Because no self-respecting second banana would ever allow himself to be inducted!

BILL BELICHICK: Until I became a head coach, Bill Parcells was the genius.

DJ JAZZY JEFF: Everything I've accomplished I owe to Will Smith.

R2-D2 emits a series of beeps.

C-3PO: Artoo says Luke Skywalker would have escaped the Sarlacc Pit even if he hadn't been there to fire a hidden lightsaber into the sky. He also says that Mr. Jeff's musical contributions have been most impressive.

Jordan raises a skeptical eyebrow. R2-D2 beeps again.

C-3PO: Artoo apologies for the flattery. Force of habit.

A hush falls over the room. Richter takes the stage. He stands behind a podium.

RICHTER: Shine, but not too brightly. Laugh, but not too loudly. Be smart, but not obviously so. Avoid the spotlight while never leaving the stage. Sidekickery is a talent and a craft, a science and an art. For most of us here, it's a calling. We gather today to honor one of our own …

Ed McMahon emerges from the stage curtains. He holds two envelopes, one small, one man-sized.

RICHTER: Ed! You're …

MCMAHON: Still here? Yes! Yes I am! [Hearty chortle] A sidekick's work is never done. [Shaking the small envelope]. These are for Carnac! [Placing the large envelope on the stage]. This is for the prize patrol!

Astonished silence from the room.

MCMAHON: Fellow second bananas, don't waste a second worrying about me -- get back to covering the wagons you're hitched to. Our calling isn't always easy. It's not always pretty. But it's a living. And it's our duty!

TATTOO FROM "FANTASY ISLAND": Do I hear a plane outside?

PAT SUMMERALL: There's always a man down somewhere.

NATE DOGG: I'm ready to sing a hook right now.

SHAQUILLE O'NEAL [out of breath, holding luggage tagged "CLE"]: Where do I hand in this application?

The room erupts into cheers and applause. The sidekicks file out. Jordan makes his way to the stage.

MCMAHON: Today's been a real eye-opener, hasn't it?

JORDAN: It has. But here's what I don't get -- why did everyone here feel a need to talk to me? I've had autograph sessions where I was less swarmed.

MCMAHON: Michael, that's our whole secret. The source of our magic. The one thing sidekicks do best.

JORDAN: Which is?

McMahon guffaws.

MCMAHON: Make the other guy look like the indispensable one.

Patrick Hruby is a columnist for Page 2.