ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Finally, to help us remember Ed McMahon, the trustee sidekick, commentator Jake Halpern has these thoughts on sidekicks, the world over.
Mr. JAKE HALPERN (Author, "Dormia"): I met Johnny Carson just once, when I was 10 years old. It was at the Russian Tea Room in Manhattan and he was sitting in the booth across from me. Afterwards, however, I couldn't understand why Ed McMahon wasn't there. Where was the faithful sidekick? From my 10-year-old perspective, I felt like I'd bumped into Batman without any traces of Robin, or, say, met Superman without getting to pet Krypto, the Superdog.
The truth is: everyone loves heroes. They get to save the world and look good doing it. But what about the sidekicks? They're loyal, pragmatic and totally self-deprecating. And what thanks do they get?
Porky Pig played sidekick to Daffy Duck for years, and he was depicted as a stuttering, overweight dimwit.
Long before that, Sancho Panza played sidekick to Don Quixote and — poor Sancho — was short, fat and illiterate. And yet, without Sancho Panza, where would Don Quixote be? He'd be a mad man, roaming the countryside with an angry mob not far behind him. It was Sancho that helped diffuse trouble and enabled his master to live his delusional, quixotic existence. Quixote was a lunatic; Sancho Panza was the kind of friend most of us only dream of having.
Heroes, by their very nature, tend to be oddballs and freaks who could never function in the real world without a straight man at their side, someone to laugh at their jokes and bolster their egos.
Today, Ed McMahon deserves his due. And truth be told, when the going gets tough and help is needed, forget the hero. Give me a sidekick any day.
SIEGEL: Commentator Jake Halpern teaches journalism at Yale University. He's the author of the new novel "Dormia." And if you'd like to comment on his essay, go to the opinion section of npr.org.
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