Top banana and second banana

  • Top banana and second banana are two terms derived from an entertainment venue that no longer exists. We will examine the meanings of the terms top banana and second banana, where these expressions came from and some examples of their use in sentences.


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    Top banana means the star, the person who is in charge, the boss. The expression top banana was coined in vaudeville in the 1920s to mean the top comedian featured in a show. Phil Silvers, a comedian whose career spanned the entertainment venues of vaudeville, movies, radio and television, gives credit to Harry Steppe as the man who coined the term. Steppe was a comedian and writer. The source of the terms top banana and second banana was a famous vaudeville skit involving three comedians attempting to share two bananas.


    Second banana means the support player, the straight man, the person who serves the boss. The expression second banana was also coined in the 1920s by Harry Steppe, derived from the same vaudeville skit involving three comedians attempting to share two bananas. Today, most people are unaware of the vaudeville roots of the expressions top banana and second banana, and the once-famous banana sketch is an extremely obscure bit of comedy trivia.


    The totalitarian ethos was present from the beginning, and given that the top banana did not care for the citizenry making fun of him, in due course it was made illegal to make jokes about the presidential surname. (The National Post)

    Before she became a TV second banana, Baby Rose Marie was a big-voiced singing phenomenon who, at age 4, began conquering radio, stage and records and blossomed into a glamorous nightclub performer. (The Mercury News)

    In other cameos and commercials, Scottie Pippen makes light of his status as second banana to Michael Jordan, but during his appearance on “Lethal Weapon” on Tuesday, it’s Damon Wayans’ character, Roger Murtaugh, who plays Pippen’s foil. (The Chicago Tribune)


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