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You Rang, Sir?

The 10 Best Butlers From Pop Culture

Catch back-to-back episodes of the classic sitcom Soap Saturday mornings on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Paramount

When you need tea, you ring for the butler. When the doorbell rings, the butler answers the door. When you’re a billionaire playboy moonlighting as a caped vigilante superhero, the butler makes you a fabulous costume. And when you need life advice delivered in the form of sassy one-liners, the butler is there to dish it out alongside your perfectly prepared dinner. In honor of Benson, the loyal butler from the classic sitcom Soap (now airing on IFC!), we’ve compiled a list of loyal and hilarious pop culture butlers to give them the praise they justly deserve.

1. Alfred Pennyworth, Batman

If you ask anyone to name one butler, they will most likely choose Bruce Wayne’s faithful right-hand man, Alfred Pennyworth. Following the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne, Alfred not only became Bruce’s sole caretaker, he became his surrogate parent. Since first appearing in the comics in Batman #16 way back in 1943, Alfred has had Bruce’s best interests at heart whether it’s in business, romance, or fighting crime. On the big and small screen, Alfred has been played by everyone from Alan Napier on the 1960s TV series to Jeremy Irons in the upcoming Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Girlfriends and archenemies may come and go, but Alfred is truly forever.


2. Carson, Downton Abbey

No one exemplifies the “stiff upper lip” quality of British butlers quite like Downton Abbey‘s noble Charles Carson, played by four-time Best Supporting Actor Emmy nominee Jim Carter. He is, other than dear housekeeper Mrs. Hughes, the most respected and trusted of all of Downton’s staff and is very serious about not only his job but also the well-being of the Crawley family. Carson is especially sweet on eldest daughter Lady Mary, offering her advice and comfort in times of trouble. He doesn’t take particularly well to change but he does his best (the way he practices answering the telephone is particularly humorous) to please the family. And he has eyebrows even Cara Delevingne would covet.


3. Niles, The Nanny

The Sheffields’ snooty English butler, Niles (Daniel Davis), couldn’t be more different than the family’s streetwise, Queens-bred nanny, Fran, but they quickly became inseparable best friends, gossiping, snooping around, and hatching schemes to hook Fran up with Maxwell (Charles Shaughnessy). Known for his sardonic one-liners, Niles became a fan favorite during The Nanny‘s six-season run, prompting many a nasal laugh around the country. (Davis also does an impeccable British accent, despite being from Arkansas.)


4. Agador Spartacus, The Birdcage

Initially, Hank Azaria’s gay-houseboy-turned-butler was only going to be in one scene of The Birdcage, but the producers of the film decided to expand his role after cutting another character. Agador, who works for gay couple Armand (Robin Williams) and Albert (Nathan Lane) in their Miami home, has a penchant for cutoff shorts and melodramatic outbursts, and harbors an aversion to shoes (“I never wear shoes, because they make me fall down!”) and any kind of actual housework. However, he has a heart of gold; just make sure you don’t ask him to prepare the food for your next dinner party.


5. Riff Raff, The Rocky Horror Picture Show

Technically, Riff Raff (Richard O’Brien) is more of an alien masquerading as an Igor-esque assistant to Dr. Frank-N-Furter than a proper butler, but he IS the one responsible for answering the door when Brad and Janet arrive not to mention performing various menial household tasks (and likely most of the work on creating Rocky). Riff Raff and his kooky sister Magenta (Patricia Quinn) are also responsible for launching thousands of dance parties to “The Time Warp” in midnight movie theaters around the country. Not bad for two visiting aliens from the planet Transsexual in the galaxy of Transylvania.


6. Lurch, The Addams Family and Addams Family Values

He’s sort of the strong and silent type, but nevertheless, the Addams family loves their faithful butler, Lurch (played in the films by sci-fi favorite Carel Struycken). At seven-feet-tall with a serious expression on his face, he’s a fairly imposing presence, often scaring away trick-or-treaters or houseguests with just a well-timed grunt. However, we hear he’s a pretty impressive organist. We’d ask him about it, but all he says is “ughhhhhh.”


7. Edmund, Blackadder the Third

Created by Love Actually director Richard Curtis and comedy icon Rowan Atkinson for BBC One in the 1980s, the Blackadder series follows the scheming Blackadder line at various points throughout British history. The excellent, BAFTA-winning third season has Edmund Blackadder (Atkinson) in the unfortunate position of butler to the idiotic, foppish Prince Regent, George (a hysterical Hugh Laurie). However, he often finds ways of using his superior intelligence to his own advantage, and by the end of the season, Edmund Blackadder has assumed the Prince Regent’s identity after the Prince is shot and killed whilst posing in disguise as Blackadder.


8. Geoffrey Butler, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air

There’s no denying that Geoffrey (Joseph Marcell), the Banks family’s perfectly deadpan butler, secretly ruled the roost. He epitomized the bourgeois world with his elegant accent and disapproving looks, which is probably why he clashed so frequently with the charming, working-class Will. Geoffrey had a smart answer for everything, and occasionally came off as resentful of the Banks children. However he also knew how to let loose from time to time and was something of a ladies-man. He has much in common with Niles from The Nanny as they both attended Oxford and throw out snide remarks faster than you can say “In West Philadelphia born and raised…”


9. Wadsworth, Clue

Depending on which ending of Clue you watch, Tim Curry’s butler character, Wadsworth, is either the film’s hero or blackmailing villain. No matter the ending, however, Wadsworth is never short on highly quotable, snippy comebacks as he and his fellow dinner party guests try to solve Mr. Boddy’s murder without being murdered themselves. Though it was a commercial box office bomb at the time, Clue gained a cult following through home-viewing and became one of Tim Curry’s signature films. Interestingly, Tim Curry was the third choice to play Wadsworth after Leonard Rossiter (who passed away before pre-production started) and Blackadder‘s Rowan Atkinson (whom producers felt was too unknown in America at the time). Director Jonathan Lynn personally asked Curry, who he had known since they were teenagers, to step in, and to make a long story short…”TOO LATE!”


10. Benson Dubois, Soap and Benson

Celebrated character actor Robert Guillaume won two Primetime Emmys for his role as sardonic butler Benson on Soap and its spin-off series centered around his character. Much like Geoffrey on Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (on which Guillaume once guest-starred), Benson is never short on deadpanned wisecracks as he lives with and works for the melodramatic and kooky Connecticut-based Tate family. Benson is the only butler on this list to score his own TV series, where he served as the head of household affairs for a widowed Governor for seven seasons on ABC. (Fun fact: Guillaume is also the voice of Rafiki in the Disney classic, The Lion King.)

Click here to see all airings of Soap on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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G.I. Jeez

Stomach Bugs and Prom Dates

E.Coli High is in your gut and on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Brothers-in-law Kevin Barker and Ben Miller have just made the mother of all Comedy Crib series, in the sense that their Comedy Crib series is a big deal and features a hot mom. Animated, funny, and full of horrible bacteria, the series juxtaposes timeless teen dilemmas and gut-busting GI infections to create a bite-sized narrative that’s both sketchy and captivating. The two sat down, possibly in the same house, to answer some questions for us about the series. Let’s dig in….

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IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

BEN: Hi ummm uhh hi ok well its like umm (gets really nervous and blows it)…

KB: It’s like the Super Bowl meets the Oscars.

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

BEN: Oh wow, she’s really cute isn’t she? I’d definitely blow that too.

KB: It’s a cartoon that is happening inside your stomach RIGHT NOW, that’s why you feel like you need to throw up.

IFC: What was the genesis of E.Coli High?

KB: I had the idea for years, and when Ben (my brother-in-law, who is a special needs teacher in Philly) began drawing hilarious comics, I recruited him to design characters, animate the series, and do some writing. I’m glad I did, because Ben rules!

BEN: Kevin told me about it in a park and I was like yeah that’s a pretty good idea, but I was just being nice. I thought it was dumb at the time.

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IFC: What makes going to proms and dating moms such timeless and oddly-relatable subject matter?

BEN: Since the dawn of time everyone has had at least one friend with a hot mom. It is physically impossible to not at least make a comment about that hot mom.

KB: Who among us hasn’t dated their friend’s mom and levitated tables at a prom?

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

BEN: There’s a lot of content now. I don’t think anyone will even notice, but it’d be cool if they did.

KB: A show about talking food poisoning bacteria is basically the same as just watching the news these days TBH.

Watch E.Coli High below and discover more NYTVF selections from years past on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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