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.)