The etymology of “top banana” is intertwined with a well-known vaudeville sketch that depicted a humorous scenario involving three comedians vying to divide just two bananas. This skit is the wellspring from which the terms “top banana” and “second banana” emerged. In the dynamic interplay of this performance, the essence of hierarchy and distinction was humorously encapsulated, with one comedian positioned as the dominant figure (top banana) and another in a supportive role (second banana).
“Top banana” refers to the preeminent figure, the individual wielding authority or leadership – essentially, the boss. The origins of this phrase date back to the vibrant vaudeville era of the 1920s, where it was specifically employed to designate the primary comedian headlining a performance. This comedic term was ingeniously coined to characterize the standout performer who held the spotlight.
One luminary who traversed the diverse realms of vaudeville, silver screen, airwaves, and television was Phil Silvers. It’s noteworthy that he attributes the genesis of this expressive phrase to a fellow entertainer, Harry Steppe. Steppe, a versatile humorist and writer, is credited with being the progenitor of the term “top banana.”
The term “second banana” refers to the supporting player or straight man who serves the boss. This expression was coined by Harry Steppe in the 1920s and was derived from a vaudeville skit involving three comedians attempting to share two bananas. Nowadays, most people are unaware of the vaudeville origins of the terms “top banana” and “second banana,” and the once-famous banana sketch is now a lesser-known piece of comedy trivia.
The legacy of this phrase continues to endure as a lively metaphor for leadership and prominence. From the vaudevillian stages of yesteryears to contemporary contexts, “top banana” remains an evocative way to describe the person who takes the lead, assumes authority, and commands attention – much like the leading act in a riveting vaudeville show.
Fun Fact: Bananas are berries, botanically speaking! Despite their common perception as a fruit, bananas actually belong to the berry category. This is because, according to botanical definitions, a berry is a fleshy fruit produced from a single ovary, and bananas fit this description perfectly. So, the next time you enjoy a banana, remember that you’re indulging in a berry!