Today’s Matinee Monday writes itself. There is no more well-known comedy team than Abbott and Costello. The short, fat Lou, simple-natured and simple-minded, always being manipulated and conned by his street-wise friend and hustler, Bud, were a staple of American comedy for nearly two decades. They paired as a team in 1935, and their humor was honed in America’s burlesque houses. Before formed as Abbott and Costello, both worked with other partners, and their previous experiences made their partnership a natural pairing. Bud Abbott was a natural straight man, feeding laugh lines to his previous partners, and Lou Costello was a natural funnyman and clown, always getting laughs. Their pairing was meant to be bringing together the quintessential straight man and top banana.
They first appeared on radio in the late 30’s, but it was their first movie, Buck Privates, that thrust them into stardom. Between 1941 and 1958, they made 26 films together. As well, were on radio, first with Edgar Bergen and Charley McCarthy, and then on their own radio show. In the 50’s, Abbott and Costello transitioned into television, with at least two different programs.
Okay, that’s all well and good. The bare bones, if you will. But what everyone knows, everyone loves, is the one routine for which they are famous, Who’s On First? Considered by many to be the greatest comedy routine/sketch every performed, “Baseball”, as they referred to their sketch, is part of the American culture. It is so popular that it is on continuous loop at the Baseball Hall of Fame, in Cooperstown, NY. The duo performed Who’s On First? hundreds, maybe even thousands of times, over their careers, and were able to expand or shorten their performance according to time strictures. Their performance of the skit in the movie The Naughty Nineties is considered the definitive version of Who’s On First? If you listen closely, you can hear stage hands laughing in the background.