Abbott and Costello - "Who's On First?"

"Who's On First?"

"Who's on First?" is Abbott and Costello's signature routine. (They, however, usually referred to it as "Baseball.") The sketch was based on other burlesque routines with similar wordplay. Depending upon the version, Abbott has organized a new baseball team and the players have nicknames, or he points out the proliferation of nicknames in baseball (citing St. Louis Cardinals sibling pitchers Dizzy and Daffy Dean) before launching the routine. The infielders' nicknames are Who (first base), What (second base) and I Don't Know (third base). The key to the routine is Lou Costello's unwavering confusion over pronouns and Bud Abbott's unwavering nonchalance.

Abbott and Costello began honing the routine shortly after teaming up in 1936 and performed it in vaudeville in 1937 and 1938. It was first heard by a national radio audience in March, 1938, when the team were regulars on the Kate Smith radio show. By then, John Grant had been writing or adapting other sketches for the team, and he may have helped expand "Who's On First?" prior to its radio debut. Grant stayed on as a writer for Abbott and Costello into the 1950s.

"Who's on First?" is believed to be available in as many as 20 versions, ranging from one minute to about 10 minutes. The team could time the routine at will, adding or deleting portions as needed for films, radio, or television. If they needed to fill four minutes, for example, Bud and Lou would do four minutes' worth of the baseball bit. The longest version is seen in "The Actors' Home," an episode of their filmed TV series, in which "Who's on First?" constitutes the second half of the program. A live performance commemorating the opening day of the Lou Costello, Jr. Youth Foundation, in 1947 was recorded, and has appeared on numerous comedy albums. The team's final performance of "Who's on First?" was seen on Steve Allen's TV variety show, in 1957.

In the full-length version of Who's on First, all of the positions are mentioned except right field.

For a radio performance on June 20, 1945, Bud Abbott was ill and was unable to perform on the Walgreens 44th anniversary special. Sidney Fields, in the his role as Professor Mellonhead, was the "fill-in" manager in the absence of Abbott and performed the straightman role with Lou Costello.

A takeoff of "Who's on First" appears on The Big Bang Theory featuring characters, Sheldon and Amy Farrah Fowler in "The Alien Parasite Hypothesis" episode.

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