Hulu just put up the best of Abbott of Costello, perhaps in honor of the recently begun baseball season, because what’s the best of Abbott and Costello without “Who’s on First?” It’s amazing how resilient this routine is. It feels a little long today but the pacing and the rhythms are still strong and it’s even a little dark, with Costello constantly gesturing with a bat, implying more than a little violence if he continues to be frustrated by Abbott.
God damn that’s still funny.
What’s even more impressive is the amount of variations that its inspired (see the popular culture section in the routine’s wikipedia entry), most often as a way of borrowing that incredible rhythm for another concept but sometimes as an example of how something funny can be parodied itself.
Here’s a recent variation, with Paul Mecurio using it on the Bob and Tom Radio Show to play off modern baseball’s steroid problem.
And another recent play on the sketch, this one more of a style parody from UCB Comedy, taking the routine and having it shot as if Wes Anderson directed it.
Of course, my all-time favorite is one that destroys the very conceit of the joke but at the same time plays a wonderful homage to Costello’s performance, from Slovin & Allen’s Comedy Central Presents.
The little pause Leo Allen gives before he goes into the actual Yankee names just kills me.
And there’s a ton more. Johnny Carson using the routine to highlight Ronald Regan’s confusion. Abbott & Costello’s orginial all rendered in typography. A bizarre recreation featuring actors unaware of the routine(!) with entirely naturalistic speaking. And another conceit-attacking version from Kids in the Hall, which eats the routine whole and leaves nearly nothing left.
Perhaps because it had vaudeville roots a while before Abbott & Costello took ownership of it, “Who’s on First” has a similar quality to the Aristocrats joke. It can be told a thousand different ways, in different styles with new targets. It almost makes me contemplate a “Who’s On First” competition/festival. I just pause for fear of beating it death with a baseball bat other than Costello’s.