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June 24, 2006

'Who's on First?' — 'Best Comedy Sketch of the 20th Century'


This year marks the 70th anniversary of the formation of Abbott and Costello.

In 1999 Time magazine voted their routine "Who's on First?" the Best Comedy Sketch of the 20th Century.

Two years after teaming up, in 1938, they performed it on Kate Smith's radio show.

"Over the next two decades, until they broke up their act in 1956, Abbott and Costello performed the routine at least 10,000 times — some sources estimate in excess of 15,000 — and... they insisted they never did it exactly the same way twice," wrote Allen Barra in an affectionate tribute to their inspired piece of magic: his article appeared in the June 17 Wall Street Journal, and follows.

    Who's and What's Funny

    Abbott and Costello's classic baseball sketch still scores a home run with fans

    Fifty years ago this week, one of the most famous teams in baseball history made it into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. They never won a game, but their names are known to fans everywhere. No one knows the team's name, but everyone knows its first baseman. Who? Yes, that's the guy.

    And 2006 marks another anniversary: Bud Abbott and Lou Costello teamed up 70 years ago. According to Abbott's daughter, Vickie Abbott Wheeler, two years later, in 1938, they performed "Who's on First?" on Kate Smith's radio show. The most famous sketch in American comedy history was almost an afterthought; the duo was out of material, and a producer suggested they "do the baseball thing" they had been working on. The show's production staff was reportedly not thrilled. They thought "Who's on First?" was too visual for radio. Listeners, though, had no problem with it. By the end of that year's baseball season, "Who's on First?" had become an institution.

    Over the next two decades, until they broke up their act in 1956, Abbott and Costello performed the routine at least 10,000 times -- some sources estimate in excess of 15,000 -- and, according to Lou's youngest daughter, Chris Costello, "they insisted they never did it exactly the same way twice." Her sister, Paddy Costello Humphries, says: "It had an element of jazz. The routine was structured, but there were always places where my dad could take off and improvise for a bit. Sometimes you thought the two of them were lost, but they always found their way home."

    "Who's on First?" -- in any version -- worked around the attempt by Lou (as a peanut vendor or a rookie ballplayer, depending on the setup) to learn the names of the players on the team from Bud Abbott (usually a coach). The 1930s was the golden age of baseball nicknames, so the audience was prepared to accept that every player had his own sobriquet. The first baseman, of course, was "Who," second baseman was "What," the third baseman, "I Don't Know," and so on down the lineup. The shortstop, revealed in the next-to-last line, is "I Don't Give a Darn." The only position for which a player isn't named is right field.

    Here's a typical exchange:

    Lou: What's the name of the guy on first base?

    Bud: No, What is on second base.

    Lou: I'm not asking you who's on second.

    Bud: Who is on first.

    Lou: I don't know.

    Bud: Oh, he's on third, we're not talking about him.

    To understand why three generations have been convulsed by "Who's on First?" you need to hear it. Chris Costello, author of a biography of her father ("Lou's on First") and host of an Abbott and Costello Web site (www.abbottandcostellocollectibles.com), says: "You have to be there, and, fortunately, with all the versions available on CD and DVD, you can be. You've got to hear it to appreciate their timing. They were verbal acrobats." Abbott and Costello's timing was so impeccable they even brought down the house at the London Palladium. Realizing that shortly before they went on that their audience was clueless about American baseball, they matched Who, What, I Don't Know and the rest with soccer positions and memorized the rewrite in a matter of minutes.

    Sports historian Bert Randolph Sugar calls the piece "Classic Americana, combining sports, slang and word play. At one point, they repeat exactly the same phrase back to each other: Lou says, 'So I throw the ball to first, and who gets it?' Bud replies, 'Naturally.' Then Bud repeats the question to Lou, and Lou answers, 'Naturally?' thinking that that's the name of the first baseman. It's the same phrase repeated verbatim, but it has a completely different meaning when each one says it. It's genius."

    The routine's origins can be traced to vaudeville and burlesque, particularly a popular sketch called "The Baker Scene," in which a store is located on Watt Street. (When the street is first mentioned, the response is "What street?" "Watt Street," the straight man replies. "Dat's vat I'm asking you!") Abbott and Costello, along with their head writer, John Grant, drew on early influences and added the names of contemporary ballplayers such as Dizzy and Daffy Dean to open the routine. By the late 1940s, the Abbott and Costello sketch had become so well known that "Who's on First?" was an automatic response for anyone confused by double talk and excess verbiage. Tradition has it that Abbott and Costello fan Franklin D. Roosevelt (who once requested a live performance) would ask just that when presented with a memo he regarded as impenetrable.

    "Who's on First?" made its film debut in a 1940 review-style comedy romance, "One Night in the Tropics." Bud, Lou and Who stole the show, and in 1945 they reprised the routine for their own feature, "The Naughty Nineties." (A clip from that film greets visitors to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.)

    Since then, the routine -- voted Best Comedy Sketch of the 20th Century by Time magazine in 1999 -- has been quoted, imitated and parodied enough to make "Who's on First?" into a light industry. In the 1960s, a rock 'n' roll version, co-written by Harry Shearer, substituted baseball players with rock bands such as the Who, the Guess Who, the Band and Yes. Currently making the rounds on the Internet is a takeoff called "Hu's on First?" in which Condoleezza Rice and President Bush stumble through a briefing on current affairs. (Sample -- Bush: "Who is the new leader of China?" Rice: "Yes." Bush: "I mean the fellow's name." Rice: "Hu." Bush: "Who? Will you tell me the name of the new leader of China?" Rice: "Yes, sir." Bush: "Yassir? I thought he was in the Middle East.")

    "As long as people misuse words and fail to listen," says Mr. Sugar, "'Who's on First?' will strike a chord." Which pretty much guarantees its immortality.


Read the sketch here.

Listen to it here.

June 24, 2006 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Gasoline Bib


From the website:

    Paint Saving Fuel Guard

    Perhaps you've noticed: fuel nozzles are designed to drip gasoline down the side of your car and chip your paint.

    Unless you're "Quick Draw" McGraw, gas is going to drip on your nice waxed surface.

    Not a good thing.

    With the flap out, gasoline and diesel fuel sheet right off the Fuel Guard onto the ground, not on your car.

    Made of soft rubber that rolls up for easy storage.

    Also protects against accidental hits on your paint.

    No adhesive, screws, tools or drilling needed.


Wait a minute.

"Rolls up for easy storage."

Pray tell: where are you suppposed to put the gas-soaked device?

In your purse?

In your pocket?

In your glove box?

In your trunk, so that it reeks of gasoline?

Back to the drawing board with this one.

But if you insist: $12.99.

June 24, 2006 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

BehindTheMedspeak: Does cancer surgery cause relapse?


On May 27 I received an email from Gershom Zajicek, M.D., about my September 13, 2005 BehindTheMedspeak post entitled, "Over half of all relapses in breast cancer are accelerated by surgery."

Dr. Zajicek, who is Professor of Experimental Medicine and Cancer Research at The Faculty of Medicine of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, wrote, "My studies of this phenomenon revealed that it appears in all cancers. Please check my site for a detailed explanation."

I did so and found his hypothesis provocative and most interesting.

There are numerous links to related studies.

Much of his discussion is above my anesthesiologist peabrain medical pay grade but I think I got the gist.

You'll probably fare better.

June 24, 2006 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Pardon my ignorance, but...


why is it that in the just concluded knockout round-of-16 World Cup match between Sweden and Germany (Germany won, 2-0), when Lucic of Sweden received a yellow card a few minutes into the match, Sweden's coach didn't immediately send in a substitute for him?

Because once Lucic got a second yellow — which he promptly proceeded to do 35 minutes into the match, with Germany already ahead 2-0, playing at home and looking very dangerous indeed — not only was he ejected but Sweden now had to play the remainder of the game a man short.

That's nutso if you ask me, insane on the part of Sweden's — or any team's coach — in a situation like that.

Do you mean to tell me that having Lucic in there for however long he lasted, with the risk of playing a man down should he mess up again, was better for Sweden than sending in a sub who, while not nearly as good as Lucic, surely was better than having no player at all for nearly two-thirds of the match — which is precisely what Sweden was faced with?

I mean, in the NBA, when your star has four or five fouls you pull him to save him for crunch time — the last few minutes of the game.

Why isn't a comparable strategy employed in soccer, instead looking to save the team rather than the man?

Will one of my German, Spanish or Brazilian readers please put up a comment that explains why my thinking isn't correct?

June 24, 2006 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

The Latin Site


I use it for the meaning
of Latin phrases


but there's much more



June 24, 2006 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Personalized Pencil Pouch by day — By night, world's coolest evening bag


Why be like all the social x-rays with their glittery, hyperexpensive Judith Lieber bags when you can sport this funkadelic piece?

From the website:

    Personalized Pencil Pouch

    Of course you can keep lots more than pencils in this multi-colored nylon bag — but pencils fit great, and there's an outside pouch that zips open and shut for leads, erasers and change.

    Plus, the inside has a 1-1/2" expanding gusset to hold even more.

    Specify name: limit 1 line, 12 letters/spaces.

    7-1/2"L x 5"H x 1-1/2"D.

    Multi-colored nylon.




June 24, 2006 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack



Find someone to work out with — for free.

Surely there's something on this list


you can do.

[via Stephanie Cooperman and the New York Times]

June 24, 2006 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Perfect Pickle Picker — Episode 2: Telescoping Retractable Tongs


Back on December 29, 2004 I featured Episode 1 in this ongoing saga.

Of course back then I hardly knew it would turn out to be a saga nor that there would ever be an Episode 2.

I am reminded of the optimistic sponsors of "First Annual" this and thats.

I mean, how do they know?


The 2004 iteration featured two sharp prongs that extrude from the business end (below) to impale the pickle.


This year's version (top) is the fruit of 18 months of intense research and experimentation out back in the Perfect Pickle Picker skunk works.

From the website:

    Pickle Picker

    Pickle lovers rejoice ... your struggle is over!

    No more fumbling for that delicious dill or gorgeous gherkin — just grip it with this gadget's retractable wire tongs.

    Ends pickle juice mess.





Very nicely done.

Rather than disrupt the integrity of the pickle by inserting foreign bodies into its flesh, the inventor(s) have created a grasping tool to present your prize intact.


Surely the added cost (the 2006 model is $7.99, $1 more than the original) is a small price to pay for the enormous value added.

June 24, 2006 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

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