Who's on First?
Who's on First? is a comedy routine made famous by
Abbott and Costello. The premise of the routine is that Abbott is identifying the players on a baseballteam to Costello, but their names and nicknames can be interpreted as non-responsive answers to Costello's questions. In this context, the first baseman is named "Who"; thus, the utterance "Who's on first" is ambiguous between the question ("which person is the first baseman?") and the answer ("Who is the name of the first baseman.").
"Who's on First?" is descended from turn-of-the-century
burlesquesketches like "The Baker Scene" (the shop is located on Watt Street) and "Who Dyed" (the owner is named Who). In the 1930 movie " Cracked Nuts", comedians Bert Wheeler and Robert Woolsey examine a map of a mythical kingdom with dialogue like this: "What is next to Which." "What is the name of the town next to Which?" "Yes." In English variety halls (Britain's equivalent of vaudevilletheatres), comedian Will Hayperformed a routine in the early 1930s (and possibly earlier) as a schoolmaster interviewing a schoolboy named Howe who came from Ware but now lives in Wye. By the early 1930s, a "Baseball Routine" had become a standard bit for burlesque comics across the United States of AmericaFact|date=November 2007.
After they formally teamed up in burlesque in 1936, Abbott and Costello continued to hone the sketch. It was a big hit in 1937 when they performed the routine in a touring vaudeville revue called "Hollywood Bandwagon."Abbott and Costello in Hollywood ISBN 0-3995-1605-0]
In February 1938, Abbott and Costello joined the cast of the "The
Kate SmithHour" radio program, and the sketch was first performed for a national radio audience that March.The routine may have been further polished before this broadcast by burlesque producer John Grant, who became the team's writer, and Will Glickman, a staff writer on the radio show. [This claim is made by Glickman's son. Glickman's obituary in "Variety" (23 March 1983) does not list the sketch among his credits.] Glickman may have added the nicknames of then-contemporary baseball players like Dizzy and Daffy Deanto set up the routine's premise. This version, with extensive wordplay based on the fact that most of a fictional baseball team's players had "strange nicknames" that seemed to be questions, became known as "Who's on First?" By 1944, Abbott and Costello had the routine copyrighted.
Abbott and Costello performed "Who's on First?" numerous times in their careers, rarely performing it the same way twice. Once, they did the routine at President Roosevelt's request. The routine was featured in the team's 1940 film debut, "
One Night in the Tropics". The duo reprised the bit in their 1945 film " The Naughty Nineties", and it is that version which is considered their finest recorded rendition. They also performed the routine numerous times on radioand television (notably in the "Abbott and Costello Show" episode "The Actor's Home").
In 1956 a gold record of "Who's on First?" was placed in the
Baseball Hall of Famemuseum in Cooperstown, New York. A video (taken from "The Naughty Nineties") now plays continuously on screens at the Hall.
In the 1970s,
Selchow and Righterpublished a Who's on First? board game.
In 1999, "Time" magazine named the routine Best Comedy Sketch of the 20th century. [ [http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,36533,00.html "Best of the Century" Time Magazine, Sunday, Dec. 26, 1999] .]
An early radio recording was placed in the
Library of Congress's National Recording Registryin 2003.
In 2005, the line "Who's on First?" was included on the
American Film Institute's list of 100 memorable movie quotes.
The names given in the routine for the players at each position are:
The name of the shortstop is not given until the very end of the routine, and the
right fielderis never identified, though an interpretation of the routine could give his name as "Naturally". At a point in the routine, Costello thinks that Naturally is the first baseman (because naturally, Who would get the ball if was thrown to first base). However, in the board game, the right fielder's name is "Nobody" [ [http://members.aol.com/acqtrly/faq.html Abbott & Costello Quarterly: FAQ ] ] . The skit serves as a climax for an Abbott and Costello radio broadcast which begins with Costello receiving a telegram from Joe DiMaggio. DiMaggio explains that he is recovering from an operation on his foot and asks Costello to take over for him. One could infer that Costello is the unmentioned right fielder, and that the unnamed team is the New York Yankees[http://www.archive.org/download/otr_abbottandcostello/Abbott_and_Costello_-_Whos_On_First_Original_30_Min_Live_Rad.mp3] .
Abbott's explanations leave Costello hopelessly confused and infuriated, until the end of the routine when he finally appears to catch on. "You got a couple of days on your team?" He never quite figures out that the first baseman's name literally is "Who". But after all this he announces, "I don't give a darn!" ("Oh, that's our shortstop.") That is the most commonly heard ending, which varied depending on the perceived sensibilities of the audience. The even milder "I Don't Care" was used in the version seen in the film "The Naughty Nineties". A recording of the obvious "I Don't Give a "Damn" has also turned up on occasion.
Numerous people over the years have claimed credit for writing the sketch, but such claims typically lack reasonable corroboration.
For example, in a 1993 obituary of writer Michael Musto, it stated that shortly after Abbott and Costello teamed up, they paid Musto $15 to write the script. [Neill, Brian. (November 1, 1993)
St. Petersburg Times. " [http://pqasb.pqarchiver.com/sptimes/access/51788949.html?dids=51788949:51788949&FMT=ABS&FMTS=ABS:FT&date=Nov+1%2C+1993&author=BRIAN+NEILL&pub=St.+Petersburg+Times&edition=&startpage=5.B&desc=Michael+Musto%2C+76%2C+writer%2C+filmmaker+Series%3A+OBITUARIES Michael Musto, 76, writer, filmmaker Series: OBITUARIES] " Section: Tampa Bay and State; Page 5B.]
Furthermore, in the 1996 obituary of songwriter
Irving Gordon, a claim was made that he had written the sketch.
In popular culture
The theme has been reprised many times. Some notable examples include:
Abbott and Costellocontinued to specialize in confused wordplay. In their film "Who Done It?" when their characters are trying to sort out watts and volts ("What are volts?" "That's right."), Lou cuts it short with, "Soon you'll be telling me What's on second base!" Also, at the beginning of their later film " Mexican Hayride", when Costello catches up with Abbott, Costello says, "Who told me there was oil in my backyard? Who got me to sell phoney stock to my friends? Who ran away with the money? Who got Mary mad at me? And if you're tired of hearing 'Who', I got a 'What' for you... on second base!"
* Late night television host
Johnny Carsongave a memorable rendition showing President Ronald Reaganbeing briefed by an aide. Puns were made with the names of Chinese leader Hu Yaobang(who?), of Yasser Arafat(yes, sir) and of Interior Secretary James Watt (what?). In 2003, an updated version of the routine circulated on the Internet featuring George W. Bush, replacing Watt with Kofi Annan(coffee?), identifying the aide as Condoleezza Rice(with eggroll?), Yasser Arafat("Yes, sir." "Yassir?") and replacing Hu Yaobang with Hu Jintao.
* On the 1949 radio detective drama
Richard Diamond, Private Detectiveactors Dick Powelland Ed BegleySr. playing Richard Diamond and Lt. Levinson respectively, get into a brief give-and-take over "Who's dead?" which Diamond ends with "Oh, he's on third, don't you know?". It became a running gag on the show with several attempts on the theme. In a later episode the routine is repeated, but this time prematurely interrupted by Levinson with "I know who's dead! He's on third!" Another time Levinson starts with "Who's dead?" again, but this time Diamond cuts him short with "Oh no, this is my routine. You're not cut out for it."
* The 1960s comedy group
The Credibility Gaprecorded a variant in which a rock concert promoter ( Harry Shearer) attempts to advertise a concert, headlined by The Who, The Guess Who, and Yes in the " Los Angeles Times". When the advertising manager David L. Landerasks him why he does not simply write the ad copy down, Shearer closes the routine by saying, "If I could write, I wouldn't have had to steal this bit!"
Eugene Levyand Tony Rosatoperformed a variation on this theme on the TV series SCTV, with the rock groups The Band, The Who, and Yes. The final punchline changed to "This is for the birds ( Byrds)!" "Oh, they split up years ago!"
:* Similarly, in an episode of "
Animaniacs", Slappy and Skippy Squirrel attend the first Woodstock Festival, where they pay homage to the routine by confusing the names of the bands The Who, The Band, and Yes.
Dick Van Pattenalso performed a similar version with one of his television sons, Adam Rich, on the sitcom Eight is Enoughduring the late seventies. [ [http://www.tv.com/eight-is-enough/whos-on-first/episode/17208/trivia.html Eight is Enough: Who's on First? Episode Trivia - TV.com ] ]
Ellen Raskin's 1979 novel, " The Westing Game", one of the tenants decides to rename a restaurant to "Hoo's on First" with "Hoo" referring to the last name of the owner, however, the restaurant is on the fifth floor and Hoo declines at first because of a rival coffee shop on the first floor. By the end, there are ten restaurants, named Hoo's on Second, Hoo's on Third, et al.
* In the 1984 movie "Purple Rain", the characters Morris and Jerome play on the theme in their "the password is what?" exchange.
* The 1988 Oscar-winning movie "
Rain Man" also heavily references the sketch. The movie's main character, Raymond (played by Dustin Hoffman), who is autistic, mutters the comedy routine as a defense mechanism when others become upset with him or something does not go his way.
* A sketch in an episode of the Canadian TV series "
The Kids in the Hall" features an attempt to stage the act, which is foiled by a straight man ( Dave Foley) who is at first inattentive, and then outsmarts the joke by explaining, in tedious detail, why the other comedian was confused. ("No no, Watt is on—oh, I see what your problem is! Look, you're confused by their names, because they all sound like questions.")
* An episode of "
U.S. Acres" featured three dog brothers named "Who", "What" and "Where", with predictable confusion.
* In "
The Wubbulous World of Dr. Seuss" episode "Horton Has a Hit!", Mr. Fox and Mr. Knox put on a similar routine regarding the character Cindy Lou Who:
*:Mr. Knox: Cindy Lou who?
*:Mr. Fox: That's the girl's name.
*:Mr. Knox: That's whose name?
*:Mr. Fox: That's what I've been trying to tell you.
* Canada's first all-comedy radio channel
CFHA, located in Saint John, New Brunswick, chose this routine as the first sketch aired on their station.
* An episode of "
Mystery Science Theater 3000" features a sketch in which Mike Nelsontells Tom Servoand Crow T. Robotthat his favorite form of Japanese theater is " Noh" theater in a way that is similar to the routine.
*:Mike: No, no, wait a minute. Noh theater started in Japan.
*:Servo: Oh, so now you tell us Japan doesn't have any theater whatsoever!
*:Mike: They have lots of theater, including Noh theater.
*:Crow: So they have lots of theater, and they have no theater?
* On "
The Simpsons", in the 1999 episode "", Superintendent Chalmersand Principal Skinnertry their hand at being Abbott and Costello, but Skinner botches the routine six seconds into the act (with delivery of the line, "Not the pronoun but a player with the unlikely name of Who, is on first"), frustrating Chalmers, and bringing the act to a quick end.
January 13, 2001episode of Saturday Night Liveincluded a "Who's On First" parodywith Charlie Sheenand Rachel Dratch.
* "MAD" magazine printed a modernized version of the sketch in which the duo attempt to organize
MTV's music videolibrary, which proves to be difficult because Costello takes Abbott's stating the song titles and band names literally. The original sketch's refrain of "I don't know/Third base!" was replaced by "You oughta know/ Alanis Morissette!" ["MAD" magazine #378 (Feb 1999).]
* The routine is referred to in the "
Veggie Tales" episode " Duke and the Great Pie War", released in 2005.
* A late-night show in Cleveland called
Big Chuck and Little Johnre-did the "Who's on First" sketch.
* Referenced in 2006 on "
Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" in the episode "The Wrap Party" by Aaron Sorkin, when Tom Jeterexplains the sketch to his father and describes it as the best comedy sketch ever. Tom gives a copy of the recording to his father and tells him that he will laugh as much the fiftieth time he listens to it as he will the first.
Shel Silverstein's "The Meehoo with an Exactlywatt" in " A Light In The Attic".
* The Jerky Boys released a CD called "
Stop Staring at Me!" which included a prank phone call titled "Nam Hu?" Character Frank Rizzo calls a man named Nam Hu and does a similar routine to the "Who's On First?" sketch.
* An episode of the television show "
South Park" entitled "" featured a skit in the beginning with the characters Terrance and Phillip doing a spoof of the routine, but instead of baseball, it was regarding flatulence. "Who's the guy that farted?" "Who's the guy's name!" etc.
* In an episode of
Grounded for Life, Walt Finnerty is shown in a flashback performing the routine.
* The puzzle-solving adventure game
Inherit the Earthhas a similar gag where Rif the Fox sneaks past a rat guard while his companions claim to be "Yassir Iyam" (yes, sir, I am) and "Hwour Yu" (Who are you). The routine is still continuing when you return, suggesting the companions kept the rat confused infinitely by the routine.
* On "
Between the Lions", a cartoon featured a camp with animals who have pronouns for names (i.e him, her, you). During roll-call, they get into a "Who's on First" routine with the counselor.
* The routine was imitated in the 2007 movie "
Rush Hour 3" where Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan are talking with a martial arts sensei and Chris Tucker is constantly asking "Who's Yu?" while the sensei is trying to answer with a continuation of the joke. A similar gag had already been included in the 2001 predecessor " Rush Hour 2".
* In the revised pilot for "
Father of the Pride", "Stage Fright", when Larry doesn't come on stage during the show, Siegfried and Roystall by putting on a comedy routine:
*:Siegfried: Roy, who's on first?
*:Roy: I am.
*:Siegfried: How is it over there?
* In a 2000 episode of
The PJs, Thurgood Stubbs and Smokey do this routine only based around theme of drug addiction (Crack).
*In the 1991 episode of
Seinfeld, called "The Tape," when George is trying to explain to Jerry how he became attracted to Elaine, and the conversation circles around, Jerry responds "What is this, an Abbot and Costello routine?"
*In 1996, the World Wrestling Federation introduced the masked wrestler Who, which gave the promotion's television commentators an excuse to make riffs resembling the routine. He was played by
*The platform adventure game,
Arcade America, the Director wants Joey to bring his monsters over to Woodstock. During the call, the director lists off all the people that couldn't come:Director: The band couldn't make it, the yes said no, the whos said what, I don't know.
Joey: Second base.
In Real Life
* During the
2007season, the Los Angeles Dodgersadded an infielder named Chin-Lung Hu. After Hu singled in a game against the San Diego Padres, Dodgers announcer Vin Scullyremarked "And Hu's on first."
1920, Allie Watt played one game at second base for the Washington Senators.
* [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7QclgrRYfaY Who's the President of China?] - a re-enactment of the classic "Who's on First" on YouTube - New York vs Atlanta style
* [http://www.baseball-almanac.com/humor4.shtml "Who's on First?" by Abbott and Costello - on Baseball Almanac] - accessed 2008-08-28
* [http://www.retrojunk.com/details_articles/549/ Johnny Carson's Who's on First? Reagan version] from retrojunk.com (scroll down)
* [http://www.mindfully.org/WTO/Hus-On-First-Sherman.htm Text of the Hu's on First? Bush version] from mindfully.org (also available from many other sites)
* [http://www.harryshearer.com/clips/who.ram Who's on First?]
The Credibility Gap's version of the routine.
* [http://www.maniacworld.com/star_wars_whos_on_first.html Who's On First (Star Wars Version)] Who's On First? sketch dubbed over
Yodaand Jar Jar Binksvideo snippets from the Star Warsfilms.
* [http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-8342445135331678445 Video of Abbott and Costello performing "Who's On First"?]
* [http://matthewbass.com/2008/01/01/whos-on-first/ Imitation performed live] at a North Carolinians for Home Education (NCHE) conference
* [http://loadingreadyrun.com/videos/view/214/its_very_simple "It's Very Simple"] - a variation by Canadian comedy website
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