It’s probably the most recognized routine from the era. It’s the word play on words with double meanings. Costello is focused on interpreting the words in their strict usage in grammar, while Bud has changed their meanings as pronouns or phrases to be proper nouns as the names of the players. Though it ought to be an obvious miscommunication between the two, neither can remove his thought process outside his own definition of that word.
They had a similar routine using the old U-Drive company, later to become known as the Hertz Rental Car company. A name change that didn’t help out their act so much.
A lot more of their comedy centered on relationships from dating, to marriage, to divorce. Animals and kids were frequent themes, as when Bud and Lou went to the circus, or on a lion hunt.
Memorable moments on the radio include such things asJack Benny’s responce to getting robbed and confronted with the line, “Your money or your life!”
Catch phrases and signature lines like:
* Taint funny McGee,
* If I dood it I’ll get a whipping
*That ain’t the way I heared it
* Jimmy Durant’s nose
* Fibber McGee’s closet
* Abner Peabody getting confused over Lum’s common figures of speech. (Old Eddards sayings)
* Fibber and Molly getting Mayor Latrivia flustered over his use of a harmless figure of speech.
Those character trademarks make for a flexible platform to set up any number of situations, using the same routine, but with any variety of variables to make the routine a little different every time. The same, but a little different, and when we begin to recognize the set up, we wait to see what new creation the characters will come up with this time.
We can always count on Crosby and Hope bickering like an old married couple. For that matter, the Bickersons bickering like an old married couple. Jack Benny created his stingy, insecure, childish, bossy persona over years to be a routine in itself that can be plugged into any setting to put his comic flavor in it.
Plenty of comedy formulas to be sure, but when it comes down to a complete comedy routine, that has stood the test of time, I think the “Who’s on First” routine is hard to beat. It’s one that can be easy to ad lib, the structure of the humor is there, and it’s always funny.
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