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Who's on First

Started by Barry Admin, May 13, 2022, 12:13:47 AM

Previous topic - Next topic

Ballad of Ballard Berkley

Quote from: Brundle-Fly on May 16, 2022, 06:15:13 PMAs a kid, I also liked Abbott & Costello Go To Mars (1953) from what I remember. It is of specific interest for the comedy enthusiast, because it features Harry Shearer, no less!

On a vaguely similar tip, here's a 12-year-old Kurt Russell kicking Elvis in the shin.

Russell later went on to play The King in John Carpenter's 1979 biopic.


Quote from: Vonscharpling on May 16, 2022, 02:37:49 PMThere was a version I saw on the comedy central website probably more than ten years ago and I just can't seem to find it anywhere.

It was a clip that was presumably taken from a live to a theatre audience sketch show featuring two American guys that I don't *think* were that famous. And they performed the routine but with the real names of baseball players "I'm asking YOU emiliano Rodriguez is on first"

Does anyone have any idea what I might be thinking of?

That was the Slovin and Allen routine referenced above. Here's a link.

I used to have a live recording of them doing their Tito Martinez "Who's On First?" and then transitioning into French for no reason.


Quote from: Ballad of Ballard Berkley on May 16, 2022, 06:48:30 PMOn a vaguely similar tip, here's a 12-year-old Kurt Russell kicking Elvis in the shin.

"Adults.They're all nutz!"

That Police Squad sketch is the pinnacle of the genre for me; beautifully written and acted, never fails to amuse me and I must have seen it a hundred times.  The Abbot and Costello sketch goes on a bit, but it's nice to see the genesis of this kind of heavy wordplay skit.

On the other hand, here's an example of how not to do it.

It sounds like it was hurriedly written by a 12 year old, thinking they were being clever.  Maybe it was.


Chuckle Brothers doing a sort of version of this from about 2m55s


and one in a Garfield cartoon:

(namechecks Abbott & Costello)


The amount of work the sound effects guy did on that first short is absolutely minimal.  It's like he listened to the first three tracks on HB01 and went 'yeah fuck it, that'll do'.

Famous Mortimer


Thought I'd mentioned this already, but the Dodgers had a Taiwanese minor league prospect by the name of Chin-Lung Hu who made a few appearances in the majors and hit at least one single.

I remember Vin Scully (I think?) getting terribly excited about loudly announcing "Hu's on first".

Can't find the clip on youtube, annoyingly.


Quote from: Ferris on June 14, 2022, 03:59:08 PMThought I'd mentioned this already, but the Dodgers had a Taiwanese minor league prospect by the name of Chin-Lung Hu who made a few appearances in the majors and hit at least one single.

I remember Vin Scully (I think?) getting terribly excited about loudly announcing "Hu's on first".

Can't find the clip on youtube, annoyingly.

Here's a phone-pointed-at-the-TV clip of it.

Quote from: zomgmouse on June 02, 2022, 04:25:26 AMChuckle Brothers doing a sort of version of this from about 2m55s

Well, I enjoyed that.

Also, isn't that their older brother, Jimmy, who was part of his own comedy brother-based duo? The other brother, Brian, likely plays the character mentioned in the monologue at the end of the sketch. Same catchphrase.


More back and forth comedy.


Quote from: Barry Admin on May 13, 2022, 01:17:49 PMJesus Christ this is fucking brilliant, thanks again. I'm this far in:

...and I just wanna know more more more and don't want it to end. I really love this kind of wordplay when it's well done, the "Airplane!" scene above is one that always lives with me....

Many belated thanks for starting the thread; it's great to see so much discussion. I had meant to respond sooner but hadn't be able to.

Really glad that you liked that article - there's some irony as it was one of the last things I found about it but provides by the far the best  overview.  However, it was fun finding various bits and pieces about the routine and its history, and it was all useful when assessing this article.

Quote from: Barry Admin on May 13, 2022, 01:17:49 PMI'm dying to know more about burlesque comedy now, this has been fascinating.

Slowly I Turned is one significant routine that's definitely worth looking at - many versions have been recorded and it's a classic example of the way that a burlesque comedy routine can be performed differently by different performers. There are many variations on the theme and sure that people can think of examples. It also highlights one of the problems with looking at burlesque comedy - often, 'vaudeville' will be misleadingly referred to instead. Wikipedia is incredibly bad for this. For instance, the entry for Joey Faye (more on him in a bit) one of the people who lay claim to originating Slowly I Turned, has no mention of burlesque, just vaudeville - although he did work in vaudeville, he had far more experience in burlesque and when he died, this was reflected in his obituaries.

My gut feeling is that this is for a number of reasons - e.g. burlesque had nothing to do with comedy or when it did, the comedy was lousy and the good stuff was in vaudeville;  a belief that vaudeville and burlesque can be used interchangeably and general misunderstandings about burlesque comedy.  An elderly Faye appeared in a show with a modern performer in the 1990s, who was involved in burlesque comedy recreations and who said people looked confused when he said he performed in burlesque (but isn't that just strippers?) - - around the 20 minute mark, Faye is asked about how he got his ideas and like his response of 'there was general thievery all round' and makes an interesting claim that Mary Chase's Harvey was inspired by a burlesque skit. Leslie Zemeckis, who directed a documentary about burlesque in the first half of the twentieth century, Behind the Burly Q and followed the up with a book of the same name (which I have but haven't got round to reading yet), said in one interview that when she started the project, hadn't appreciated just how important  the comedy was or how big some of the burlesque houses were.

Although there are crossovers and similarities between vaudeville and burlesque, there are significant differences. For example, American burlesque comedy started at the beginning of the 1840s and replicated Victorian burlesque and other European burlesque, sending up serious plays and operas (and the well to do who patronised them); Lynda Thompson in the tail-end of the 1870s was another significant British influence. So by the time Abbott & Costello first performed Who's on First? on the radio, burlesque comedy in America was approaching in its centenary and was in its dying days. Whereas, American vaudeville - although in some ways also imported from Europe - really originated from variety shows held in saloons during the 1860s, which is a couple of decades earlier than vaudeville is normally said to have started in the US (as suggested elsewhere in the thread).

Burlesque was for the working people; vaudeville aimed more at the middle and upper-classes. The former was a lot more affordable and comedian Joe Cook ( as quoted in James Curtis' biography of WC Fields stated, it "was at one time the swellest entertainment you could find. It was a mixture, at a lower price, of most of the good qualities of musical comedy, plus the good qualities of vaudeville."  That said, there were upmarket presentations and as Curtis comments,  Ziegfeld's Follies of 1907 was a revue "that dressed burlesque up in jewels and evening wear and took New York by storm." The famous chorus line was pure burlesque and many of the top talents employed, such as Fields and Will Rogers had grafted hard in burlesque.Vaudeville was dominated by a small amount of powerful booking agencies/individuals, very unlike burlesque.

But I digress....

Turning back to Slowly I Turned, a decent summary is in Wikipedia (albeit referring it to a vaudeville routine):

QuoteThe routine features a man [usually a man but not exclusively] recounting the day he took his revenge on his enemy – and becoming so engrossed in his own tale that he attacks the innocent listener to whom he is speaking. The attacker comes to his senses, only to go berserk again when the listener says something that triggers the old memory again.

Typically, the routine has two characters meeting for the first time, with one of them becoming highly agitated over the utterance of particular words. Names and cities (such as Niagara Falls) have been used as the trigger, which then sends the unbalanced person into a dissociative state; the implication is that the words have an unpleasant association in the character's past. While the other character merely acts bewildered, the crazed character relives the incident, uttering the words, "Slowly I turned ... step by step ... inch by inch...," as he approaches the stunned onlooker.

Reacting as if this stranger is the object of his rage, the angry character begins hitting or strangling him, until the screams of the victim shake him out of his dissociative state. The character then apologizes, admitting his irrational reaction to the mention of those certain words. This follows with the victim innocently repeating the words, sparking the insane reaction all over again. This pattern is repeated in various forms, sometimes with the entrance of a third actor, uninformed as to the situation. This third person predictably ends up mentioning the words and setting off the manic character, but with the twist that the second character, not this new third person, is still the recipient of the violence.

Some examples of versions:

I would say that there are variations of this theme when someone hasn't committed revenge but is engrossed in recollecting something. For instance, one of the Pink Panther films, where Lom's Dreyfus is relaying to his psychiatrist about his recurring thoughts about Clouseau ( Another is in the first Road to... film where Jerry Colonna becomes so indignant when someone questions whether he has seen Bing Crosby's character that he begins to acting out that physical treatment that was metered out to him.

Going back to Faye, he worked as second banana to Phil Silvers in two hit Broadway shows - one of which was, very appropriately, Top Banana. The musical is about an egotistical comedian of a hit show, whose ratings are flagging. Silvers came up with the idea for it and based the comedian, for some unknown reason, on his good friend Milton Berle. (Interestingly, Berle, Silvers and Martha Rae were three brilliant comedians whose careers all had a huge boost when Nat Hiken wrote for them. Berle has been trying to crack radio for over a decade but only managed this when Hiken took over and led to a quick move to TV. Rae had been somewhat hampered by issues like one film studio trying to launch her as a glamour girl (although not quite a crazy idea as it might appear) and her tendency to get a reaction from the audience by any means, which could go against her and which Hiken tempered and when he produced/wrote her show, it rivalled Lucille Ball's. Silvers had for the first time someone that could really deliver the lines he deserved). In Top Banana, someone asks Silvers what a top banana means and he explains that it's the leading comedian in a burlesque show and the term originates from a burlesque skit, which they demonstrate - this is from the film version and in that muddy clip, Joey Faye plays Pinky and Herbie Faye (no relation) is on the left playing Moe. Herbie had worked with Silvers in burlesque in the 1920s and memorably played Private Fender in The Phil Silvers Show (there's one episode where Bilko addresses him with something like 'You, Fender, who I've known the longest' which I like to think as a reference to that); Joey guest starred in Bilko as Harry Speakup's partner in the episode mentioned elsewhere in the thread). The soundtrack version is easier to make out Naturally, the banana routine is one that Abbot & Costello performed: Berle later also starred in a production of Top Banana and would also perform the titular song on The Muppet Show with Fozzie Bear -

From what I've read, in the States, people were looking back with nostalgia at burlesque from the 1940s and even before. In various media, such as radio,  that's something I would say is in evidence. Although I'm not entirely sure, I think this was play in the Barbara Stanwyck film, Lady of Burlesque (, adapted from a novel, The G-String Murders by iconic burlesque performer, Gypsy Rose Lee. Ostensibly about a murderer strangling showgirls with their own g-strings, the murder-mystery element often takes a rear seat to the stage performances and life behind the scenes - when I first caught it on TV, it was the latter that I was taken with. (I was also interested to learn that one of Stanwyck's first gigs was being a chorus girl in Ziegfeld's Follies. I've read claims that Irving Klaw's Teaserama was playing to nostalgia, which I have to raise my eyebrows at but it does enable us to experience the jaw-droppingly incompetent comedy stylings of Joe E Ross and Dave Starr - It's incredible to think that Nat Hiken saw Ross' nightclub act around this time and thought 'I could use him... ' and cast him as Ritzik in The Phil Silvers Show, but then again, Hiken saw the potential of his rugged mug and gravelly mug. From the sublime to the ridiculous...

Ballad of Ballard Berkley

A magnificent post, Ignatius.


Interesting that Slowly I Turned uses violence as the punchline. When I did a CaB Radio show about US burlesque from the 1890s I got rather upset that there was so much racist violence in it, and a large number of the recordings on use beating the shit out of the Irish/Chinese/German straight man as the punchline. And these were the most famous and successful comedians of the day recording their best material.

Despite what would appear to be a blindingly obvious origin for the word 'punchline', it was first coined in the 1920's and with no reference to the popular comedy beatings of the generation before.

[Just to give a slight contextual contrast to the word play comedy that this thread is celebrating.]


Was watching Silver Streak for the first time in years (decades even), when it took a pleasing diversion into this territory, so had to share it here. It seems like a clumsy attempt at that kind of wordplay at first, but the payoff makes it all worth it.

Apologies for terrible clip quality - looks like it's been filmed off an old CRT TV.

Spoiler alert
Also, whoever uploaded it cut it off before the sheriff's reaction - 'Dead - so that makes four?', which is unfortunate, to say the least.