Today, Bud Abbott and Lou Costello are best known for their wonderful “Who’s on First” routine, perhaps the single best known comedy bit in American history. But during their prime, they were one of the most popular and highest-paid acts in the entertainment business.
The guys became partners in 1935 on the burlesque stage in New York, and quickly realized they had something special. Their natural voices were similar, though, causing confusion to radio audiences. So Costello affected the high-pitched sound we now associate with him.
They did radio (The Chase and Sanborn Hour, The Abbott and Costello Show) and then moved to television (The Colgate Comedy Hour, The Abbott and Costello Show), but both had a similar format. Abbott and Costello reprised their familiar routines mixed with performances by popular musical acts.
In addition to radio and TV, they made 36 films. Among the most popular were their first starring role in Buck Privates, along with Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein and Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man. They were top ten box office draws every year from 1941 until 1952.
And, of course, there’s “Who’s on First.” They performed it in the movies, on radio, on TV, probably in the living room at Thanksgiving. And people loved it. We still love it. It’s wonderful wordplay, and immaculate timing. Two masters at work.