"Who's on First?" is a comedy routine made famous by Abbott and Costello. The premise of the sketch is that Abbott is identifying the players on a baseball team for Costello, but their names and nicknames can be interpreted as non-responsive answers to Costello's questions. For example, 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 ("The name of the first baseman is 'Who'").
"Who's on First?" is descended from turn-of-the-century burlesque sketches that used plays on words and names. Examples are "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 vaudeville theatres), comedian Will Hay performed 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. Abbott's wife recalled Bud performing the routine with another comedian before teaming with Costello.
Bud Abbott stated that it was taken from an older routine called "Who's The Boss?", a performance of which can be heard in an episode of the radio comedy program It Pays to Be Ignorant from the 1940s. After they formally teamed up in burlesque in 1936, he 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".
In February 1938, Abbott and Costello joined the cast of The Kate Smith Hour 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. Glickman may have added the nicknames of then-contemporary baseball players like Dizzy and Daffy Dean to set up the routine's premise. This version, with extensive wordplay based on the fact that most of the 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 exactly the same way twice. They did the routine for President Franklin Roosevelt several times. An abridged version 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 longer version which is considered their finest recorded rendition. They also performed "Who's on First?" numerous times on radio and 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 National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, New York. A video (taken from The Naughty Nineties) now plays continuously on screens at the Hall.
In the 1970s, Selchow and Righter published a Who's on First? board game.
Who's on First?
In 1999, Time magazine named the routine Best Comedy Sketch of the 20th century.
An early radio recording was placed in the Library of Congress's National Recording Registry in 2003.
In 2005, the line "Who's on First?" was included on the American Film Institute's list of 100 memorable movie quotations.
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 fielder is never identified. In the Selchow and Righter board game, the right fielder's name is "Nobody".
At one point in the routine, Costello thinks that Naturally is the first baseman:
Abbott: You throw the ball to first base.
Costello: Then who gets it?
Abbott: Now you've got it.
Costello: I throw the ball to Naturally.
Abbott: You don't! You throw it to Who!
Abbott: Well, that's it—say it that way.
Costello: That's what I said.
Abbott: You did not.
Costello: I said I throw the ball to Naturally.
Abbott: You don't! You throw it to Who!
Abbott's explanations leave Costello hopelessly confused and infuriated, until the end of the routine when Costello finally appears to catch on.
Costello: Now I throw the ball to first base, whoever it is drops the ball, so the guy runs to second. Who picks up the ball and throws it to What. What throws it to I Don't Know. I Don't Know throws it back to Tomorrow—a triple play.
Abbott: Yeah, it could be.
Costello: Another guy gets up and it's a long fly ball to Because. Why? I don't know. He's on third, and I don't give a darn!
Abbott: What was that?
Costello: I said, I DON'T GIVE A DARN!
Abbott: Oh, that's our shortstop!
That is the most commonly heard ending. "I Don't Give a Damn" also turned up on occasion, depending on the perceived sensibilities of the audience.
The skit was usually performed on the team's radio series at the start of the baseball season. In one instance it serves as a climax for a broadcast which begins with Costello receiving a telegram from Joe DiMaggio asking Costello to take over for him due to his injury. (In this case, the unidentified right fielder would have been Costello himself.)
Writing credit 
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. Furthermore, several 1996 obituaries of songwriter Irving Gordon mention that he had written the sketch.
Notable performances and derivatives 
||This article needs additional citations for verification. (January 2012)
The sketch has been reprised, updated, alluded to, and parodied innumerable times over the years in all forms of media. Some notable examples include:
- Abbott and Costello occasionally referred to the skit. 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 phony 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!"
- Abbott and Costello also performed the routine with other partners. Sid Fields filled in for Abbott on a Walgreens anniversary radio special in 1945 when Bud was ill and was unable to perform. Fields also performed with Costello in Las Vegas in 1958 after Abbott and Costello split. Abbott did the routine with his new partner, Candy Candido, in 1961.
- Late night television host Johnny Carson gave a memorable rendition showing President Ronald Reagan being 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 G. 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.
- The comedy troupe The Credibility Gap did a rock group variation on this routine involving a promoter, played by Harry Shearer, and a newspaper advertising salesman, played by David L. Lander. The acts were The Who, The Guess Who and Yes.
- Shearer additionally plays off of the bit occasionally during his weekly radio broadcast Le Show; while imitating the voices of famous politicians having fictional conversations with each other about diplomatic visits to China, confusion ensues when discussing Chinese President Hu Jintao ("who?") and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao ("when?").
- Mad #378 (February 1999) included the article "Abbott & Costello Organize the MTV Videotape Library," written by Desmond Devlin and illustrated by Mort Drucker. The piece included a series of contemporary bands and songs that suited the theme (e.g. U2's "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" or No Doubt's "Don't Speak"). An example of the article's banter:
- Costello: I'll write it down. Let's start with this Tracy Chapman video. Tell me the name of the song.
- Abbott: "Give Me One Reason."
- Costello: I told you, so I can write it down. Now, tell me which Tracy Chapman song this is, please.
- Abbott: "Give Me One Reason."
- Costello: We're six months behind on the rent. You need a better reason? ...Here's a bunch of Alanis Morissette tapes, but they're all mixed up. Which song is this one?
- Abbott: "You Oughta Know."
- Costello: I don't know the names of the songs. Which song is this!?
- Abbott: "You Oughta Know!"
- Costello: But I DON'T know! What about this other Alanis Morissette video?
- Abbott: It's "Ironic."
- Costello: It's ironic that I don't know the name of the video?
- 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.")
- In the 1988 film Rain Man, autistic protagonist Raymond Babbitt (Dustin Hoffman in an Academy Award–winning performance) repeatedly mumbles this routine when nervous or frightened.
- In the Newbery Medal–winning book The Westing Game, the restaurant in Sunset Towers owned by James Shin Hoo and his family becomes more successful when its name is changed to Hoo's on First. Hoo's partner in the eponymous game suggests the name change, but he rejects it at first because he feels it would only make sense if the restaurant was on the first floor of the building, rather than the top floor. Eventually the business grows to be a chain of ten restaurants named sequentially, i.e. Hoo's on First through Hoo's on Tenth.
- A sketch using video from the video game World of Warcraft reworks this classic, using tanks and mages, and other World of Warcraft terms. It is called "Who's the Tank?". This WoW Machinima was created by Mike Davis and Mike Schroeder.
- The sketch comedy show In Living Color parodied the popular skit. David Alan Grier and Damon Wayans played the Reverend Al Sharpton and the Minister Louis Farrakan respectively.
- The comic strip Get Fuzzy did a variation that used a telephone switch board instead of bases ("Hu's on First")
- A question the fictional Quiz show Up Your Ante in the HBO Series Oz was asked about the routine. Omar White says he hates baseball while Augustus Hill says he hates Abbott & Costello.
- The World Wrestling Federation based a gimmick around the routine and gave it to Jim Neidhart, who was renamed 'Who'. The angle proved unpopular with fans and did not last long.
- The US Acres episode "Who Done It?" from the show Garfield and Friends shows a variation of the "Who's on First" routine, with three dogs hired as farmhands named Who, What, and Where causing similar confusion among the main characters (especially Roy Rooster).
- When Australian federal politicians Peter Costello and Tony Abbott sued Bob Ellis for allegations made about their sex lives in his book Goodbye Jerusalem, the Australian radio comedy drama How Green Was My Cactus made a parody of the sketch using the comedians' voices, not the politicians. Abbott tries to explain to Costello that they have been called next ("I thought you were called 'Abbott'?") to go before the Judge ("What time does he go?") to sue the book publisher ("Why do we have to go to her?").
- In 2009 Mark Esslinger produced a three minute short film "Who's on First?" based on the routine. It starred Mark and his eight-year-old daughter Lana Esslinger in the Costello role. The film went on to win Best Family Short at the 2009 Garden State Film Festival.
- Zach Weiner, in his comic Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, did a variation based on the Periodic table. He also composed a Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal Theater Short parodying the same skit.
- The popular TV show How I Met Your Mother adapted the routine for a sixth season episode titled "Hopeless" where the group is trying to decide which night club to go to. However, the names of the clubs, such as "Was", "Where", "Lame", etc. lead to nothing but confusion. The skit references the Abbott and Costello routine when the oldest character, played by John Lithgow blurts out, "I don't know. Third base!"
- 30 Rock characters Tracy Jordan and Jenna Maroney perform an adaptation of the skit, but much like Dustin Hoffman's character in Rain Man, do so without understanding the joke.
- On an episode of the TV show The Big Bang Theory, called "The Alien Parasite Hypothesis", Amy Farrah Fowler is explaining to Sheldon Cooper her attraction to a boy named Zach. When she first saw him, she let out the noise "hoo" uncontrollably. Sheldon gets confused when Amy tries to explain this, since he thinks that she is asking him the question "Who?" This leads to an altercation similar to the "Who's on First" routine.
- The routine has been referenced twice on Family Guy:
- In "Extra-Large Medium", Peter is needed to use his "psychic" abilities to find a missing person with a bomb strapped to him set to go off within moments. He channels the spirit of Lou Costello and learns from Joe the name of the guy they are looking for—Melvin Who. They do the first part of the routine before the bomb goes off, killing the missing person, and Peter admits he is not psychic.
- In "You Can't Do That on Television, Peter", Peter tries to do the routine with a puma, but it viciously attacks him, leading Meg to try and save him. When Peter is in the hospital at the end of the episode, the puma visits him as a gesture of apology, and gets that "Who" is the name of the person on first base.
- On the TV show The PJs, superintendent Thurgood Stubbs and Smokey do a comedy act based on the routine, with Thurgood playing a cop trying to clean up the neighborhood of its drug addicts and Smokey playing a drug-addicted informant. The routine is changed to "Who's on crack, Say What's on smack, and I Don't Know freebases", with Thurgood ending the routine with an irate "Shut up, you damn stupid crackhead!".
- Comedian Jimmy Fallon did a version of the routine in 2012 on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, trying to explain the names to his announcer Steve Higgins, and one by one the infielders enter the conversation: Billy Crystal as Who, Late Night head writer A. D. Miles as What, and Jerry Seinfeld as I Don't Know.
- On the TV show The Odd Couple, Felix and Oscar perform a version of this act.
Real-life parallels 
See also 
- ^ a b c Abbott and Costello in Hollywood ISBN 0-399-51605-0
- ^ "It's in the episode that opens with the question "What did the baggy pants-leg say to the other?"". Archive.org. Retrieved 2011-09-21.
- ^ This claim is made by Glickman's son. Glickman's obituary in Variety (23 March 1983) does not list the sketch among his credits.
- ^ "Best of the Century" Time Magazine, Sunday, Dec. 26, 1999.
- ^ "Abbott & Costello Fan Club: FAQ". Abbottandcostellofanclub.com. Retrieved 2011-09-21.
- ^ http://www.archive.org/download/otr_abbottandcostello/Abbott_and_Costello_-_Whos_On_First_Original_30_Min_Live_Rad.mp3
- ^ Neill, Brian. (November 1, 1993). "Michael Musto, 76, writer, filmmaker Series: OBITUARIES" St. Petersburg Times. Section: Tampa Bay and State; Page 5B.
- ^ http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/239116/Irving-Gordon
- ^ http://articles.latimes.com/1996-12-03/news/mn-5236_1_irving-gordon
- ^ Robert Lloyd (November 10, 1999). "Sketch Artists". LA Weekly. Retrieved 2011-09-21.
- ^ "SCTV: Midnight Express Special - Cast, Reviews, Summary, and Awards - AllRovi". Allmovie.com. 2011-09-08. Retrieved 2011-09-21.
- ^ Animaniacs Episode #59 (Ragamuffins / Woodstock Slappy) Original Air Date March 1, 1994
- ^ Mendoza, N.F. (August 14, 1994). "SHOWS FOR YOUNGSTERS AND THEIR PARENTS TOO : 'Animaniacs' get on the peace train; Disney's 'Red' gets a court trial". The Los Angeles Times (USA). Retrieved 1 October 2011.
- ^ http://www.funnyordie.com/videos/11202b7737/who-s-on-first
- ^ "Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal". Smbc-comics.com. Retrieved 2011-09-21.
- ^ "Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal". Youtube.
External links