Play On Words
Updated: Nov 5, 2021
Sometime in the 1970s, a local Los Angeles television station began running Abbott and Costello movies on Sunday mornings. I was never the sports or outdoorsy type, and I had no religious commitments, so my Sunday mornings were usually spent in front of the television once I returned home from my paper route.
I was awestruck by the two comedians. Their timing was impeccable but what struck me most was the way they mangled the English language. Costello with his literal interpretation of words:
ABBOTT: That’s a heard of cows.
COSTELLO: Of course I heard of cows. What do you think I am, stupid?
And ABBOTT using words as a trap:
ABBOTT: Have you ever ridden a Jackass?
ABBOTT: Well, you better get on to yourself.
With the help of a vaudevillian dramaturge named John Grant, Abbott and Costello had an endless array of routines and gags that served them through 36 movies, 56 half-hour television shows, and several radio appearances.
Their work influenced me as a comic actor and writer. Alejandro Lang and I got hired at Universal Studios Hollywood among other places, by doing an Abbott and Costello impression. Similar wordplay can be found in some of my farces.
Their most famous routine, Who’s On First?, had been around for years before adopting it. They just did it better than anyone else.