Who's on First?

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"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.[1]

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.[2] 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".[1]

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.[1] 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.[3] 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?" Some versions continue with references to Enos Slaughter, which Costello misunderstands as "He knows" Slaughter. 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.

In 1999, Time magazine named the routine Best Comedy Sketch of the 20th century.[4]

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".[5]

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: Naturally.
Costello: Naturally.
Abbott: Now you've got it.
Costello: I throw the ball to Naturally.
Abbott: You don't! You throw it to Who!
Costello: Naturally.
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!
Costello: Naturally.

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 Care" and "I Don't Give a Damn" have 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.[6] (In this case, the unidentified right fielder would have been Costello himself. However, this is unlikely, seeing how DiMaggio was a center fielder, which is Because in this skit.)

Writing credit[edit]

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.[7] Furthermore, several 1996 obituaries of songwriter Irving Gordon mention that he had written the sketch.[8][9]

Notable performances and derivatives[edit]

The sketch has been reprised, updated, alluded to, and parodied innumerable times over the years in all forms of media. Some notable examples include:

Real-life parallels[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Abbott and Costello in Hollywood ISBN 0-399-51605-0
  2. ^ "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. 
  3. ^ This claim is made by Glickman's son. Glickman's obituary in Variety (23 March 1983) does not list the sketch among his credits.
  4. ^ "Best of the Century" Time Magazine, Sunday, Dec. 26, 1999.
  5. ^ "Abbott & Costello Fan Club: FAQ". Abbottandcostellofanclub.com. Retrieved 2011-09-21. 
  6. ^ http://www.archive.org/download/otr_abbottandcostello/Abbott_and_Costello_-_Whos_On_First_Original_30_Min_Live_Rad.mp3
  7. ^ Neill, Brian. (November 1, 1993). "Michael Musto, 76, writer, filmmaker Series: OBITUARIES" St. Petersburg Times. Section: Tampa Bay and State; Page 5B.
  8. ^ http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/239116/Irving-Gordon
  9. ^ Oliver, Myrna (December 03, 1996). "Irving Gordon; Composer of 'Unforgettable'". Los Angeles Times. 
  10. ^ Robert Lloyd (November 10, 1999). "Sketch Artists". LA Weekly. Retrieved 2011-09-21. 
  11. ^ "SCTV: Midnight Express Special - Cast, Reviews, Summary, and Awards - AllRovi". Allmovie.com. 2011-09-08. Retrieved 2011-09-21. 
  12. ^ Animaniacs Episode #59 (Ragamuffins / Woodstock Slappy) Original Air Date March 1, 1994
  13. ^ 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. 
  14. ^ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hopeless_(How_I_Met_Your_Mother)#Cultural_references
  15. ^ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WT-VNgbdz60
  16. ^ ""Who's On First?": The Sequel (w/ Jimmy Fallon, Billy Crystal & Jerry Seinfeld)" (in English). Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. 20 Dec 2012. Retrieved 26 January 2014. 

External links[edit]