Lou Costello: The Man on First

Lou Costello in “Who’s on First?”

 “Any great comedy is how far you can take this silly idea” Jerry Seinfeld.

Eminence

Lou Costello first began his work in comedy in 1930 as a minor burlesque comedian. He would then later meet his perfect straight man Bud Abbott, who Lou would team up with in 1936. Finding better success as a duo, the team soon became a hit in radio and film, quickly finding themselves among the most popular, respected, and highest paid entertainers during their time. In 1938, Abbott and Costello would perform their routine “Who’s on First?” that would later be deemed the best comedy routine of the 20th century.

Based on many other wordplay routines, this hysterical routine revolving around a baseball team manager and his weird player names placed Abbott and Costello as some of the best performers in radio, film, and television. Before Lou would work in the field of film and comedy, he had a life in sports. Recognized as a gifted athlete in school, Lou excelled in baseball and basketball, even winning an athletic scholarship to Cornwall-on-Hudson Military School. But unexpectedly, Lou Costello would turn down this offer to pursue his performing career. This was due to two major reasons. Firstly, Lou feared that the amount of work and effort he would need to put in to become a top athlete in Hollywood would be too much for him and would ultimately not be worth it. Secondly, Lou was inspired by exceptional silent film actor Charlie Chaplin since he was a boy and wanted to be just as good as him in Hollywood. With these two factors in mind, Lou traveled to Hollywood to become a respected actor. It was easier said than done though, with Lou only able to secure stunt man work in his first few years of moving. It was not until the mid 30s when Lou would move from film to stage work, becoming a growing comedian. Lou had to endure through many obstacles in the start of his career to reach his status now, but the eminence he holds now is immeasurable to the world of comedy. Lou Costello died on March 3, 1959 at the age of 52 from a heart attack. It has already been 60 years since his passing, but Lou Costello’s legacy has continued to live on until today. His exceptional work in his performing career won him 3 Hollywood Walk of Fame stars in TV, film and radio. The “ding” he has left has inspired millions of people in America, where even the hometown of Lou (Paterson, New Jersey) would name the Lou Costello Memorial Park, complete with a statue of Costello holding a baseball bat in 1992. Finally, Lou Costello along with Bud Abbott would be among some of the only names memorialized in the National Baseball Hall of Fame for their work on “Who’s on First?”. A video of the routine continues to loop even today in the exhibit area. 

Personal Connections

I first saw Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on first” sketch when I was about 7 years old. Frankly, I doubt I understood anything back then, but I still always find myself going back to re watch the infamous skit as well as many of the duo’s other greatest hits. Comedian Lou Costello and Straight Man Bud Abbott are some of the biggest names in comedy today, whom I greatly look up to. When it was time for this project to come around, I had already had my eyes on Lou Costello, as I wish to both express my love for his work and learn more about the life outside of the stage.  As Lou Costello is one of my biggest role models, I connect to both his comedic writing and preforming abilities, as well as his work in film and television. I have always had a knack for comedy and getting laughter out of people, and I greatly respect and admire the way Lou is able to do it. The way he can deliver comedy in such an innocent almost quirky way; he never fails to disappoint me. His work in film and television is also worth mentioning as Lou’s comedy career was greatly boosted by his films and television specials. Film is also a field of work that I am passionate about, so I believe I can connect with Lou even greatly with these similarities. Some qualities that I believe capture the essence of Lou Costello include determined and passionate. These qualities can be displayed through a story that began in 1942. As Abbott and Costello’s fame was rapidly growing in the late 1930s and early 1940s, Lou had struck an obstacle in his life. One that may change his entire career. Lou Costello was diagnosed with rheumatic fever, a disease that affects the heart, brain, joints, and skin. This had resulted in Lou staying out of radio and film for an entire year, when it may have been most critical. Lou then returned in 1943 but was struck with another tragedy. His infant son “Little Butch” had drowned in the family pool, just 2 days away from his first birthday. And although this could have been a great day for mourning, Lou Costello did not cancel his special comeback broadcast but rather stated “Wherever he is tonight, I want him to hear me”. His broadcast that night was rather hilarious and just as successful as before. Nobody knew of the child’s death, until Bud Abbott mentioned it to audience at the end of the show, emphasizing that the phrase “The show must go on!” was proudly displayed through Lou’s actions. This story shows that even though Costello faced incredible tragedies in his life, he continues to push through. He stays determined that he can still do what he wasn’t able to for an entire year. Even if he had his son unexpectedly die, Lou still had that burning passion within him to continue the show. These qualities are ones in which that I may possess fragments of, but I strive to improve to the extent of how Costello did. The next handful of years grew Abbott and Costello into the staple name they are today. One key goal that I have here in the TALONS program is to be a leader amongst leaders. Being placed in a program that emphasizes on being social and taking initiative, I am striving to be a respected leader in my environment. Lou Costello exemplifies my goal for also being respected and noticed among the masses. Through his work in comedy, he brings laughter and joy to people every single day and had the power to influence many people in whichever way he chose. To the public eye, he was a natural performer and pioneer in his field of work. A few barriers that I will come across while trying to connect with Lou Costello include my race, my upbringing, and my geography. Firstly, I am a Korean Canadian that was born and raised here in BC, while Lou Costello was an American with ties from Italy, France, and Ireland that was raised in New Jersey. Lou Costello was also a renowned athlete in his youth years, which that I am not. I believe these barriers will not need to be addressed in my speech, as I will be writing and presenting in the form of Bud Abbott, not myself.

A specific I want to set for my research next is finding out more about Lou Costello’s various films and radio shows, as I have only understood the face value of these components.

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“That was the best ice-cream soda I ever tasted” – Lou Costello, reported final words.