The Straight Man's
Straight Man!

"Bud Abbott was the best straight man ever!"
-Groucho Marx-


The Straight Man is a stock character in a comedy performance, especially a double act, sketch comedy, or farce.

When a comedy partner behaves eccentrically, a straight man's response may range from aplomb to outrage, or from patience to frustration, but never laughter, making the partner look all the more ridicules by being completely serious. The ability to maintain a serious demeanor in the face of even the most preposterous comedy is crucial to a successful straight man. Whatever direct contribution to the comedy a straight man provides, usually comes in the form of deadpan.

In vaudeville, effective straight men were much less common than comedians. The straight man's name usually appeared first, and he usually received 60% of the take. This helped take the sting out of not being the laugh-getter and helped ensure the straight man's loyalty to the team. 

The template for the double act began in the British music halls and the American vaudeville scene of the late nineteenth century. Here, the "straight man" was a necessity, as he would repeat the lines of the "comic." This was done simply because the audience was noisy, and repeating a joke gave the audience a better chance of hearing it. Soon the dynamic developed so that the "straight man" became a more integral part of the act, setting up jokes to which the comic would then deliver the punchline. The dynamics continued to develop with Abbott and Costello, using a modern and recognizable formula in routines such as, Who's On First?

(Courtesy of "Double Act" and Wikipedia) 

Bud with Harry Steppe at the Empress Theater 1930

From an early age, Bud Abbott was destined for show business.

Bud's father, Harry Abbott, was an advance man for the Barnum and Bailey Circus, and his mother, Rae, was a bareback rider for the troupe. She left the circus to keep house in Asbury Park, New Jersey, and raise four children -- Harry, Jr., Olive, William Alexander (Bud), and Florence (Babe). Ultimately, all of the Abbott offspring landed in show business -- all in burlesque.

Following Bud's birth on October 2, 1895, the Abbotts moved to Coney Island, where they lived for eighteen years. Bud left St. Paul's Grade School when he could finally "outrun the truant officers" for the lures of the boardwalk. In a 1959 interview, Bud commented, "I wish I'd gone to high school. We came from a very poor family, and we all had to get out and hustle for the folks." One of his first jobs was at Dreamland Park. For 10 cents Bud would rescue customers lost inside the first Crystal Maze. He worked as a candy butcher, sign painter, house mover, and even operated the parachute ride.

When Harry, Sr., tired of traveling with the circus, went to work for the organizers of the first of the burlesque circuits, the Columbia Wheel, the cleanest and classiest of the "wheels," Bud hounded his father for a job and Harry relented. There was an opening in the box office of a Brooklyn burlesque house, and sixteen-year-old Bud stepped in.

As the assistant treasurer of the Casino Theater (located off Temple Square), Bud met and paid off some of the fast-rising stars of the day, including W.C. Fields, Fanny Brice, Bert Lahr, Jack Pearl and Sophie Tucker. One of the most popular comedy teams of the 1930's, Bobby Clark and Paul McCullough, played the Casino in their formative years. (In 1939, Abbott and Costello would work with Clark on Broadway in Streets of Paris). When he should have been minding the store, young Bud was backstage, studying how the comedians held an audience, timed the jokes, and built the laughs, Bud Abbott was obviously a very good student, with a very discerning eye.  

Billy Gilbert, an ex-burlesque comedian and probably best remembered for his run-ins with Laurel and Hardy, recalled giving Bud his first taste of the stage. In the introduction to Leonard Maltin's Movie Comedy Teams, Gilbert wrote that Bud "was a ticket-taker in a theater I played in. When my straight man didn't show up one day I remembered a bright kid out front and sent for him to replace my missing straight man. He was so good, I kept him in the show. I was twenty-two  years old and he was nineteen." Bud still had a few more years to go before permanently moving onto the stage.

In 1918, while he was the treasurer of the National Theater, a burlesque house in Washington, D.C., Bud met a pretty chorine whose stage name was Betty Smith (she was born Jenny Mae Pratt). A week later they were married in a courthouse at Alexandria, Virginia. Bud and Betty moved on to Cleveland for a stint at the Empire Theater, where Bud worked as a manager and Betty as a soubrette. Finally, in 1923, Bud borrowed $1,500 from an uncle, a treasurer at Tammany Hall, to stage his own tab show, Broadway Flashes, on the Gus Sun circuit. "That consisted of about ten girls, a straight man, a comic, a prima dona, and a soubrette," Bud explained in a 1959 interview. "I put the company together, but I wasn't an actor then. I just got a hold of some cheap scenery and some cheap wardrobe and put it out on the road. Those were hard, plugging days. I went into the show as a straight man because I wanted to save the straight man's salary. I looked at him and said, 'Why am I paying this guy $50 a week when I can do the same thing myself?' " 

When the tour dissolved, Bud and Betty landed in Detroit at the National Theater, where Bud, now a producer, staged a new show every week for three years. Occasionally, Bud would fill in for an indisposed straight man and work with the comics. When he was finally confident enough to make a permanent move from producer to performer, he and Betty developed an act with Bud as the straight man and Betty the comic. A booker for the Hertigan-Seamans circuit was a friend of Bud's father, and he signed the couple to a three year contract.

Bud's cousin, Al Golden, was one of the top straight men in the business. (In the 1930's, Golden teamed briefly with future Three Stooges member Joe DeRita.) As the show business critic Joe Laurie, Jr., once observed, "A good straight man can make a fair comic look good, and a great comic look better." Al instructed Bud on technique, and Bud closely followed his cousin's advice. Bud was always proud of the fact that he succeeded on stage without resorting to the outlandish costumes or heavy make-up so typical of burlesque comedians. He wore an ordinary business suit, and it became his trademark. Bud quickly became one of burlesque's best straight men, and, although he worked primarily with Betty, comics were lining up to work with him.

Courtesy of "Abbott and Costello in Hollywood" by Ron Palumbo and Bob Furmanek. 
The Birth of a Team 

If Bud and Lou hadn't bumped into each other before, they certainly did in January 1933, when Costello was booked into the Republic at the same time as Bud and Betty (Abbott). At this time, Lou was teamed with Jimmy Francis, but worked with Abbott for one sketch -- the "Piano Scene," (Also known as "All Right"). The Abbott, in this case was not Bud, but Betty, who was an excellent straight woman in her own right. Over the next two years, Bud and Lou's paths would cross many times.

At the end of 1933, Bud was producing the stock shows at Newark's Empire Theater and working with a comedian named Harry Evanson. Betty Abbott and Milt Bronson were also in the company. Meanwhile, Lou was back at Minsky's Republic in a show headlined by Ann Corio. In 1934, Lou joined forces with straight man Joe Lyons, and the pair signed with the Independent Wheel, a Minsky competitor. John Grant, who would later become their head gag and comedy writer in Hollywood, was producing shows for the Independent Wheel. By the end of 1934, Lyons and Costello's contract with the Indy and Abbott and Evanson's contract with the Minsky's had ended. Both teams landed in stock burlesque at the Eltinge Theater on 42nd Street in January 1935. Over the next three months, Bud and Lou really got to know each other and, although they had other partners, performed together. Betty Abbott performed in sketches with both teams, as did Milt Bronson. "Bud put on a scene for Lou," Betty recalled in a 1979 interview. "It was the "Lemon Bit" that Bud had done with Harry Steppe. And they worked wonderfully together. People started to say, 'Why don't you team up?' " After the engagement, Abbott and Costello went their separate ways until the end of the year, when they met up again and decided to formally team. Their first show together was probably early in January 1936.   

Bud and Lou standing beside billboard for Life Begins at Minsky's (1936)

The new team was immediately signed by the Minsky's, and for three months they bounced back and forth between the Republic and Minsky's Brooklyn theater. In April, Bud and Lou briefly toured with Life Begins at Minsky's, a show that brought that unique brand of burlesque to cities in the east. Bud and Lou always kept their act clean. "An audience may laugh at you for off-color jokes when they're in the theater," Bud once explained, "but when they get outside and talk it over, their opinion of you is pretty low."

When they returned to New York in May, Abbott and Costello were spotted by a young talent booker named Eddie Sherman, and who would later become their manager. Sherman needed a couple of comics to round out a minstrel show at Atlantic City's Steel Pier for the summer season. "In those days," Sherman explained in an interview, "the strippers were the big attraction, and they had to follow the strippers. Which made it a little difficult for a few minutes. But once they got into their routines, they just wrecked the audience." Sherman brought the minstrel show's producer, Frank Elliott, to have a look. On May 19, Abbott and Costello signed with Elliott's show for eleven weeks, commencing June 26, at $145 a week. "Never got in the water," Bud recalled, "because we were busy doing 812 shows a day. But we could see it occasionally."

The boys then returned to burlesque with an exclusive thirty-nine-week contract with another burlesque impresario, Max Wilner. The team shuttled between Wilner's two showcases -- the Apollo on 42nd (a few doors down from Minsky's Republic) and the Shubert in Philadelphia. Bud and Lou developed their consummate sense of timing and honed their classic material -- including Who's On First? -- to perfection during this period. 

By the time the team's contract with Wilner expired in April, 1937, burlesque itself didn't have much longer to live. Abbott and Costello worked at the Star Theater in Brooklyn for just two days before Mayor LaGuardia ordered all the burlesque theaters closed on April 30. Bud and Lou were forced to go legitimate. Fortunately, the boys had already been booked for a second summer at the Steel Pier ... with a $5 raise!

"After the Steel Pier," Bud explained, "we signed with Leddy and Smith, producers of a traveling (vaudeville) unit called "Hollywood Bandwagon." The troupe toured Springfield, Boston, Cleveland, Montreal, Toronto, Detroit and Indianapolis. Bud and Lou performed the "Drill Routine" and "Who's On First?," which according to Variety, was the big hit of the show. "We remained with Leddy and Smith," Bud continued, "until we got stranded in Milwaukee. Then we went to work for Eddie Sherman." Sherman got them humble gigs at first, like the Willow Grove amusement park in Pennsylvania for $20. They paid Sherman a $2 commission. "And you know how much Abbott and I spent that afternoon on the rides at the park? Right -- $18!" Lou recalled.

Finally, a booker for the Loew's circuit caught them in Washington, D.C. and signed them for a stage show at Loew's State in New York for the first week of February 1938. The boys were now earning $600 a week. "We were playing Loew's State when Ted Collins, Kate Smith's manager, caught us during the Wednesday show and right off invited us to the Thursday broadcast," Lou recalled. Longtime Abbott and Costello pal Milt Bronson added, "Henny Youngman had seen Bud and Lou and urged Ted Collins to go to Loew's State and see the team work. Ted went but was not impressed. Since The Kate Smith Show was radio, Ted was afraid Bud and Lou were too visual and would die on the airwaves."  

Bud and Lou performing in Hollywood Bandwagon (1937-38)
Photo restoration courtesy of Steve Stubbs

Collins agreed to a one-shot stint on The Kate Smith Show on February 3, 1938, for $350. In their first appearance the boys did their "Mudder/Fodder" routine, but their voices tended to sound alike over the air. This detracted from the effectiveness of the bit, since, as Lou put it, "the listeners couldn't tell who was asking and who was answering." The similarity was never discovered on stage, Lou said, probably because "I shout and jump around so much." Lou agreed to adapt a piping falsetto, and their next appearance was a great improvement.

Abbott and Costello continued to perform on stage, and in 1939 opened on Broadway in Streets of Paris. By now Hollywood began making overtures. Abbott and Costello fully expected to do one picture, One Night in the Tropics, then return to New York and continue working on radio and Broadway. Fortunately, that's not what became of Abbott and Costello. Their talents had to be captured on film.

Courtesy of "Abbott and Costello in Hollywood by Ron Palumbo and Bob Furmanek.
Straight Man to Family Man
Jennie Mae (Abbott) Wheeler

Bud Abbott's eldest grandchild and daughter of
Vickie (Abbott) Wheeler, Bud's daughter 

Bud Abbott at home with daughter Vickie, and son Bud Abbott, Jr.

Most of you don't know me, but I'm Bud Abbott's first grandchild. My grandfather was retired when I was born, yet everyone still knew who he was.

When my mom (his daughter, Vickie) was in labor with me, my grandfather came to the hospital. He was having fun flirting with the nurses as everyone awaited my arrival. That was at a time when family was not allowed into the birthing room. My grandfather and dad had to wait in the waiting room and began celebrating by drinking Vodka out of styrofoam cups. When I finally entered the world, my grandfather handed out cigars. I'm named Jennie Mae after my grandmother, Bud's wife. And thus, is the start of my life as Bud Abbott's granddaughter.

I never looked at him as being famous. He was simply grandfather to me and my younger brother and sister. As I grew up, I remember spending time and staying over with my grandparents. With grandfather being retired, he was home and loved to kid around. His favorite was for me to try and kiss him on his cheek when he hadn't shaved. I also remember him having a favorite chair in the living room. Here he would sit and smoke his cigarettes that were attached to a long black cigarette holder. He had a table that went with the chair. It was here where he would autograph his pictures for fans.

I was told who grandfather was. You could see his entire career in their home. In the living room was a beautiful piano along with antique furniture. The walls had individual paintings of grandfather, my grandmother, mom and my Uncle Bud. In one of the extra bedrooms, this was considered as one of my grandfather's wardrobe rooms where he kept all of his suits and wardrobe from his films. But, my favorite room was where they had the one-arm bandit slot machine! As kids we would always win a few quarters and grandfather thought the machine was rigged so that we'd win. I also recall the pool that had a blue dolphin painted on the bottom. He loved to go outside to sit and watch me swim.

My grandfather was also a quiet man, but could kid at a moment's notice. He was very much loved by his family, and is still missed today. As an adult, I followed in my grandfather's footsteps and into the entertainment business. I've had the pleasure of working at all the major studios, including their home studio, Universal, of which has a building named after Abbott and Costello.

Very few men could be a straight man. Bud Abbott was the best. Many in the industry looked up to him, including contemporaries such as Jerry Seinfeld. Al Roker from the "Today Show," a fan of the team, will break out in a routine when you least expect it. You'll see from time to time their routines incorporated into today's TV shows, and in films, such as "Rain Man" (1988). Even two alien pods in the 2016 film, "Arrival" were named "Abbott" and "Costello."  

From radio, films and TV you can see how my grandfather's timing never failed. His timing was impeccable, and if he did break from the routine, it was due to both of them laughing.

My mom will one day pass the torch to the next generation --- me, my brother and sister. Our goal is to continually protect our grandfather's image and continue the Abbott and Costello legacy. Our goal is for the next generation and generations to follow to know and appreciate the comedic talents of Abbott and Costello. And not just for their comedy, but also for their humanitarian efforts in helping those in need, and the love they had for their fans and family.

My grandfather was a masterful straight man. But he was also a family man, and a man we continue to love and miss each day.    

Photo courtesy of Jennie (Abbott) Wheeler

Jennie Mae with proud grandparents, Bud and Betty Abbott

Jeff Solimando

Bud and Lou performing their infamous routine "7 x 13 = 28"
"In the Navy" 1941

Bud Abbott was probably one of the funniest comedians who didn't intend to make us laugh. As "straight man" or "feeder," he could appear intellectually superior, impatient, and downright mean to funny man Lou Costello, but don't let that fool you. A consummate professional, Bud Abbott possessed excellent timing and impeccable delivery that served a hidden purpose: a way to direct his partner's physical comedy. Bud's apparent disdain and contempt for "poor little Lou" may have seemed a bit harsh, but this emotional illusion developed a rare chemistry that stood out against the competition and turned the two burlesque circuit comedians into Hollywood superstars.

Considered by many "the best straight man of all times," Abbott's expertise in setting up a gag was so good that audiences chuckled in anticipation of what was to come. In fact, Bud ended up pulling many laughs in the role of straight man, playing his suspect personality against Lou's innocent disposition. Abbott's straight thinking and patronizing facial expressions set off Costello's child-like personality, and the combination evokes both sympathy and roars of laughter from audiences around the world. It didn't matter if the boys performed on stage, screen or television, their carefully crafted ridiculousness left fans wanting more.

Bud's skill as straight man is apparent in the infamous bit, 7 x 13 = 28, which made its film debut in Abbott and Costello's 1941 service comedy, In the Navy.

"Cook-turned-mathlete." Pomeroy Watson (Lou) desperately tries to convince his two friends that 7 times 13 equals 28. 20 divided by 7 equals 13, and 13 added seven times also equates to 28. Pomeroy's pal Smokey Adams (Bud) is quick to respond with lines that communicate his blatant disregard and skepticism.

As they bicker, Smokey convinces the audience that Pomeroy's flawed logic is becoming increasingly annoying. Straight man Smokey sets up a gag with the line, "... did you ever go to school, stupid?" Undaunted, funny man Pomeroy immediately retaliates with, "...yeah, and I came out the same way!" (Insert laughter here!)

Without cracking a smile or missing a beat, Smokey and Pomeroy continue to debate. Smokey's blunt comments spawn funny retorts and lively animation from his forever-jovial friend as they work though his theory on a kitchen blackboard. Pomeroy ends up victorious by "proving" that 7 times 13 can indeed equal 28; at least in his eyes.

Funny as the boys routines are, there would be a lot less laughter if the punchline wasn't set up right. Thankfully for us, Bud Abbott knew what he was doing.   

Bud and Lou in a scene from "One Night in the Tropics" (1940)

Another example of Bud mastering the straight man role is in the routine A Dollar a Day, an old vaudeville bit the boys used on both their radio show and in One Night in the Tropics (1940).

In "Tropics," Lou's been working for Bud nearly one year and his "salary" is supposedly locked in at one dollar a day. Costello decides it's time to get paid and Bud stalls by finding numerous yet illogical reasons to deduct money from Costello's pay.

Abbott sets up a one-liner that can apply to anyone who ever persevered through an "exit meeting" on their last day of work: (the radio show version of the script is below):

Bud: You say you worked 365 days for me, and you want to be reimbursed.

Lou: Look, I don't want to burst anything! Just give me my money, 365 bucks, I'll get out!

Alas, poor little Lou doesn't get his 365 bucks. Abbott ends up making so many devious deductions that Lou winds up with just one dollar for an entire year of work.

The flow of Abbott's timing and Costello's physical reactions reinforces the mindset that the boy's allure truly lies within their rapport. However, there would never have been an Abbott and Costello without the talents of such a superb straight man.

The average fan may or may not realize how fundamental the role of straight man really was (and still is today!) Back in the old vaudeville days, straight men were difficult to find and the ratio of straight man to comic was far from equal. Quite often, an in-demand straight man would have his name placed first on the billing and usually negotiate at least 60% of any compensation.

Years ago, while being interviewed, Bud told a story about him and Lou doing a public appearance for a large group of kids. The event included a "meet-and-greet," where children were able to meet the boys, shake hands and get autographs.

"Out of nowhere, a little girl ran up to me and kicked me right in the shin," said Bud. She turned to me and said, ' ... that's what you get for being so mean to Lou! ' " When asked if he felt hurt after the ordeal, Bud smiled, shook his head and said, " ... nope! It felt great. That little girl let me know I was doing my job!"

As always, Bud gives it to us straight!
Go Ahead, Order Something
Bud's Masterful Coaxing

Bud and Lou with Martha Raye  in "Go Ahead, Order Something" routine 

One of Bud and Lou's most memorable scenes in their 1941 film,
Keep 'Em Flying, was with Martha Raye, who plays (unbeknownst to the boys) twin waitresses in the "Go Ahead, Order Something" routine.

The boys only have a quarter to their name. Bud ("Blackie") says, "I'll order a turkey sandwich and a cup of coffee and I'll give you half. But if she asks you if you want anything, you say no, I don't care for anything." Lou ("Heathcliff") dutifully follows instructions, but Blackie, suddenly benevolent, urges, "Oh, go ahead, have something." When Heathcliff orders, Blackie slaps him for disobeying him. The business is repeated several times and builds steadily.

This routine is one of many examples as to Bud Abbott's masterful set-ups and coaxing, followed by Lou's weighty deliberations (all conveyed on his face) .

Courtesy of "Abbott and Costello in Hollywood" by Ron Palumbo and Bob Furmanek. 
A Wonderful Pairing With Lou
Chrissy Abbott Orloff 
Bud Abbott's Great-Niece and Daughter of Director Norman Abbott  

Jerry Seinfeld once said that the rhythm of Abbott and Costello's Who's On First? is musical math. Without Bud Abbott at the helm of this masterpiece, it would be a routine about nothing.

Many of you may have heard the name Edmund Gwenn, who played Santa Claus in the 1947 film, Miracle on 34th Street. He's credited for saying, "Dying is easy. Comedy is hard." That saying became the gold standard when describing comedic acting.

The success and skilled ability of Uncle Bud and Lou was because they made it seem like they weren't working. They did make it look easy. Their repartee, their instinctual rhythm made it look as if it was off the cuff. Lou was literally a genius when it came to the physical and emotional components of comedy. His ability to connect with an audience was legendary. But his first connection had to be with Uncle Bud, his straight man. Without each other, they may never have achieved the success they did.

The Straight man is the locomotive. He owns the compass. The set-up is paramount in comedy. You have to believe and trust in him or the ride goes nowhere. He has to be believed in order to construct a foundation for the impending punch line. Timing from the straight man is what puts all eyes and attention on the "funny one" and delivers the laugh front and center.

Uncle Bud and Lou had individual talent. Together, the know-it-all straight man paired with the childlike clown with a big heart, is what made Abbott and Costello show biz legends. Their history continues, transcending from 1936 right up to today.

Uncle Bud's role as straight man was being the teacher. He stays with his childlike student because his job is to get a point across, regardless of what craziness ensues. Who's On First? is a classic example because Uncle Bud is re-emphasizing the craziness of the situation, always with calm repetition, providing Lou the space to play and act confused.

Abbott: Strange as it may seem, they give ball players nowadays very peculiar names.

Costello: Funny names?

Abbott: Nicknames. Now, on the St. Louis team we have Who's on first, What's on second, I Don't Know on third --

Costello: That's what I want to find out. I want you to tell me the names of the fellows on the St. Louis team.

Abbott: I'm telling you. Who's on first, What's on second, I Don't Know is on third --

Costello: You know the fellas names?

Abbott:  Yes.

Costello: Well, then who's playing first?

Abbott:  Yes.

Costello:  I mean the fellow's name on first base.

Abbott:  Who.

Costello:  The guy on first base.

Abbott:  Who is on first

There are some wonderful pairings -- Hardy did it for Laurel, Ethel with Lucy, Rowan with Martin, and many more. But I modestly say that no one held the rudder as steadfastly as Uncle Bud!    
Nick Mathus
"Nick the History Kid"   

Photo courtesy of Glenn Mathus

Meet Nick Mathus, otherwise known as Nick the History Kid!

At age fifteen, Nick created a tribute to Lou Costello titled, Lou Costello's Paterson, Then and Now. The project took him seven months from start to finish. A year later he followed up with another video when he and his dad, Glenn Mathus, attended Lou's 110th birthday celebration at the Paterson Museum.

In 2016, Nick assembled his video tribute for Bud Abbott, all of which was shot in Asbury Park, N.J. where Bud was raised.

To date, Nick has made over 110 historical videos, and is involved in helping save New Jersey's historical buildings, one of which included the Paterson Armory (also a video) and which was destroyed in a fire and taken down in 2015.

Nick attends the Delbarton School in Morristown, New Jersey and is also a lifeguard at Trump International Golf Club, also in New Jersey.

If you'd like to know more about Nick the History Kid, visit his web site at:  
Rich Garland 

Photo Credit: Rich Garland

Educator Rich Garland presents Rhode Island State Treasurer Seth Magaziner with a signed WHO'S ON FIRST? poster by Lou Costello's daughters Paddy and Chris Costello.

The popularity of Abbott and Costello as artists and people continues, passed on from generation to generation. Quite often is the case where their routines are included in lesson plans of teachers in various subjects; in various grade levels, and while Bud Abbott and Lou Costello have roots in New Jersey, many aren't aware that Lou's wife, Anne and two eldest daughters, Paddy and Carole, hail from the smallest state in the union - Rhode Island

Education in finances and financial literacy is a growing movement, state to state, and the ocean state isn't any different. Many of the A&C routines are perfect for adding humor and a different perspective to finance lessons ... "7 x 13 = 28" and "The Loan" are two great examples.

On Tuesday, May 31st, 391 students
in Rhode Island's North Kingstown school district earned their financial literacy credentials. On hand to congratulate those students was the state's treasurer, Mr. Seth Magaziner and while Mr. Magaziner brought citations for each student, he was presented with a signed poster from both Paddy Humphreys and Chris Costello in appreciation of his leadership from the school and as a show of pride from the district for having a direct link to such a great family.

The inscription on the poster reads, "Mr. Magaziner, Rhode Island holds a special place in the hearts of the Costello family" ... with Paddy staking her claim as a Rhody and Chris achieving honorary status!

The treasurer was quite surprised and impressed ... what could anyone say but, "Oh, wow -- this is a first!"

Rich Garland is entering his seventh year as a teacher at North Kingstown Senior High School after retiring from IBM. He's also the curriculum coordinator for the school's Academy of Business and Finance and was recently recognized as Rhode Island's Financial Literacy Educator of the Year, along with an appointment to the National Life Changer of the Year Honor Roll. 
Bud's Role as Straight Man
Influenced My Role on "Seinfeld"

Odd as it may seem, NBC's hit series "Seinfeld" has been identified as the most contemporary approach to the television sitcom, and is owed a lot to Bud Abbott and Lou Costello.

In a November 21, 1994 New York Times piece by Bill Carter, he writes the following:

It may be hard to imagine how this comedy pair from the 1940's and 50's, often written off by critics as lowbrow slapstick merchants, could influence the comedy show ("Seinfeld"), which has come to be considered a cultural signpost for relationships in the 1990's. But Jerry Seinfeld himself has no qualms about making the connection.

"Everybody on the show knows I'm a fan. We're always joking about how we do stuff from their show ("The Abbott and Costello Television Show"). George and I will often get into a riff that has the rhythm from the old Abbott and Costello shows. And sometimes I'll hit George in the chest the way Abbott would hit Costello."

Seinfeld said he had watched reruns of that series, one of the most frequently rerun television shows of all time, on Channel 11 in New York when he was growing up in Massapequa, L.I. "I loved them more than anything," stated Seinfeld.

"The Abbott and Costello Television Show" introduced Jerry Seinfeld to comedy, and he was hooked. He came to recognize that Abbott and Costello, in their movies from the 1940's but especially in their syndicated television show, were preserving the fabled comedy routines from vaudeville. "This is the history of the American style of comedy," Seinfeld explained. It's a unique American art form. Abbott and Costello established vaudeville routines in their movies and television show. They almost never did material that was not grounded in about 200 basic vaudeville routines."

Seinfeld pointed out to the careful byplay in many of their routines that hinged on precise timing between straight man (Abbott) and comic (Costello). So highly regarded was the straight man's art and talent in vaudeville, that he always took a larger part of the pay.

(This would change to a 50/50 split when they signed with Universal and began making films).

"I love playing the straight man on my show," Seinfeld stated. I'll take that part in the set-up with the other three characters. How many times have you heard me start a bit with the line, 'Now let me get this straight'?"

(During a press junket at Universal when promoting the NBC airing of "Abbott and Costello Meet Jerry Seinfeld" (1994), Chris Costello remembers Jerry Seinfeld expounding on how Bud's impeccable timing created that musical math between he and Lou.
One does not realize the difficulty of the straight man set-up for the comic to deliver and create the laughs).

Bud and his wife, Betty, with Bud, Jr. (early 1940's)


Just curious if there will ever be a book on Bud Abbott ?

Charles William Backman 
Hartley, Texas


I hope so, Charles. Bud, Jr. often talked about penning a book on his dad, but it never materialized. It's a huge undertaking, but the results so rewarding. I would hope that one day in the not too distant future his story can be told and his voice heard. I would love nothing more than to help promote a book on his life.

Chris Costello 

Michael Lovaglio 

Bud Abbott as (Smitty) setting up the "Dice Game" in Buck Privates (1941)

Bud Abbott was, in my opinion, and with countless others, the greatest of all straight men!

Lou was a force of nature in comedy. He could tell the joke, be a part of that rapid-fire verbal exchange, and perform amazing physical comedic fetes .

Bud's job was to play off of Lou's antics and be the voice of reason while his partner went off the rails. Bud accomplished this with great straight man precision and timing. Bud was a natural actor, and a gifted comedian in his own right. Case in point. He could be in the most outlandish comedic situation and never break character. Well, almost never. There were some instances when he and Lou performed on live TV, such as the Colgates, where they would both break each other up. That in itself was hysterical to watch.

No one could establish the set-up like Bud Abbott. He was the master architect of this comedic blueprint. He had this amazing ability to allow Lou to veer off in ad-libs, yet was able to rein him back in without anyone knowing what was going on. That, is the brilliance of a great straight man!

Take the "Dice Game" in Buck Privates (1941). Without Bud Abbott setting up the situation, it could have fallen flat. While "Smitty" (Bud) shows "Herbie" (Lou) how to play the game, he's thinking that maybe Herbie has played the game before because of him dropping gambling phrases like "Fade that" or "Let it ride." The set-up and the rhythm to this routine is so crucial to the teams interplay. Bud establishes the tone, sets Lou up for the laughs with the slaps, pauses, overlapping dialogue --- the routine now has life and becomes hysterical.

Abbott:  You ever play a game of dice?

Costello:  Oh, no, no. Not me.

Abbott:  Well, you play games?

Costello:  Oh I play games, but I don't play that game of dice.

Abbott:  What do you play?

Costello:  I play, "I Spy," and then I play "Post Office."

Abbott:  Oh. "Post Office?" That's a kid's game.

Costello:  Not the way I play it. And I play "Jacks."

Abbott:  Jacks?

Costello:  I'm up to my foursies.

Abbott:  Oh, no no no. This is a REAL game. You see there's numbers on there from one to six. You roll them out on the floor. See, if you should throw a six and a one, that's a seven. That's a natural, you win. If you should throw a five and a two, that's seven, that's a natural, you win. If you should roll a four and a three, that's seven, that's a natural, you win.

In an excerpt from "Abbott and Costello in Hollywood" by Ron Palumbo and Bob Furmanek:

Rhythm is so crucial to the team's interplay. You not only laugh at what Bud and Lou say, but how they say it. When Smitty inquires if Herbie ever played the game at the Clubhouse, Herbie says the other boys wouldn't let him, he's too young. Then in an aside, Costello adds, "Startin; Tuesday I'm going out with girls." Without missing a beat, Bud replies, "Well, I don't blame you," and keeps the routine moving along. In the end, of course, Herbie fleeces Smitty by turning his own "rules" against him.

Abbott:  Wait a minute, now don't touch the money.

Costello:  You lose.

Abbott:  I don't lose.

Costello:  That was a six, you lose. What did you roll the first time?

Abbott:  Six.

Costello:  And what did you just roll?

Abbott:  Six!

Costello:  Six and six is twelve, correct? Craps, Box Cars, Big Benneys, You lose. Ha, ha. Smitty lost! Nyah, nyah.

The straight man has the weight on his shoulders. If he falters, so does the routine, and so does the comic. It was because of both men's ingenious talent that when merged together they became explosive talents on the stage and screen. But we first need to give credit to the masterful talents of Bud Abbott. Without him holding the reins, the set-ups would have been flat and vacant.
Atlantic City's Steel Pier

Bud and Lou taking a break outside the theater in Atlantic City (1938).
Between them is actor Hugh Herbert 
"The Best Kind of Show Business"
Bud Abbott on His Days in Burlesque 

On August 26, 1961, Bud Abbott gave an interview in his home to Bill Lipton. The subject of the interview was Bobby Clark, who starred with Abbott and Costello in the 1939 Broadway review "The Streets of Paris." However, during the interview Bud talked about the early days of his own career ...

I started with the Steel Pier Minstrels (Atlantic City). We all came from the Steel Pier -- Eddie Cantor, Al Jolson, all of us. You went up the ladder in those days. You had tabloids, little miniature musical comedies. There was a line of 8, 10, or 12 girls; a prima dona; a soubrette; a straight man; a comedian; and a juvenile. Some shows would have two comedians -- a first and a second comedian. From there, you moved into burlesque.

Burlesque then was as big as musical comedy is today. There was no strip tease or stuff like that. You had to get permission to use the word "hell" -- if it was necessary. A "hell." You could use one. I was about nineteen when Clark and McCullough were headliners in burlesque. I was on what they called the Mutual Wheel. They were on the Columbia Wheel, the "Big Circuit" -- where you knew you'd be working 45 weeks a year. You had your schedule made out before you left on your season -- where you'd be on a certain date of the year, what house you were going to play, where you were going to stay.  It was all prearranged. Forty-five major cities everywhere in the United States. And not run-down theaters; these were beautiful theaters.

And the theatrical boarding houses! They had tables as long as this room and just filled them up. All you could eat -- soup to nuts -- for a quarter. Sometimes you couldn't get in the place.

We worked without a script in burlesque. Everything was in your mind. I produced for Billy Minsky when the Minsky's first started on Broadway. I put on his comedy routines and worked in them. I never had a piece of paper. Once I had Minsky come to the theater after we'd been rehearsing a new show all week, a two-and-a-half-hour show. He didn't like it and threw the whole thing out. So, I held the cast there, we missed supper, and I changed the whole show. That night a new show went on. All different comedy routines from the ones we'd rehearsed. It wasn't a case of studying lines. We were all trained in the same school, we knew the routines. I told them the routines I wanted and told them to use their own mannerisms. Every comic had his own style, but they'd know the routine. Lou and I could do a different show 52 weeks of the year and change it every week without a piece of paper.

You say it was a rough kind of show business. To me, it was the best kind of show business. 




Thank you to Facebook member PAUL D'AVANZO for sending us this Blast From the Past book, which he happened to come across at his local library.

SAY GOODBYE: YOU MAY NEVER SEE THEM AGAIN with paintings by John Allin and Arnold Wesker, was published in 1974.

If you were born before, during, or after World War II, it's a good point of reference book and an opportunity to revisit that era.  What's particularly nice is to see the inclusion of Abbott and Costello!

Thank you Paul for sending us this treasure! 



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