DVD Review: The Abbot and Costello Show: Who’s on First?

Hi again!

Though life is full of funny moments, I’ve only found a few things that can make me laugh consistently. Among them are Mel Brooks (nearly any of his films from Spaceballs and earlier), George Carlin, Monty Python, and Abbot and Costello‘s “Who’s on First?” routine. All of these comedy greats are masters of pointing out the absurdities of the English language.

Over the last few years, I’ve been introducing my kids to some of these older comic greats as they’ve become more comfortable with language and responsibility. Though it wouldn’t do to have them reciting Carlin’s “The Seven Words You Can’t Say on Television” in class and have them get in trouble on my account! Along those lines, I’ve been seeking some of the comedy greats from television before swearing was commonplace. So when I saw that Entertainment One U.S. would be distributing DVDs of some of the The Abbott & Costello Show episodes from the 1950s, I knew it was a perfect opportunity to share more wordplay with my kids.

Like many comedy groups of that era, Bud Abbott and Lou Costello started long before television. They started with stage routines, eventually moving to movies and radio, and finally to television. In 1952, The Abbott and Costello Show entered syndication on stations around the country and the pair were able to use many of the same routines on television as they did on stage, screen and radio.

It’s impossible for me to think about the pair without thinking of their “Who’s on First?” routine. The combination of word play and confusion, for both Lou and the audience, made it an instant classic. If you don’t know the routine, it’s about the names of the baseball players on a team Abbott manages. The first baseman’s name is “Who,” the second baseman’s name is “What” and the third baseman’s name is “I Don’t Know.” You can imagine the confusion as they try to answer the question of “Who’s on First?” “Who.” “Exactly – who’s on first?” “Right! Who’s on First…”

So to see the routine live on the episode “The Actor’s House,” was very cool. My daughters were confused, but the light went on in my 4th grader’s eyes, so I suspect I’ll be hearing stories about her attempts to tell her friends at school about it next week!

The The Abbot and Costello Show: Who’s on First? DVD includes six episodes – “The Dentist’s Office,” “The Birthday Party,” “The Charity Bazaar,” “Hungry,” “The Music Lovers,” and “The Actor’s Home.” These episodes include routines such as “Who’s on First?”, “The Lemon Pit,” “Alexander 4444,” “The Piano Bit (Alright!)” and many more. It was amazing to see all of these routines – and they’re just as funny now as they were back in the 1930s and 1940s.

Many of these routines were new to me, including “Alexander 4444” where Lou tries to make a local call and can’t get through, but characters keep interrupting him to use the phone to call long distance about the coffee business (“It’s a grind…”), a kangaroo farm (“The whole place is jumping…”), and others… Fun writing like that makes these routines family friendly and still hilarious.

In addition to Bud & Lou, the series also included other great characters including Sidney Fields, the pair’s always angry landlord; Hillary Brooke, the beautiful girl next door; Mike “The Cop” Kelly, who was always on Lou’s case; “Stinky” Davis (Joe Besser), the mean kid next door; and Mr. Bacciagalupe (Joe Kirk), the entrepreneur always thrown for a loop when the boys would “drop by.” All of these characters added to the brilliant and quick-witted minds of Abbott & Costello to produce some unforgettable moments.

If you’re looking for a way to enjoy two of the greatest comedic minds of a lost era, definitely check out The Abbot and Costello Show: Who’s on First? on DVD. You won’t be sorry and maybe you’ll figure out if Who IS on first base!

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up this and other great comedy classics below!

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DVD Review: Lewis Black – Stark Raving Black

Hi all…

Among the many great comedians gracing stages around the United States, I seem to gravitate to the comedy of those people willing to not only point out the bizarre things in our everyday lives, but tell it like it is. Critical social commentary through comedy. People like Robin Williams, George Carlin, Jon Stewart, and Lewis Black are at the top of the heap. Not only can these individuals make us laugh, but they can through their talent and intelligence make us think at the same time.

Lewis Black’s latest Comedy Central special – Stark Raving Black – features 80 minutes of intelligent insanity. Black’s anger and volatile rants are legendary, but it’s his fickle finger of death and sputtering delivery that defuse that anger while making numerous points about politics, popular entertainers, the economy, and even the iPhone. Every time he gets incensed about a topic, I learn something new or get to consider it from a different angle.

Though he comes across as a cantankerous 60+ year old man going from observation to observation with the wisdom that’s come from not only watching the world but participating in it, there’s an underlying current just below all the vitriol. That current, funny enough, is hope. After all he’s seen, he still holds out hope that things will change for the better. He just figures that all his hopes and dreams will come true the day after he dies. That’s dramatic irony at its finest.

As Black describes being part of a fundraiser where he has to perform after Vince Gill, the quintessential beloved country artist who you can’t help but like, and his wife Amy Grant, a pure Christian woman with a beautiful voice so perfect she is “made entirely of cream”… How can he possibly follow this couple who don’t say a single swear word on stage? Without swear words Black thinks he has maybe 5 minutes of material! Evidently he turned to his friend and fellow comic Kathleen Madigan (a very funny lady in her own right), who had found him the gig and told her to look at her watch – that this is the precise moment we are no longer friends.

If you’ve seen Black before, you know he uses every swear word and crude reference in the book… Can you imagine him on stage with the Vice Gill/Amy Grant power couple? It would be like matter and antimatter meeting – the whole place would explode!

Black’s intelligence comes through in spades as he describes the economic woes currently happening in our country. “Many people blame what happened economically on the people who couldn’t afford rent and bought homes… Those broke *@@#(! are the ones. Really?” If someone came to you on the street and says “I know you can’t afford rent, but… wanna house?” Doesn’t that sum up the mortgage crisis beautifully?

He points out that the sole reason for the crisis was greed. From the Bernie Madoff ripoff to the $1.2 million office redecoration done by CEO John Thain at Merrill Lynch right before the company went down the drain. These people just want more toys and no accountability. When Black talks about what he would do with $1.2 million for redecorating an office, it involves a Great White in a personal aquarium and an Intern… That would probably have more effect than a $67,000 credenza that Thain had purchased for his office.

Black also riffs on the iPhone. He says it’s an amazing instrument, but it’s attached to AT&T, which makes it a “rock”. If we have wireless phones that can work anywhere on the planet, why can’t we have alternative energy solutions? We can take photos of our friends and text message people, but we can’t figure out alternatives to fossil fuels?

But in the end, he talks about hope. It’s the best drug on the planet and one preferred by the young – such as those who worked tirelessly to get Obama elected during the presidential election. Evidently, Obama “lactates hope” and we all were hoping for change. It’s those hopes and dreams for himself, our country, and the world, that he keeps alive day after day. He expects the flying cars will show up at his funeral.

In addition, there’s a 69 minute documentary titled “Basic Black: The Lewis Black Story” that focuses on Black’s life on the road. He evidently reads the newspaper and watches CNN regularly to digest material and then he regurgitates what sets him off on stage. They drive across the country in their bus from gig to gig – Black, Jeff Costa (sound man and merchandise guy), Ben Brewer (tour manager), John Bowman (comic who typically does the opening act for Black) and Frank Moreno (bus driver) – as Brewer puts it “as one big, grumpy family.” It seems they get a lot more work done by driving and avoiding the tension and downtime typically associated with flying everywhere.

The documentary provides a great look behind the scenes on a comedy tour – definitely something I’ve never seen before. Seeing a baby picture of Black with his fingers pointing in the air explains a bunch. Evidently he didn’t even know he was doing it until a fan did it back to him in a public place at one point and he asked one of his friends about it.

And then to see clips of Black’s routines in the 1980s was absolutely hilarious. I didn’t know who he was until about 10 years ago and to see routines from 30 years ago was amazing. Who knew he was a drama student?

If you like Lewis Black and have seen him on The Daily Show With Jon Stewart in his brief “Back in Black” segments or caught earlier shows, I’d definitely recommend you pick up Stark Raving Black. The documentary alone is worth a look to learn more about Black’s background.

Article first published as DVD Review: Lewis Black – Stark Raving Black on Blogcritics.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up Lewis Black DVDs at Barnes & Noble!

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Music Review: Carlin on Campus – George Carlin

Hi all!

Back in November 2008, a CD was finally released of George Carlin‘s 1984 album Carlin on Campus. The material was taped in April 1984 while he was doing his fourth HBO comedy special of the same name, but the album varies a bit from what was on the HBO special.

RIP George...
Image by TheSimple1 via Flickr

As with any George Carlin comedy, he tears apart the conventions of society so we can see just how funny we all are. And through his use of language, we see the absurdities of everyday life.

His death in June 2008 was a huge blow to comedy. Without Carlin, many comedians would not have many of the freedoms of speech they enjoy today. He was willing to fight for what was right against the conservative folk who would rather listen to sanitized language than actually have to think for themselves. His seven words sketch opened doors I hope will never again be closed by those with closed minds.

Carlin on Campus brought some of Carlin’s classic routines such as “Cars and Driving”, “An Incomplete List of Impolite Words”, and “Baseball and Football” to an entire generation 25 years ago. And now it can open minds again to the insanity all around us!

The album opens with “The Prayer,” which is like no prayer I’d ever heard. In an age where “mashups” are new and cool, Carlin took a traditional prayer and mashed it with the Pledge of Allegiance and other bits. His Catholic background also allows us to enjoy a quick “Hail Mary“.

“A Moment of Silence” brings us a laugh at the absurdity of a moment of silence before an athletic event at the expense of some poor folks from La Paz who died in a roller coaster accident. It’s as if Carlin saw the movie Final Destination 3 and decided it was ripe for making fun of. I find it nearly impossible to not laugh as the situation he describes gets more and more absurd.

Though there are many other great routines on the CD, it ends with “An Incomplete List of Impolite Words,” which is totally inappropriate for listening to without headphones at work, with small children, or around anyone else you don’t want to offend in some way. I’m getting to age 40 in a couple of years and I have to admit that I’d only heard about half of these innuendoes, suggestive phrases, and flat out foul language before listening to this track… and I still laughed all the way through it. Who thinks of these? Carlin just cataloged them. But other warped minds actually said them first. What other fun phrases are invented every day?

So if you haven’t had your daily dose of George Carlin… Carlin on Campus brings some of the best of his work from the 1980s back to life on CD so you can once again laugh your butt off and learn something along the way. Be sure to check it out!

For another recent Carlin release, be sure to check out my review of George Carlin’s last taped performance – It’s Bad For Yahere.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up <em>Carlin on Campus</em> at your local music store or at Amazon:

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