Monday, November 16, 2015

"Revisiting A Classic"

Comedy has changed.


Back off.  I’ve been sick.

“How long are you going to keep doing that?

Two more weeks.  After that, it’s “Back off.  I’m old.”

“I look forward to that.  It’ll be a welcome alternative.”

When you’re happy, I’m happy.  Now…

Comedy has changed.  Once – and not as far back as you might imagine – audiences watched comedy because they wanted to laugh.  Not to learn.  Not to protest.  Not to feel superior to the people who didn’t “get it.” 

Simply to laugh. 

And with laughter – and only laughter – in mind, the audience was willing to suspend mountains of evidentiary disbelief.

Nobody cared if it was real. 

As long as it was funny.

Current comedy is expected to reflect our collective experience.  Not a bad thing.  For the most part, I prefer it.  But the price for comedic verisimilitude is the loss of hilarious silliness. 

Today, we are adamantly unwilling to suspend our disbelief.  Except when politicians make campaign promises.

“Lowering taxes raises revenues.  Sounds right to me.”

In the more truthful arena of comedy, however…

Implausibility has been banished forever, replaced by comedy required to meet the rigorous test of rational believability.  You cannot, apparently, have both. 

Except perhaps here.

Today, we take a classic comedy routine, to me, the funniest routine of all time – “Who’s on First?” and submit it to contemporary scrutiny,

And what you wind up with is something a little like this.

What am I saying?  Is is this!

Fasten your seatbelts.  You are entering the universe… of “Dueling Realities.”

TRADITONAL STRAIGHT MAN:  All the ballplayers have nicknames.


“Dizzy” Dean.  “Dazzy” Vance.

Eighty years ago.  But fine.

On this team, let’s see now.  We’ve got “Who”, playing first.  We’ve got…

Hold on a second.  We’re talking nicknames here.

Of course, nicknames.  What kind of actual name is “Who”?   They could be “Woo”, if they’re Chinese, maybe.  “Hu” if they’re Korean.  But there’s no “Who.”  These are exclusively nicknames.

So you’re telling me “Who” is a nickname.


And saying this fellow nicknamed “Who” is playing first base.


You’ve got a pronoun at first base.

Yes, “Who’s” on first.

Are you shittin’ me?

No.  “Who” is definitely on first.

This sounds a little unusual, bordering – with respect, of course – on ridiculous. 


A part of speech playing first base?

I told you, it’s a nickname.

A pronoun is playing first. 

Would you like to know the name of the person playing second?

Lay it on me.


What are you saying?

That's exactly what I'm saying.

“What’s” the name of the person on second base.


That wasn't a question; it was a declarative statement.  That’s your answer for who’s on second.

“Who’s” on first.  What’s” on second.

So you’ve got a pronoun on first and another pronoun on second.  Just to complete this silly scenario, what’s the name of the guy on third base?

“What’s” the name of the guy on second base. 

Then who’s on third?

No.  “Who’s” on first. 

How easily we forget.

Just for the fun of it, why don’t you guess the name of the player on third base?

Is it “When”?

Don’t be silly. 


Stop it.  Now really guess.  The name of the guy playing third.

I don’t know.

Oh, so you follow this team, do you?

What do you mean?

“I don’t know” is on third base.

No he isn’t.

He is!

An entire sentence is playing third base

That’s right.  When the manager writes the third baseman’s name in the lineup, what name does he write in?

“I don’t know.”

You don’t know either?

Good one.  You’re a veritable comedian.

I’m sorry, I’m not buying this.  Who’s nickname is “I don’t know”?

That's ridiculous.  "Who's" nickname isn't "I don't know."  "Who's" nickname is "Who."  Why would you need two nicknames?

You’re serious about this.

Of course.

You’re saying what’s the name of the guy on third base?

“What’s” the name of the guy on second base.

I am asking you, who’s on third?

No.  “Who’s” on first. 

And round and around she goes.

Listen, if “Who’s” not on first, what player do you think is playing first?

I don’t know.

Third base./Third base.

And we’re back to the entire sentence.  Look, I realize this is hilarious… to some people.  But to me this whole thing makes zero sense.

What if I “updated” it for you?  “Pee-pee’s” on first, “Vagina’s” on second.  Is that better?

It’s not the words – did you say “Pee-pee?”  It is the entire concept.  I’m telling you, no one today would ever laugh at this.


You tell me.  Is he right?

And while we're at it, check on the real thing.


Wendy M. Grossman said...

I'm not convinced that people's appreciation of comedy has changed that much. (And I enjoyed Who's on First without ever knowing about baseball players' nicknames.) I think it's maybe just that today's younger generation has already heard/seen a lot of the back catalogue.


ed.j. said...

Ok, seriously, when an old guy can do a post modernist deconstruction of of Who's On First and make another old guy who has performed Who's On First on stage in a tour of a revivalist burlesque show laugh and blow milk out of his damn nose; now, that's funny!.

Can you say dam on television?

Llazarusllong said...

I have to admit... I chuckled out loud just READING this version because I heard it in Abbot and Costello's patter.