Legends of Laughter: Abbott & Costello

[dropcap size=big]L[/dropcap]ike all forms of entertainment, comedy – as an industry – is rich with talent. It takes a very special person to be able to stand in front of an audience or a camera and make people laugh. These unique individuals must spend years finding their voices and building their routines, yet also be able to adapt quickly to capture the zeitgeist. This small group is further whittled down to leave only the select few  whose humor has endured for generations and will continue to be viewed as helping build the foundation of modern comedy. “Bud” Abbott and Lou Costello are two such individuals.

Abbott & Costello are the definitive straight man/funny man double act. Abbott sets up the comedy with his high-minded, yet often treacherous demeanor, allowing Costello to fall – quite literally – victim in hilarious ways due to his childlike, bumbling persona. It also helps that Abbott is tall and thin while Costello is short and dumpy. Together, they are comedic maestros with perfect timing, comfortable adlibs and a genuine love for their craft. Younger viewers may not recognize them by name or by sight, but they’ll definitely know Abbott & Costello’s routines, like “Who’s on First?” where Costello has a hard time identifying ballplayers when their names are Who, What and I Don’t Know.

Now Abbott & Costello are available for an entire new generation to enjoy. Infinity Entertainment Group offers a comprehensive 6-DVD collection of Abbott & Costello’s performances across three mediums: film, television and radio. Most of the material is composed of 14 episodes of the Colgate Comedy Hour spread over the years 1951 – 1954. Owners will also appreciate the included 17 radio episodes of The Abbott & Costello Show as well as the feature films: African Screams and Jack and the Beanstalk. There are also a number of movie trailers as well as blooper reels. Pick up this collection as an Abbott & Costello novice and become an expert by the time the last DVD ends.

The amount of material included in this collection is a steal for its selling price. There’s so much to enjoy here. Like all comedy, Abbott & Costello are usually on point, but sometimes miss the mark on laugh-out-loud funny. Sometimes their shticks run too long or are predictable – especially for modern audiences who have seen these routines replicated in more contemporary shows. The charm of this collection, however, is that the majority of it is composed of live performances. It’s a rare treat to watch these comedians break character to complain about stagehands or to get the audience going when laughter starts dying. In addition, the commercial breaks during the Colgate Comedy Hour were kept intact, offering viewers a clear perspective of 1950’s sensibilities where animations and catchy jingles ruled the advertising world and preying on social embarrassment was more blatant.

Another plus is that this collection isn’t purely Abbott & Costello. Fans of the era will also appreciate seeing stars of the time, like Peter Lorre, Lon Chaney, Jr., Louis Armstrong and more come to life in ways that only live shows allow them to. Watching Errol Flynn interrupt a skit in order to bask in the applause of “[his] public” is priceless.

Not everything is perfect with this collection, unfortunately. The menus are very basic and don’t always function properly. Each DVD features multiple episodes and once an episode is selected it’s impossible to get back to the main menu without physically ejecting the disc. Some episodes would continually loop its last chapter once it ended. Some of the menus didn’t look complete – one featured “for placement only” text. Of course these inconsistencies may be related to this review copy and the DVD player it was viewed with, so your mileage may vary. Nevertheless, these minor issues shouldn’t dissuade anyone from buying this collection.