Thursday, August 27, 2015

Comedy Routine of the Day: "Go Ahead and Sing"

In the past few months, I have made an effort to trace Abbott and Costello routines to their origins in minstrel shows, medicine shows, vaudeville entertainment and burlesque revues.  I have now uncovered further background information that I would like to share.

Abbott and Costello performed the routine "Go Ahead and Sing" in Buck Privates (1941) and In Society (1944).  In the traditional version of the routine, the Comic gets in trouble with a police officer for singing in public.  The officer explains the noise ordinance and impresses upon the Comic the need for him to be quiet.  Once the officer departs the scene, the Straight Man encourages the Comic to ignore what the officer had to say and continue singing. 

Straight Man: "You ain't afraid of him, are you?"
Comic: "I should say not." (Sings again very loudly.)

Of course, this brings the officer back.  He is angry and attacks the Comic.  The routine continues in this vein, with the Straight Man repeatedly goading the Comic to sing even though it will inevitably bring the officer back to deliver a beating.  Abbott and Costello discarded the singing in the scene.  Costello manages in other ways to create a noise disturbance.  He plays a radio in Buck Privates. . .

. . . and he honks a car horn in In Society.

The "Go Ahead and Sing" routine was a mainstay on burlesque's Columbia Wheel burlesque circuit.  In 1925, Billy Cochran and Eddie Dale performed the routine as part of the Columbia Wheel’s "Puss Puss" revue.  During the same year, Lewis White and Doc Dorman performed the identical silliness as part of the Columbia Wheel’s "Happy Moments" revue. 

The routine was for a time associated with the skinny, raspy-voiced comedian Tom Howard.  Howard performed "Go Ahead and Sing" as part of the 'Greenwich Village Follies" revue in 1926.  Partnered with Joe Lyons, he toured with the act following the run of the revue.  The team presented the act at New York's Broadway Theatre in June, 1926.  Variety described Howard and Lyon’s comic doings as follows: "[Howard] and a violinist attempt to sing while the circus manager tells them to stop, the gag being that after each warning, the fiddler yells, 'Go Ahead and Sing,' while Howard, a bit dubious, clowns before beginning [to sing]."  Variety said of the act, "Funny only in spots, but considering the present dearth of comedy in vaudeville the turn passes muster."

In 1930, Howard performed the skit in a one-reel Paramount comedy called, appropriately, Go Ahead and Sing (1930).  Motion Picture News noted, "Tom Howard tries to do a little panhandling in this comedy, singing to the accompaniment of his wop pal's fiddling.  They are in front of a hospital and an attendant comes out to ask them to stop.  But the fiddler says it doesn't mean a thing, telling Tom 'Go ahead and sing.'  He does and the attendant gets tough, warning them they must stop, with the same result.  Finally, he socks Tom with a baseball bat, while the fiddler is repeating his 'Go ahead and sing.'"

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