Most people don’t know it, but “Seinfeld” was heavily influenced by “The Abbott and Costello Show.”
Debuting in 1952, “The Abbott and Costello Show” was one of the earliest sitcoms on TV and lasted for 52 episodes. The show centered on Bud and Lou, two unemployed actors living in New York. Bud’s girlfriend Hillary was a wisecracking waitress who lived across the hall from the guys. Other supporting characters included their mean landlord Sid Fields and Mr. Bacciagalupe, who ran the local fruit stand.
The similarities between the two shows are striking. Although Abbott and Costello lacked the interwoven plots of Seinfeld, most Abbott and Costello episodes resembled the “George” storyline from any given episode of Seinfeld. Lou Costello was a short, fat, balding man who tried to avoid work at any cost, and most of the shows revolved around his intricate plans falling apart. Bud Abbott became the doubting straight man, the classic “Jerry” role. Hillary fulfilled the “Elaine” role, but wasn’t as well developed a character as Elaine was. The “Kramer” surrogate was Stinky Jones, played by Joe Besser. Besser eventually went on to join The Three Stooges after Shemp died. The evil Sid Fields acted as “Newman” to Bud and Lou’s “Jerry” and “George.” Like Seinfeld, Abbott and Costello got much of their humor from the use of language and from Kramer-like slapstick.
Many specific episodes of Seinfeld relate back to the old show. Elaine was not in the first episode of the show and the main female character was a wisecracking waitress at the diner. In Seinfeld Episode 58, the crotchety old man that Jerry takes care of is named Sid Fields. Several episodes deal with Jerry and Kramer butting heads with the owner of the local fruit stand. In Seinfeld Episode 30, Kramer overhears a tip on a racehorse (“His mother was a mudder…his father was a mudder”), which was actually a classic Abbott and Costello bit. The same goes for the “Salsa vs. Seltzer” discussion Jerry and George have in one episode.
NBC aired a TV special in 1994 called “Abbot and Costello Meet Jerry Seinfeld” which featured Jerry showing clips of the two classic comedians and talking about how much they influenced him.
While the show wasn’t as deliciously mean-spirited or absurd as Seinfeld, I think that the old episodes of “The Abbott and Costello Show” still remain funny today. It’s not too hard to find them on video for anyone interested.