More pronoun confusion

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…but this time it's the second person, in an outtake from the Laura Ingraham show that's been widely discussed in the media, posted several times on YouTube, and apparently viewed millions of times on TikTok:

Arroyo says it was planned:

Raymond Arroyo, described by Wikipedia as "an American author, journalist, and producer", doesn't seem to have any previous experience scripting or performing comedy sketches. But intentional or not, I agree that this is the best comedy bit based on function-word misunderstanding since Abbot and Costello's famous Who's On First dialog:

Along with its comedy value, the Ingraham/Arroyo interchange is a good example of (one of) the kinds of co-construction of conversation that chatbots have not yet figured out how to imitate.


Update — in addition to Ben Zimmer's contribution (from a 1977 movie):

…there's also this, from the 1972 movie What's Up, Doc:



21 Comments »

  1. Ben Zimmer said,

    November 17, 2021 @ 10:40 am

    My favorite riff on "Who's On First" is the "Rock Festival" routine from Harry Shearer and David L. Lander back in the '70s when they were in the comedy troupe The Credibility Gap.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7BmTYpVtICE

  2. Seth said,

    November 17, 2021 @ 12:46 pm

    Definitely intentional. There's something interesting here with a comedy bit being performed by people who aren't professional comedians (well, professional humorists). But the conversation has misunderstanding which aren't "natural", in a way it's hard to articulate. The "What's it's called" part is also very much a tip-off, that's a deliberate straight line if I ever heard one.

  3. Philip Taylor said,

    November 17, 2021 @ 1:14 pm

    I have to confess, I find it unbelievable that Abbot and Costello's Who's On First dialogue could ever have become genuinely famous. OK, those were different times, perhaps people's taste was simpler and they were more easily amused, but this is the very first time I have encountered it and by 1:32 I was already bored stiff. Totally predictable, as "funny" as Radio 4's 18:30 so-called "comedy" slot, and unspeakably banal. Am I really alone in thinking along these lines ? By contrast, and just to demonstrate that I am not entirely devoid of a sense of humour, I find Stanley Holloway's "Pukka Sahib" rolling-on-the-the-floor funny.

    As for Ingraham and Arroyo, it seemed entirely spontaneous to me, but then I probably live in different universe to most who comment here …

  4. Seth said,

    November 17, 2021 @ 1:47 pm

    @ Philip Taylor – It takes much too long for Arroyo to say anything along the lines of : By "You" I'm not referring to your show, but a show on Netflix by that name. And they milk the ""You "/ you" in a way that's very clearly doing a bit inspired by the Abbot and Costello routine if you've ever seen it before.
    In real life confusion, people narrow this down quickly and without chewing scenery. Especially if they've heard the routine before.

    Regarding the fame of that type of comedy, well, there's no accounting for taste.

  5. Daniel Barkalow said,

    November 17, 2021 @ 2:29 pm

    It sounds to me like Arroyo, before the show, said he would mention the show that You did about measles, and she was confused, and they decided that was more interesting than what he actually had to say about that episode, but didn't plan or script enough to notice that nothing else he could say was actually plausible to misparse.

  6. KeithB said,

    November 17, 2021 @ 2:38 pm

    There is also the one about Hu Jintao:
    it was a dialogue between GWB and Condoleeza Rice:
    http://www.esp.org/humor/hu.pdf

  7. AntC said,

    November 17, 2021 @ 2:53 pm

    Abbot & Costello toured their show to the cricket-playing nations.

    People in New Zealand still talk of the epic fail of "Who's on first?". Is this what America calls comedy? To answer @PhilipT's wondering out loud: it's 'famous' in NZ for being alleged to be funny in USA.

    AFAICT everybody in NZ 'got' what the joke was trying to be about, despite not understanding baseball. What they didn't get was why (allegedly) top-flight comedians would include it in their act night after night. What's bizarre is that despite A&C getting stony silence each night, they didn't change their act.

  8. Philip Taylor said,

    November 17, 2021 @ 2:58 pm

    On reflection, it may be that if one were aware that there exists a ?television? programme called "You", then one might be more inclined to view the Ingraham and Arroyo exchange as staged. As I was (and still am) unaware of the existence of this putative programme, I was more inclined to judge it as real.

  9. Julian said,

    November 17, 2021 @ 3:48 pm

    @ Philip Taylor
    As a child in 1960s Australia I was aware from a very young age that British and American humour were different. British humour was often funny (think The Frost Report) and American humour wasn't (all weak gags and canned laughter). I was curious about why the difference. Still haven't found the answer.

  10. julian said,

    November 17, 2021 @ 3:56 pm

    PS. By the 15- second mark I've got the point, I can see where this is heading, and I don't find the way it's belaboured in the rest of the clip especially funny. I rest my case. Sorry folks.
    On the other hand, My Name Is Earl was pretty good.

  11. Haamu said,

    November 17, 2021 @ 4:47 pm

    The joke fails (and reveals itself as staged) for me early on when he says, "It was on you" and she misinterprets that to mean "It was on your show." I don't find any plausible condition under which she could miscontrue things that way. Even a complete narcissist wouldn't say, "Last night on Me we did a segment on immigration…"

  12. David Marjanović said,

    November 17, 2021 @ 5:02 pm

    Humor is very culture-bound, both in space and in time.

    For current American humor, I recommend Stephen Colbert (all over YouTube) – most of what he says is only funny because it's true, but he does have original contributions as well.

  13. Brett said,

    November 17, 2021 @ 8:30 pm

    My favorite meta-joke about these kinds of routines came from an episode of Stargate: SG-1. The show had a character named "Yu" (who was actually the legendary Jade Emperor). The first couple of episodes in which Lord Yu was mentioned, there were brief jokes about the confusing name—a mixture with a little bit of actual in-universe confusion, but mostly the main characters on the show joking around. Several seasons later, a new character was first being briefed about Lord Yu, and she started to do some more of those jokes; however, one of the existing characters stopped her short and told her that the jokes had already been done to death.

  14. D.O. said,

    November 17, 2021 @ 11:06 pm

    As far as I can see, Arroyo played his part convincingly, but Ingraham didn't look and sound either confused or angry. She more or less "read her lines".

  15. Sarah C said,

    November 18, 2021 @ 1:57 am

    I'm still rewatching it in puzzlement because Ingraham seems to be articulating a lot of her bilabials labiodentally.

  16. Cervantes said,

    November 18, 2021 @ 8:02 am

    The Abbot and Costello routine isn't funny because of the literal content, it's funny because of the way Costello plays his ever-crescendoing frustration while Abbot stays cold deadpan. It's about their characters, the semantic confusion is just a gimmick to hang them on.

  17. Mark P said,

    November 18, 2021 @ 8:53 am

    It’s kind of punching down to criticize A&C’s comedy. They started in burlesque at a time when comedy and people were different; American humor left them behind in the 1950’s. But I have to say their New Zealand performances meet any standard of success if people are still talking about it way more than a half a century later.

  18. Ed Hall said,

    November 18, 2021 @ 4:09 pm

    Another aspect of the A&C routine are the parallels to the argot and banter of baseball radio broadcasts. Younger folk might never have encountered these and so miss much of the implied context.

  19. Seth said,

    November 18, 2021 @ 8:39 pm

    It's late in the thread, but I think I've finally figured out how to express the reason as to why this is obviously staged. In real conversation, when someone realizes they have said something ambiguous which has been misparsed by the other party, they ordinarily immediately focus on disambiguation. They don't just repeat or re-assert something similarly ambiguous, which is the flaw in that type of comedy routine.

    A: What's the ballplayer's name?
    B: Hu. ("Who")
    A: Who?
    B: [In real life – will disambiguate: "Hu, as in H-u. Chang Hu. He's Asian."]
    B: [Will not say: "Yes, Hu."]

    Compare this version of the idea, which is very well constructed in that the characters have good reasons not to immediately say disambiguating statements, given the tense situation they are in:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OAVnOz7i-JA

  20. stephen said,

    November 18, 2021 @ 9:23 pm

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=1Evt6As72m4

    Here is
    Johnny Carson as Reagan

  21. maidhc said,

    November 22, 2021 @ 12:43 am

    Another thing that makes the A&C routine work is that they're playing a game that either one of them could break out of at any time (as Seth says), but yet they both pig-headedly insist on playing the initial rules of the game unchanged through until the very end.

    You can see a similar type of humour in Laurel and Hardy's tiffs with James Finlayson.

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