In the mid-1490s the greatest laughs in Merrie Olde England were supplied by a comedy duo from Bristol called Cabot & Ostello. John Cabot had newly arrived from Italy where he’d been a florist when he joined the English comedy circuit, Cumbernauld Ostello had been a cesspit cleaner. When the pair of comedians joined forces they decided to rechristen themselves Bud Cabot & Loo Ostello as a reminder of their previous occupations.
Their knockabout comedy act soon had the ‘House Full’ notices posted wherever they performed. This was a complete contrast for Loo Ostello who, in his previous job, was used to houses being empty because the cesspit was full. Their most famous routine revolved involved Ostello asking Cabot the names of players occupying positions on a baseball pitch. This usually went down like a batter hit by a stray pitch with English audiences. Nevertheless, despite this they were still greatly admired as performers and it is a mark of their popularity that they were the only comedy duo of the 1490s in England who never experienced ‘dying’ on stage. Admittedly this was mainly due to the fact that they pulled out of the 1496 King’s Royal Command Comedy Performance at the Plague Hospital in Hackney because Loo Ostello had a sore throat.
With all the other comedians gone having discovered that it wasn’t just humour that was infectious, Cabot & Ostello had the merry making field to themselves. This made Cabot somewhat disinterested as he was the type who thrived on a challenge. It was during a session with a clairvoyant that he was told that Cabot & Ostello could never consider themselves to be truly great until they had conquered America. This played on Cabot’s mind, but he got no sympathy from Ostello when he broached the subject. He just rebuked him for having a session with a clairvoyant when he was a happily married man. Cabot took no notice. He was a man possessed. What made it even more difficult for comedians to conquer America back in 1497 was that America didn’t even exist. Columbus had discovered the West Indies in 1492, not mainland America. He’d steered well clear of discovering that, partly because he didn’t have any great baseball gags.
To conquer America, Cabot concluded, would mean having to discover Newfoundland first. Ostello mused that could be easily achieved by turning up at Eastville Park with a megaphone and near the boating lake shouting through it that there was a drought on. The lake would be emptied in no time and Newfoundland would be there for everyone to see.
Cabot decided to organise a voyage across the Atlantic to discover America. Ostello thought it might be an idea to meander around and take in a lot of other countries on their comedy tour. But Cabot wanted to go there directly which was no surprise to Ostello because Cabot was the straight man.
Cabot journeyed to London to petition King Henry VII for his support. Henry liked the idea of America being discovered as it would be easier for his son to obtain a divorce in the courts over there. He thus granted Cabot a charter to claim any unchristian land he found on his travels for the King. It was for this reason that upon his return to Bristol that Cabot was barred from the Bangalore Tandori on Gloucester Road.
The major funding for the voyage was supplied by a wealthy Bristol merchant called Joseph Ameryka. He was looking for an investment as a tax dodge and requested that Cabot didn’t broadcast the scheme or Ameryka’s link with it in any way.
Cabot had a ship built and named it after Loo Costello’s mother, a devoted cesspit cleaner who’d never had a wash in her life, it was thus called The Ma Phew. A crew of seventeen was then assembled – it worked out cheaper that way than getting them ready made. In case of sea-sickness or severe indigestion they also took some settlers with them.
The omens were good when the Lord Mayor of Bristol remarked at the ship’s launch in 1497, ‘If you gert nutters find land ital deaf knit lee be a merical.’ A month later Cabot arrived in Newfoundland thereby discovering mainland America. Cabot and his comedy partner were greeted on the beach there by a chap with red skin called Frank who was an ancestor of Albert Einstein who proceeded to warmly shake their hands. The natives made a commemorative carving in Holy wood of this momentous event called ‘Cabot & Ostello Meet Frank Einstein’.
The comedy duo performed a gig and the baseball routine went down a treat. There was much rejoicing amongst the native Americans and a chap slapped Cabot on the back and thanked him for discovering the place and naming locations there after merchants who’d funded the voyage. For now he realised he lived in Pennsylvania, named after Bristolian William Penn, so he could at last find his way back after being lost, for thirty-five years, by simply following the road signs.
Unfortunately, the celebrations got out of hand and when zip codes were allocated the natives became intoxicated and openly engaged in orgies. Cabot was alarmed to learn that whatever happened in America usually occurred in England twenty years later. Disgusted by what he feared he had unleashed, Cabot ordered the ship to be prepared for an immediate return to England. But the crew wondered if this could be postponed for about 19 years and 335 days.