Abbott, whose mother was a bareback rider for the Ringling Bothers Circus, dropped out of school as a child in 1909, and began working in carnivals. Abbott eventually started working in theaters around the county, eventually becoming the manager for the Nation Theater in Detroit. While at the National Theater, Abbott began performing on stage as straight man to vaudeville performers like Harry Steepe and Harry Evanson.
Abbott met Costello in 1931 while working as a cashier at the Brooklyn theater, when he was asked to fill in for costello's straight man, who was ill. Throughout the 1930s, Abbott and Costello began performing together in burlesque shows, minstrel shows, vaudeville and movie houses.
At Costello's request, all profits earned from the act were split 60/40, favoring Abbott, because, according to Costello, "comics are a dime a dozen. Good straight men are hard to find."
In 1938 they received national exposure for the first time by performing on the Kate Smith Hour radio show, which lead to the duo signing with Universal the following year. Abbot and Costello released their first film in 1940 entitled, One Night in the Tropics. Although Abbott and Costello were only filling supporting roles in the film, they stole the film with their classic routing Who's On First. (Abbott and Costello are the only two non-baseball players honored in the Baseball Hall of Fame museum in Cooperstown, New York, because of their legendary Who's On First routine.)
Within a couple of years, the comedy team also had their own television and radio shows.
Abbott attempted to begin performing again in the 1960s, with a new partner, Candy Candido, but their efforts were not successful. He starred as himself in an animated series of Abbott and Costello