Ode to Groucho Marx


His name is Richard. He wrote: “You are obviously going through a Marx Brothers phase, judging by your last two posts. I suppose you will next be going to the East Borneo Theatre Royal for a ‘night at the opera’ and then to the track for ‘a day at the races’.”

I’m not an opera buff and sadly Eastbourne lacks a race track, unless you count Terminus Road, where the infirm zoom along in their mobility scooters at death-defying speeds of up to three miles an hour.

But I am a Groucho Marx man, through and through. I hold Julius Henry ‘Groucho’ Marx to be the wittiest and most spontaneously funny man who ever lived, bar none.

When you enjoy the performance of your favourite comedian — any comedian — you are being treated to Groucho, filtered through your favourite. Pretty much all of modern comedy, other than the current fashion for open crudity, can be traced back to Groucho.

Even he was not immune to the use of the risqué: as Captain Spaulding, talking about his latest trip to Africa in Animal Crackers, he said: “We took some pictures of the native girls but they weren’t developed. But we’re going back again in a couple of weeks.”

The movie was released in 1930. That line was as close to the knuckle as was possible then, and way funnier than some idiot on TV today effing and blinding.

To appreciate the past, you have to understand that it was a different time. Different rules applied. I once sat through a Marx Brothers movie with a friend, who said at the end: “That was awful. I’ve heard all those jokes before”, which rather missed the point.

I have of late been watching clips from Marx Brothers movies, because no matter how well you know them, something new always jumps out at you. (For what follows, you’ll need to know that Americans pronounce pyjamas puh-JAMM-uhs.)

Also in Animal Crackers, Groucho sings Lydia The Tattoed Lady, in which he takes his usual sideswipes at power, pomposity and promiscuity. One verse contains these lines, referring to Lydia’s tattoos: “Here is Spaulding exploring the Amazon; here’s Godiva, but with her pyjamas on.” I doubt that Groucho wrote the lines, but only he could have delivered them.

Thank you, Richard, for using Groucho and me in the same sentence. No greater compliment could you have paid me.

(Your Christmas present: The song Dr. Hackenbush, in which we first meet the great faker, was written by Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby. It was inexplicably cut from A Day at the Races, but Groucho sang it whenever he had the chance. It contains one of the cleverest funny lines in history and can be heard here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fn1JUCFobBM.)

* * *

It being Christmas, you are, presumably, drunk or in church, but hopefully not both simultaneously. To mark the occasion, I shall tell you the only Christmas joke I know.

Driving home from a bar one Christmas Eve, three men are killed in a car crash. They present themselves at the Pearly Gates, where St. Peter eyes them coolly. “We have special rules at this time of year,” St. Peter says. “To gain admittance to heaven, you must show me something on your person that relates to the Christmas season.”

The three men shuffle uneasily. The first checks his pockets and finally, with a shrug, holds his keys up above his head and rattles them. “Jingle bells?” he asks.

“Sorry,” says St. Peter and with a blinding flash, only two men remain in front of him.

Chastened, the second man desperately digs through his pockets and racks his brains. He suddenly hits on an idea. He scratches his scalp and dandruff falls onto the collar of his coat. “Look: snow!” he says triumphantly.

A blinding flash leaves only the third man at the gate.

“What can you show me?” asks St. Peter.

The fellow, having had time to go through all his pockets, produces with a flourish a pair of lady’s underpants and waves them at St. Peter. “There you are,” says the man, “now you can let me in”.

“What do those,” says St. Peter, pointing at the underwear, “have to do with Christmas?”

The man smiles and says: “They’re Carol’s”.

One response to “Ode to Groucho Marx

  1. Pingback: At Sixes and Sevens and Making Hard Choices | joanneeddy's blog·

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