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THE WIT OF GROUCHO MARX

Posted by Tim Bryce on March 21, 2014

BRYCE ON HUMOR

- The art of language.

(Click for AUDIO VERSION)
To use this segment in a Radio broadcast or Podcast, send TIM a request.

Today’s style of humor can probably best be described as “In your face,” meaning it leaves nothing to the imagination. It’s very graphic. Back when radio was the primary entertainment vehicle, comics had to be more precise in their language in order to paint a picture for their audience. Comedians such as Jack Benny and Fred Allen understood this and used it to conjure up images, as did “Fibber McGee and Molly.”

The king of oratory though was Groucho Marx of Marx Brothers fame. Whereas his brother Chico portrayed an Italian, and Harpo the fun loving mute, Groucho was charged with keeping the dialog moving along with wise cracks. His genius was his ability to twist grammar and capitalize on the double entendre of the English language. As a listener, you had to pay attention or you might miss one of his throw-away lines. You just couldn’t see it coming. By doing so, he exhausted listeners due to the mental gymnastics he put you through.

His more legendary lines include:

“One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got into my pajamas I’ll never know.”

“I never forget a face, but in your case I’ll be glad to make an exception.”

“I have had a perfectly wonderful evening, but this wasn’t it.”

“Who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?”

“If I held you any closer I would be on the other side of you.”

“Marriage is a wonderful institution, but who wants to live in an institution?”

“When I invite a woman to dinner I expect her to look at my face. That’s the price she has to pay.”

“Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them… well, I have others.”

Margaret Dumont was one of his favorite foils in his movies. Here are a couple of examples of the banter between the two:

Dumont: “Why, that reminds me of my youth!!”
Groucho: “He must be a pretty big boy by now.”

Groucho: “Do you follow me?”
Dumont: “Yes!”
Groucho: “Well, you better stop following me, or I’ll have you arrested.”

Groucho: “Why don’t you marry me?”
Dumont: “Why, marry you?”
Groucho: “You take me, and I’ll take a vacation. I’ll need a vacation if we’re going to get married. Married! I can see you right now in the kitchen, bending over a hot stove. But I can’t see the stove!”

Dumont: “Oh, I’m afraid after we’re married a while a beautiful young girl will come along and you’ll forget all about me.”
Groucho: “Don’t be silly. I’ll write you twice a week.”

Groucho also had the ability to make the listener think:

“Do you mind if I don’t smoke?”

“I sent the club a wire stating, “PLEASE ACCEPT MY RESIGNATION. I DON’T WANT TO BELONG TO ANY CLUB THAT WILL ACCEPT PEOPLE LIKE ME AS A MEMBER.”

“Practically everybody in New York has half a mind to write a book, and does.”

“A woman is an occasional pleasure but a cigar is always a smoke.”

“Wives are people who feel they don’t dance enough.”

“My favorite poem is the one that starts ‘Thirty days hath September’ because it actually tells you something.”

“What do you get when you cross an insomniac, an agnostic, and a dyslexic? Someone who stays up all night wondering if there is a Dog.”

That joke went over a lot of people’s heads.

I also saw him participate in a roast of Johnny Carson at the Friar’s Club. His description of his dressing room was excellent, and the video is available on YouTube.

“Let me give you an idea of the friendship Johnny Carson and I have for each other. I was on Johnny Carson’s very first Tonight Show, six years ago. I’ll never forget the first night I met him, and heaven knows I’ve tried. I was in my dressing room, at least that is what they said it was. It was the only dressing room I had seen with twelve sinks. He rushed in, dropped some change in the machine, bought a comb, a nail clipper, a squirt of perfume and he left. The last time I saw him was 40 minutes ago. I had the same dressing room. Two sinks had been removed. He came in and said, “Boy am I glad you’re here; The nail clipper doesn’t work.” For your information Mr. Carson, the perfume has worn off too.”

And, Yes, it was Groucho who asked “Who’s buried in Grant’s tomb?”

I’m still amazed how many people never got it.

Through his use of the English language, Groucho exhibited a playfulness with his audience which endeared them to him. Sometimes his comments were suggestive, others were more innocent. He never had to be crude to captivate his fans, he just had to make them think.

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

For Tim’s columns, see:
timbryce.com

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Copyright © 2014 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

NEXT UP:  THE POLITICAL FINANCIERS – Who really funds our electoral process? No, really?

LAST TIME:  THE AGE OF DARKNESS  – Are we still seeking truth and knowledge, or are we pacified by the status quo?

Listen to Tim on WJTN-AM (News Talk 1240) “The Town Square” with host John Siggins (Mon, Wed, Fri, 12:30-3:00pm Eastern), KIT-AM 1280 in Yakima, Washington “The Morning News” with hosts Dave Ettl & Lance Tormey (weekdays. 6:00-9:00am Pacific), and KGAB-AM (650) of Cheyenne, Wyoming. Or tune-in to Tim’s channel on YouTube.

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7 Responses to “THE WIT OF GROUCHO MARX”

  1. Wayne said

    I always loved the line he delivered on his quiz show, “You Bet Your Life”. A female contestant shared with Groucho that she had nine lovely children. Groucho replies, “Nine?” to which the woman proceeds with “Yes Groucho, I love my husband.” Groucho shoots back, “Lady, I love my cigar but I take it out of my mouth now and then!” Good write, Tim! ~ WB

    Like

  2. Tim Bryce said

    A D.F. of New York City wrote…

    “These are priceless Tim. The Duck should come down and give you the fifty dollars.”

    Like

  3. Tim Bryce said

    A W.A. of the Dominican Republic wrote…

    “How true. The really great comedians, I believe, are a dead breed. TV, Movies, Comedy clubs are loaded with filth. I remember going to a comedy club in Palm Harbor a few years before we moved and we just got up an walked out in the middle, as it was that filthy. Here is a link where Groucho talks a little about that. Although his prediction is, unfortunately, totally wrong, it is a good piece to watch. He begins talking about filthy jokes and movies about 4 minutes in. ”

    Like

  4. Frank Griffin said

    Great compendium ! However, my wife pointed out that you missed one of our favorites, from the shipboarding scene in A Night At The Opera as Margaret Dumont and Groucho head up the gangplank:

    Dumont: Are you sure you have everything ?
    Groucho: Well, I haven’t had any complaints yet !

    Like

  5. […] THE WIT OF GROUCHO MARX […]

    Like

  6. Tim Bryce said

    An M.K. of Illinois wrote…

    “Good article and a nice change from debates on global warming and economic issues. People want graphics because they neither have time and common-sense to understand the wit.”

    Like

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