Time we enjoyed a little classic humor
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?”
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!