How a "lost" Marx Brothers musical found its way back to the stage

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Infatuation ripened into impersonation.

That’s a great line, I’ll be using it at Happy Hour today.


That Zeppo Marx really cracks me up.


The Marx Brothers are the least funny, so-called funny thing I have ever seen. I just don’t get them.

They’re worse than Jim Davidson?


This is slightly similar to Flywheel, Shyster And Flywheel, a radio sitcom Groucho and Chico did in the early thirties. Thought to be lost forever since the episodes were never recorded, the scripts were discovered in 1988. A few years later, BBC radio put on a version of these scripts. Every so often they’ll replay them on BBC4 or BBC4 Extra.


I hope they sell video recordings of the show, that’d be interesting.

Speaking of Groucho impersonators, another good one is Frank Ferrante


Then I hope something in your life gives you half as much pleasure as I get from the Marx brothers.


Worse than Carrot Top? Worse than Carlos Mencia? Jeff Dunham? Freddy Got Fingered?

You are objectively wrong and you should feel bad about how terribly wrong you are.

N.B. The problem you have with the Marx Brothers likely has to do with the outdated and awkward (to modern ears) timing. Remember that they started in vaudeville; in live comedy one of the main rules is not to step on a laugh. In film you don’t have that audience feedback to work with so you have to guess. Later film comedy generally follows up a big laugh line with some kind of fill-in action you don’t need to hear to get the gist of, but back then they did a lot of pauses which can sound weird nowadays, especially if you’re at home alone instead of at a theatre.


I loved these; more than the films, in fact.

I think it’s something about the timing - ‘F,S&F’ flowed well, whereas I found, say, ‘Duck Soup’ much too intense. By the time I’d absorbed one Groucho comment, two or three more had already passed.

I wonder whether the 1930s broadcasts were at film pace.

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The brothers themselves may have thought the same thing. Several of their movies after Duck Soup were preceded by short live tours where they tested the material and the timing in front of an audience.


I remember reading in Life With Groucho that they felt taking a script straight to the screen, as they had with some of their previous films, was a mistake and that the first time they tried scenes from A Night At The Opera in front of an audience they bombed.

I guess it would be overreaching though to say The Marx Brothers invented focus group testing.


I love Duck Soup and consider it one of my favorite movies, but this is a very valid critique. It’s amazingly smart and funny, but the Groucho routines are so rapid-fire that there’s no room to breathe or laugh; you have to watch it multiple times just to take it all in. I can only imagine if they’d road-tested it for a bit before filming, how much more refined and better-paced it would’ve been.

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I would hate to know what you find actually funny.

Fair point. And Benny Hill. He’s pretty bad, too.

Yeah, I was engaging in a bit of hyperbole. I should maybe give them another try, but I may find it hard to laugh in the context of my prejudices.

Comparing the Marx Brothers to Benny Hill is like comparing, hmm… Monty Python to The Jerry Springer Show?


I forgot to add that the BBC productions weren’t direct lifts from the scripts; they used material from multiple scripts to write an episode.

I am also a huge Marx Brothers fan. Wasn’t aware of the radio thing. Ironically I wrote a Marx Brothers type radio play that was recorded by The Cleveland Radio Players in March and broadcast April 1. Would love some feedback. Email me at jpelyhes@ if you want to hear the mp3.

Jeez, what did Benny Hill ever do to you?