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A Coupla Wiseguys: The Marx Brothers vs. Abbott and Costello

January 7, 2012

Bruce Fretts: My 10-year-old daughter, Olive, is becoming a connoisseur of classic comedy. So I thought it might be fun to spend a lazy Saturday afternoon watching an Abbott & Costello movie, like I used to do when I was a kid, and compare it to a movie with the Marx Brothers, whom I’ve never really liked. For Bud & Lou, I chose Who Done It?, a murder mystery that was a childhood favorite of mine, and for Groucho and the boys, Duck Soup, which some consider to be their best movie.

Olive: If that’s their best movie, then I don’t like them.

Bruce: Why not?

Olive: I liked the actors, but I didn’t like the movie. I only liked the mirror part.

Bruce: Ah, the famous scene when Groucho thinks he might be looking in a mirror, but it’s really Harpo dressed up like him. Did you ever see Harpo do that routine with Lucille Ball on I Love Lucy?

Olive: I’ve never seen I Love Lucy. Everyone talks about Lucille Ball and I Love Lucy and I’m like “mmm-hmmm.”

Bruce: Then I’ve been remiss in your education. But I don’t love Lucy. Anyway, back to the Marx Brothers. The reason I didn’t like them as a kid is I felt like they were clever but not funny.

Olive: I guess I know what you mean. They’re a little bit annoying-clever, but it’s not really in a funny way.

Bruce: I think their comedy is aimed more at your head, like you think about it and then say, “Oh, that’s funny.” But Abbott & Costello make me laugh out loud. It’s aimed at your belly.

Olive: (laughs) I guess you’re right—it is aimed at your belly. I love Abbott and Costello. They’re just like, the best. They’re the bomb. It’s awesome. Costello’s so stupid and gullible, and Abbott has to lead him away from all that stuff.

Bruce: They’re more of a classic comedy team, where there’s a straight man and a guy who does the punchlines.

Olive: It’s a very classic…like…

Bruce: What?

Olive: I’m thinking, don’t interrupt me…what does my teacher say?…PLOT! It’s a classic plot—the straight man and the goofy one. They turn it into something new.

Bruce: The Marx Brothers all have different personas, and some are funnier than others. Zeppo is in Duck Soup, but I didn’t even know which one he was, because he doesn’t do anything funny.

Olive: He was just one of the characters, not one of the big ones you follow.

Bruce: Groucho is everyone’s favorite, but which one do you like best?

Olive: I like Groucho, but Harpo is my favorite. He kinda reminds me of Costello.

Bruce: Why do you think everyone likes Groucho the best?

Olive: Because of his looks. He’s got the flashy mustache and the nose and some eyebrows and glasses.

Bruce: Which one of us is the straight man and which one of us does the punchlines?

Olive: I don’t know. Probably me.

Bruce: I think you’re more Costello. I set you up and you say the funny things.

Olive: (tweaks her father’s nose) I’m sorry—I just had to do that.

Bruce: Everyone’s favorite Abbott & Costello routine is “Who’s on First?” Why do you think it’s so funny?

Olive: Costello’s just not getting it, and it’s driving Abbott crazy. And Costello doesn’t understand because they’re both trying to figure it out at the same time.

Bruce: They don’t really do “Who’s on First?” in Who Done It? but they refer to it a couple of times.

Olive: They talk about it, then they turn on the radio and there they are doing it, and they’re like, “Oh, no, I hate these people!”

Bruce: And they do a version of it with watts and volts.

Bruce: Which one of the Marx Brothers are you most like?

Olive: Maybe Chico. Because I don’t get into trouble much.

Bruce: I think you’re more like Groucho.

Olive: Why?

Bruce: Because you’re a wiseguy.

Olive: Maybe I am more like Groucho.

Bruce: We’re a coupla wiseguys.

Whose comedy do you prefer—the Marx Brothers or Abbott and Costello? Be a wiseguy—post a comment!

From → Kid Stuff, Posts

  1. Even though I’m a diehard Marx Brothers fan, I truly enjoyed this dialogue. Olive, you might try watching “A Night at the Opera.” It’s always been my favorite Marx Brothers movie, mainly because most of the humor hits you in the gut instead of the brain. When Chico and Harpo stick the music for “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” in the orchestra’s scores of “Il Trovatore,” it makes my sides hurt from laughing. And if you like “Who’s on First,” you’ll love the contract negotiation between Groucho and Chico.

    And whatever you do, if you want to continue to enjoy Abbott and Costello, DON’T listen to their old radio shows. They’re awful.

    • bruceafretts permalink

      Thanks, George. I’ll show Olive “A Night at the Opera” and see if she likes it better.

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