The Marx Brothers: Madcap Fun for the New Year

Photo above: The Marx Brothers: Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and Zeppo in “Monkey Business”, from Paramount Pictures | 

It’s a personal resolution I observe every January: Celebrating the New Year with duck soup, animal crackers, and, of course, the cocoanuts.

No, it’s not a strange private culinary ritual. It’s a tradition to welcome the New Year with some old-fashioned Hollywood madcap merriment by viewing several Marx Brothers films including, but not limited to, three of my favorites: Duck Soup, Animal Crackers, and The Cocoanuts.

I’ll also enjoy the next episode of the “The Marx Brothers Council Podcast.” It’‑s a series of monthly podcasts co-hosted by three entertainment veterans who are also noted authorities on the legendary comedy team of Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and — in their five early films — Zeppo Marx (see www.marxbrotherscouncilpodcast.com).

The podcast is an offshoot of the Marx Brothers Council Facebook group, which evolved from M­atthew Coniam’s blog, “The Marx Brothers Council of Great Britain,” launched 12 years ago when Noah Diamond and Bob Gassel became regular contributors.

To date, some 40 episodes have aired. Each is generally led by one of the hosts, with the others chiming in as the trio deep-dive into one of the films or some aspect of the Marx canon, examining the films and lives of the Marx Brothers in astonishing academic detail but always remaining entertaining and amusing.

“I am just a big fan who often tries to hide my lack of expertise by making smart-ass remarks,” said Bob Gassel (on Twitter @bobgassel), a career video editor based in Fairfield, Conn., who  is also tasked with recording, editing, and publishing the podcast.

While the brothers only appeared together in 13 movies between 1929 and 1949, dedicated fans throughout subsequent decades have helped maintain the comedy team’s popularity. Why their continuing appeal? It’s the Brothers’ absurd humor and dangerous manic energy, explains author Matthew Coniam from Bath, England, who published “The Annotated Marx Brothers” in 2015.

“It’s low comedy for people with highbrow tastes,” said Coniam. “That kind of dexterous verbal humor that’s very, very sophisticated, yet shot through with a joyous foolishness.”

“Their motivation is joy,” added Noah Diamond, a writer and performer based in New York City. “Yes, they’re anarchic comedians, but they’re not angry.”

“I’m just going to say I love how smart they actually are,” said Gassel. “While some may see them as idiots, my perception is that in their best films, they are just on a different wavelength then everyone else.”

As children, all three hosts discovered the Marx Brothers for the first time, and they continue to share that enthusiasm with listeners.

“I’m especially proud of the balance between the scholarly and the silly we seem to maintain,” said Coniam, noting the group’s Facebook membership has reached more than 5,000. “We must be doing something right!”

With all past episodes archived on their website, the holiday season is a great time to check out the informative podcast fun. While you’re at it, remember you can also enjoy A Night at the Opera, A Day at the Races, and even A Night in Casablanca without ever leaving home.

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