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Groucho Marx vs William F. Buckley Jr.

Groucho Marx vs William F. Buckley Jr.
by Billy Ingram

On Firing Line with William F. Buckley Jr.: Is the World Funny?

Firing Line was a PBS public affairs program hosted by conservative, National Review founder William F. Buckley Jr. for over 33 years, from 1966 to 1999, making Firing Line the longest-running public affairs program with a single host in television history. It was a talk show where verbal fireworks was a regular feature, professional wrestling with words.

The most famous example of the kind of conflict this show encouraged was Buckley’s infamous feud with Gore Vidal. The arch-conservative and arch-liberal truly hated one another.

As a man with liberal leanings, Groucho was a guest on Firing Line in 1967 to debate Buckley as to whether the world is a funny place. Spoiler alert: Groucho didn’t think so.

Karl Whitney of The Guardian wrote, “The programme was an hour long, and began amiably, if stiffly, as Buckley introduced his guest. Then in his mid-70s, Groucho, whose casual attire of a blue jacket, polo neck and grey plaid trousers contrasted with Buckley’s businesslike suit and tie, was still recognisable from his heyday, when as a member of the Marx Brothers he had leered and delivered comic non sequiturs (“One morning I shot an elephant in my pyjamas. How he got in my pyjamas I don’t know”) over the course of vaudeville shows, Broadway productions and a run of classic, and some not so classic, comedy movies.”

It’s rather unusual to see Groucho in such a serious mood, but his legendary quick wit is on display here. He’s clearly a debater of great skill (I was going to say ‘master debater’ but that’s the kind of comment Groucho would pounce on!).

Groucho adopts a very relaxed pose, in contrast to Buckley who, on the other hand, was always stiff and stuffy, impossibly erudite, excessively condescending. He clearly believes he’s the smartest man in the room, and that would be true of every room he enters. True, he was a clever man, always armed with research papers at hand to back up his assertions.

Groucho proves to be a crafty adversary, at one point points out that Buckley, "you know that he blushes and he seems so tough when you're watching the show? And he's constantly blushing" then compares him to a “young girl.” That’s a debate technique by the way, try to unnerve your opponent, Buckley was very adept at it.

Groucho opined, “Even a professional comedian can be funny perhaps 8 minutes out of 24 hours. A comedian, they’re the dreariest people in the world, you should talk to my wife some time. Which is more than I do.”

Groucho was out promoting his book published in 1967, The Groucho Letters: Letters From and To Groucho Marx, a compendium of conversations with such noted personalities and intellectuals as E. B. White, Fred Allen, Goodman Ace, Nunnally Johnson, James Thurber, Booth Tarkington, Alistair Cooke, Harry Truman, Irving Berlin, and S. J. Perelman.

“I read in the newspapers they are going to have 30 minutes of intellectual stuff on television every Monday from 7:30 to 8. to educate America. They couldn't educate America if they started at 6:30.” 
― Groucho Marx,  The Groucho Letters


Here's the entire program:
Firing Line with William F. Buckley Jr.: Is the World Funny?

Post-Modern Sitcoms / Actors That Wrote Books / Bill Cosby - WTF?!? / Top Ten Sitcoms of the 1970s / Dallas vs Eight is Enough / 1974 MAD Magazine TV Special - Never Aired! / Partridge Family and Brady Bunch at Kings Island theme park 1972-73 / Jack Benny's Last Tonight Show 1974 / Luke Perry's Last Role / Ed Asner Interview / Tony Kornheiser Interview / Freddy's Nightmares TV Series / Awful 1990s TV Shows / Was Sonny Bono Murdered? / Robin Williams' Mrs. Doubtfire Screen Tests / Robert Downey Jr Asks for Forgiveness for Mel Gibson / Hank Williams: The Show He Never Gave / Judy Garland vs Liz Taylor / Emmy Award Multiple Winners / Nathaniel Taylor aka Rollo Lawson / Anthony Zuiker: Mr. CSI / Jimmy & Cher / Diana Muldaur: A Viewer's History / Uncle Andy's Funhouse / Bea Arthur vs Betty White / Skidoo: Worst All-Star Comedy Ever? / Every Marvel Cartoon Opening Theme From 1966 - Present / When Stars Play Themselves / My Pen Pal is in the Pen, Pal / Small Roles Big Performances / Barbara Hall / Stars Before They Were Famous / Stars Before They Were Famous 2 / Stars Before They Were Famous 3 / A Better Classic TV Network / Bill Paxton / Who Was the Black Daliah? / How Frasier Was Created / Music Videos / Chitty Chitty Bang Bang - Behind the Scenes / Shirley Jones Interview / What We Lost When We Lost VHS / When Hit TV Shows Return / Commercials Starring Sopranos Cast Members / Shows Nobody Remembers But Me 4 / Shows Nobody Remembers But Me 1 / Bryan Cranston Interview / FREE streaming movie service you didn’t know you have / The Great Cable TV Migration / Sportscaster Woody Durham / Movie Posters and the documentary 24x36 /Chris Robinson /Dallas Reboot /David Letterman /Auditioning For Game Shows in the 80s /Ghosts of Cable TV past / Honey Boo Boo - WTF?!? / Steven Bochco Tribute / Ian Abercrombie / Joe Franklin / John Nettles / Gotham / Family Fued: Gilligan's Island vs Lost In Space / Jon Cryer / Jon Stewart / Lana Wood / David Letterman / Matt Bomer / Molly Ringwald / Morgan Brittany / Music Rights for TV Shows / Neilsen Ratings / Norman Lloyd / Not Your Dad's TV / TV Series Reunions / Rich Little / Special Bulletin with George Clooney / Howard Stern VS Jamie Foxx / Top Ten Action Movies / 2013 Emmy Awards / 2010 Celebrity Deaths

 

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Groucho vs William F Buckley

To Confidential Magazine Gentlemen: “If you continue to publish slanderous pieces about me, I shall feel compelled to cancel my subscription. Sincerely, Groucho Marx”

 

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