Book Review: The Comedy Of Existence probes the layers of Groucho Marx’s one-liners

Lee Siegel’s Groucho Marx: The Comedy Of Existence opens with an image of its subject in profile, a photo of a man who is unrecognizable. Absent is the famous greasepaint mustache, the familiar glasses, the comic’s bushy eyebrows or ever-present cigar. Everything iconic about Groucho, who has one of the most famous faces of all time, has been stripped away, leaving behind a pensive, somewhat-anxious looking fellow. It’s an appropriate note for Siegel to start on, as his book is similarly interested in looking past the familiar Groucho Marx to various other elements of his persona.

This is more a work of analysis, in other words, than a work of biography, and some familiarity is needed going in. Siegel provides a few telling anecdotes—including an incident where smart-ass answers on a customs form leads to Marx and his children getting strip-searched—but those wanting a life …

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