William F. Buckley and Groucho Marx on Firing Line in 1967.

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Is the world funny?

This meeting of the minds between Willian F. Buckley and Groucho Marx is awkward in places, which brings to mind an anecdote about the great Hollywood celebrity tennis match of 1937, which featured both Groucho and Charlie Chaplin.

As described in The Marx Brothers in a Nutshell (1982), match day found Groucho in his usual mood to avoid taking any sport seriously, including tennis. This irreverence wasn’t to the liking of Chaplin, who nonetheless played along when Groucho produced a picnic basket and served lunch.

Thirty years later on Firing Line, Groucho is in similarly obstructionist fettle. Undoubtedly there is mutual respect between host and guest, and the comedian is serious at intervals, but he frequently deploys his legendary wit to remain safely detached. 

It’s an interesting conversation between two intelligent people. Is this still possible? 

GROUCHO MARX AND WILLIAM F. BUCKLEY DEBATE THE NATURE OF COMEDY ON ‘FIRING LINE,’ 1967, by Martin Schneider (Dangerous Minds)

On July 7, 1967, Groucho Marx appeared as a guest on William F. Buckley’s current affairs show Firing Line to debate the topic “Is the World Funny?” Firing Line had been in existence only for about a year at that point, broadcasting on WOR channel 9 in New York City; four years later, the show would move to PBS.

Groucho was there to promote his new book The Groucho Letters: Letters From and To Groucho Marx, in which he reproduced selected correspondence with figures like Jerry Lewis, Irving Berlin, E.B. White, Peter Lorre, Edward R. Murrow, David Susskind, Booth Tarkington, Harry Truman, and James Thurber.

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