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The Marxist Revolution in American Comedy

The premise of this book is simple: the Marx Brothers revolutionized American comedy by relentlessly mocking, satirizing, and hectoring the largely unchallenged idea that the nation somehow belongs more to the rich white Protestant elite than it does to the poor, the immigrant, and the ethnic. The five films they released between 1931 and 1937 thus create a single storyline that tells of ethnic Americans claiming their place in the grand experiment that is the United States of America. This begins with the 1931 film Monkey Business, which shows the Marxes’ characters sneaking into the country. In the 1932 film, Horse Feathers, brothers invade the world of academia. In Duck Soup from 1933, it is the realm of politics. A Night at the Opera from 1935 takes aim at business and the arts while the 1937 effort, A Day at the Races, has the brothers breaching the worlds of science and gambling. When all was said and done, the Marxist revolution was so thorough, so far-reaching, and so far ahead of its time that into the first decades of the twenty-first century American comedians have no choice but to follow their lead.