Frank Ferrante has been portraying legendary comedian Groucho Marx since 1980. He chatted to Newcastle Live about what attracted him to play Groucho, profanity in stand up comedy and his show that rolls into Newcastle’s Civic Theatre on the 19th of July.
1 – What attracted you to Groucho’s style of comedy from such a young age?
When I was 9 years old I saw the Marx Brothers in one of their classic films “A Day at the Races.” I was taken by their irreverence, their brashness. They played by their own rules and as a kid, like most kids, I was fairly shy and self conscious. Groucho’s behaviour was free and wild and I wanted to be like him. Mostly, watching Groucho, Harpo and Chico made me laugh hard – until I had tears.
2 – Since you’ve been playing Groucho for so long, have you found bits of his personality coming out in your personality?
No. But his point of view influences me. His courage in his comedy inspires me. Groucho’s use of wordplay, puns in his life and work inspire. His work ethic and commitment to his comedy and craft are worth emulating.
3 – Why do you think Groucho stuck a chord with audiences?
On stage, in movies and on television, Groucho did and said things we wouldn’t think to do or say. He was the outsider and that is relatable. Groucho made fun of politicians, doctors, lawyers, the wealthy, people who have power over us. And that is exhilarating for an audience. And he did it all ingeniously perfectly blending physical and verbal humour.
4- What’s a typical audience demographic for the An Evening With Groucho show?
It’s across the board. Families with children, 20 somethings with dates who appreciate the hip quality of Groucho, older folk who may remember the original, people who love live theatre and interactive comedy.
5 – How do you explain the show to people who have never been exposed to this style of comedy?
Well, firstly you do not have to know Groucho or the Marx Brothers to appreciate this show. The show is a hybrid. Part stand up comedy, part musical, all of it theatrical. There is story telling, funny songs, bits from the classic films and a great deal of improvisation and audience interaction. It’s fast moving and its goal is to entertain, make people laugh hard and give a sense of Groucho Marx’s spirit and comedy style. Groucho is generally considered America’s greatest funny man.
6- Is there an example where the improv section of the show has gone badly?
No. I’ve gotten adept at playing with folks who want to play. The improv sections are the highlights of the show for the audience and me. Every performance is different.
7 – Barry Humphries recently said he thinks there are too many ‘swear words’ in contemporary comedy. What do you think about comedians swearing on stage?
Barry Humphries is one of my heroes. I saw him in London in ’87 when I was performing ‘Groucho’ in the West End and have studied him. Pure genius. He exhilarates me. And my aim is to exhilarate an audience with my wit, skill, the material. I play other improv based characters as well. And swearing generally is an easy way to get laughs. The great American comic Sid Caesar called it “cheating”. You can suggest and still have an edge without having to swear. I like character driven comedy. And my characters don’t go there. And Groucho is from a time …the 1920s, 30s…when you couldn’t swear.
8 – What do you think contemporary comedians could learn from The Marx style of comedy?
The Marx style of comedy is character based. They have completely defined personae and are committed to their characters. The Marx Brothers spent decades on the road honing their characters and material before making their films. This relentless need to improve is critical in work and all of life.
9 – If you weren’t in show biz what would you be doing instead?
Is there anything else?
Frank Ferrante bring his An Evening with Groucho show to Newcastle’s Civic Theatre on the 19th of July.