Today was the birthday in 1890 of Groucho Marx, perhaps the best known of the comic geniuses known as the Marx Brothers.

And yet, if it hadn’t been for a runaway mule, they might never have ended up doing comedy.

The Marxes really were brothers, the sons of German immigrants living on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.

They had to (or, in some cases, chose to) drop out of school early on so they could make money to support the family.

But despite their limited formal education, the boys were bright and talented, and their mother Minnie started putting them onstage in various configurations as vaudeville performers.

The oldest, Leonard, could play the piano, while Adolph (later known as Arthur) was known for his skill on the harp.

Julius and Milton were singers, sometimes accompanied by several non-Marx voices.

They would travel from city to city and perform as part of a show that included magicians, dramatic actors and, of course, music.

One night three of the brothers were onstage with a friend, Lon Levy; they were billed at that point as The Four Nightingales.

They were performing at the opera house in the east Texas community of Nacogdoches when a man burst into the theater and interrupted the show to tell the crowd that… a mule had gotten loose.

It couldn’t have felt good to be onstage, doing your musical act as best as you can, only to find out that the second there’s a mule running around outside the audience will leave in a huff (or, as Groucho would later say, a minute and a huff).

So when the mule was corralled and the audience came back inside to hear the rest of the show, the Nightingales were in a foul mood.

Instead of singing the rest of their songs straight, they started ad-libbing new lines to the songs to insult the audience.

Most famously, Julius Marx told the Texans that quote “Nacogdoches is full of roaches.”

That’s the kind of thing that could rile up an audience, maybe even have them start throwing tomatoes.

But this crowd loved it!

And soon, the Marx Brothers realized comedy, not music, was the future of their stage act.

Instead of working up new songs, they worked up sketches and plays, with each of the brothers as an exaggerated character: the sarcastic and silly Groucho, the woman-crazy Chico, the mute and chaotic Harpo, and the straight men, Gummo and, later, Zeppo.

We owe a lot of great comedy to that mule in Nacogdoches.

Today in 2006, musician Katie Melua and her band played a concert – over 300 meters below sea level, for workers in an oil rig in the North Sea.

They set a world record for deepest underwater concert.

I’m Brady, and no, they did not play “Under the Sea” from “The Little Mermaid.”

Marx Brothers’ road to stardom began in Nacogdoches (Houston Chronicle)

Melua’s deep sea gig sets record

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Photo by Ethel Kirsner, NBC Press via Wikicommons