Saturday, August 01, 2009

Insultingly Funny

It's so much fun to watch pros in action.

I'm not talking about the Yankees or Lance Armstrong or Stewart Cink. Yes, they are professionals at their specific sports, and they do it very well indeed. What I'm talking about is those whose wit is fast and furious and cutting, who can think on their feet and come back with a retort that makes you wish you had been able to react that quick.

A perfect example came this past week when Jon Stewart had NBC News anchor Brian Williams on his show. Williams is known to have a quick wit, but you need one to match up with Stewart, who makes a living at it. So it was no big surprise when the back and forth began from the very beginning, as Stewart took Williams and his network to task for their coverage of Mark Sanford and Michael Jackson. Some good barbs were tossed from each side. Then the talk turned to recently deceased newsman Walter Cronkite. Said Williams, "He was the guy I wanted to be when I was a kid." A perfect beat, and then, "It was like Carrot Top to you." The audience exploded. Even Stewart couldn't keep a straight face. But not one to be caught with his puns down, he came back hard at Williams: "So... how does it feel to fall so short?"

Now that's give and take. It's so refreshing to see repartee at such a level, many cuts above the usual swearing and cursing that some mistake for insults. Too often, zinging one these days means merely increasing the volume and adding the F word to whatever was just said. Or as Conan O'Brien recently noted, people in New York are especially excited by Judge Sotomayor because she comes from the Bronx and presided over that landmark local case, "Shut Up vs. No, You Shut Up."

In that vein, a recent email crossed my desk collecting some of the more witty insults that have passed people's lips. It's been floating around for a while, but that doesn't make it any less delicious. And while I don't usually just reprint stuff, this one bears repeating.

An exchange between Churchill & Lady Astor: She said, "If you were my husband I'd give you poison." He said, "If you were my wife, I'd drink it."

A member of Parliament to Disraeli: "Sir, you will either die on the gallows or of some unspeakable disease." Said Disraeli, "That depends, Sir, whether I embrace your policies or your mistress."

"He had delusions of adequacy." Walter Kerr.

"He has all the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire." Winston Churchill.

"I have never killed a man, but I have read many obituaries with great pleasure." Clarence Darrow.

"He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary." William Faulkner about Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway's reply: "Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words?"

"Thank you for sending me a copy of your book; I'll waste no time reading it." Moses Hadas.

"I didn't attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it." Mark Twain.

"He has no enemies, but is intensely disliked by his friends." Oscar Wilde.

"I am enclosing two tickets to the first night of my new play; bring a friend... if you have one." George Bernard Shaw to Winston Churchill. Churchill's reply: "Cannot possibly attend first night, will attend second... if there is one."

"I feel so miserable without you; it's almost like having you here." Stephen Bishop.

"He is a self-made man and worships his creator." John Bright.

"I've just learned about his illness. Let's hope it's nothing trivial." Irvin S. Cobb.

"He is not only dull himself; he is the cause of dullness in others." Samuel Johnson.

"He is simply a shiver looking for a spine to run up." Paul Keating.

"He loves nature in spite of what it did to him." Forrest Tucker

"Why do you sit there looking like an envelope without any address on it?" Mark Twain.

"His mother should have thrown him away and kept the stork." Mae West.

"Some cause happiness wherever they go; others, whenever they go." Oscar Wilde.

"He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lamp-posts... for support rather than illumination." Andrew Lang.

"He has Van Gogh's ear for music." Billy Wilder.

"I've had a perfectly wonderful evening. But this wasn't it." Groucho Marx.

"There's nothing wrong with you that reincarnation won't cure." Jack E. Leonard.

"He inherited some good instincts from his Quaker forebears, but by diligent hard work, he overcame them." James Reston on Richard Nixon

"He can compress the most words into the smallest idea of any one I know." Abraham Lincoln.

"A modest little person, with much to be modest about." Winston Churchill.


Marc Wollin of Bedford loves a good turn of phrase. His column appears regularly in The Record Review and The Scarsdale Inquirer.

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