CERF’S UP

In his comment to 20/20 BEHINDSIGHT (my May 20 post which contained a look back at TWENTY QUESTIONS), long-time blog buddy Don Frankel mentioned WHAT’S MY LINE? (another old TV game show). It so happens that one of the regulars on that show, humor writer and publisher (co-founder of RANDOM HOUSE) Bennett Cerf had chosen the 25th of May (1898) to be born; thus, today I honor his birthday by posting a selection of favorite Cerf puns and quotes (and high time I returned the favor, considering that lo, some twenty-plus years ago, RANDOM HOUSE published several of my poems in THE RANDOM HOUSE TREASURY OF LIGHT VERSE).

But first, let’s take a look back at one of the WHAT’S MY LINE? programs from the same year as the TWENTY QUESTIONS clip shown in my previous post:

There is little question, I think you’ll agree, that WHAT’S MY LINE? was a step up in class compared to TWENTY QUESTIONS…..so it’s time to hit the Cerf (as beach bums refer to the swells) and ride the wave….to wit:

Gross ignorance is 144 times worse than ordinary ignorance.

The confused young man couldn’t decide whether to marry Kathryn or Edith. Try as he might, he just could not make up his mind. Unwilling to give up either, he strung them along far too long. This indecision continued until both women tired of the situation and left him for good. Moral of the story: You can’t have your Kate and Edith too.

Then there was the young female comic who was promised good roles in a hit TV show. All she had to do was divide her favors between the star and the producer. But it was just a sham; she never got any air time at all. You might even say she was….shared skit less.

There once was a student named Bessor
Whose knowledge grew lesser and lesser.
It at last grew so small
He knew nothing at all
And today he’s a college professor.

The Detroit String Quartet played Brahms last night. Brahms lost.

I shouldn’t be surprised  — it was four against one.

And on that note, I bid thee a fond fare well.

 

 

 

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PARDON MY QUOTES

It is easier to buy books than to read them, and easier to read them than to absorb them. –William Osler

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Now that’s a quote I can relate to — of the near-50 books I bought at that November used book sale I wrote about recently, in 3 weeks I’ve managed to find time to read all of 2 1/2; that’s all of two books (plus half of one) traversed in 21 days, as the crow flies. At that rate, I’ll have bought 50 more books before I’ve read an iota of my quota from the last batch — and I’ve already bought ten more books since then. Nonetheless (actually all the more, both batches combined), rather than completely skip a post as I did December 5, I’ll at least try to save composing-time by posting (aka com-posting) the words of others.

Fittingly, I’ll quote the six Masters of Wit (from my previous post) to whom Groucho Marx dedicated his book GROUCHO AND ME. The last quote below cites another timesaver some people practice, but rarely admit….however, I’ll open with Robert Benchley, who undoubtedly said the following following A Night At The Opera with the Marx Brothers:

Opera is where a guy gets stabbed in the back, and instead of dying, he sings.
–ROBERT BENCHLEY

I didn’t like the play, but then I saw it under adverse conditions  — the curtain was up.
— GEORGE S. KAUFMAN

An optimist is a girl who mistakes a bulge for a curve.
–RING LARDNER

Well, if I called the wrong number, why did you answer the phone?
–JAMES THURBER

The fact is that all of us have only one personality, and we wring it out like a dishtowel. You are what you are.
–S. J. PERLEMAN

Prejudice is a great time saver. You can form opinions without having to get the facts.
–E. B. WHITE

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GROUCHO AND M(US)E

Although it is generally known, I think it’s about time to announce that I was born at a very early age. –Groucho Marx, Chapter I, GROUCHO AND ME

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As long-time readers of my blog know, I’m a big fan of Groucho Marx/The Marx Brothers, so it should come as no surprise that one of the first books I read from my used book sale haul (see previous post) was Groucho’s autobiography, GROUCHO AND ME. And who, you ask, is the ME in that title? (Hint: it’s not me).  It’s none other (says the back cover) than “a comparatively unknown Marx named Julius, who, under the nom de plume of Groucho, enjoyed a sensational career on Broadway and in Hollywood with such comedy classics as Monkey Business, Horse Feathers, Duck Soup [and] A Night at the Opera.”

Julius Groucho Marx (1895-1977) wasn’t just a comedian — he was a wit who appreciated wit in others and “Gratefully Dedicated This Book To These Six Masters Without Whose Wise and Witty Words My Life Would Have Been Even Duller: Robert Benchley / George S. Kaufman / Ring Lardner / S. J. Perelman / James Thurber / E. B. White.”

I already owned several Marx Brothers books (written by others) and had at least a whit of an impression of Groucho’s résumé before sinking my teeth into this book….but there’s nothing like an autobio for getting it straight from the Horse’s mouth (Feathers and all). At least, that’s what I thought until I got to page 11, where Groucho wrote:

“This opus started out as an autobiography, but before I was aware of it, I realized it would be nothing of the kind. It is almost impossible to write a truthful autobiography. Maybe Proust, Gide and a few others did it, but most autobiographies take good care to conceal the author from the public.”

Well, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle. This is a different kettle of soup. You pay coal hard cash for an autobiography, and what do you get? A bit of Cash back, another day older and deeper in debt.

Well, two can play that game. This opus began as a book review of GROUCHO AND ME, but Groucho’s bait-and-switch gives me no choice but to turn it into a GROUCHO AND me thing (sorry, readers, no refunds) by invoking the Sanity Clause in my contract….

As I started to say before me was so rudely interrupted, you will have to be satisfied with some suitable quotes from Groucho’s book, which left me in stitches:

My Pop was a tailor, and sometimes he made as much as $18 a week. But he was no ordinary tailor. His record as the most inept tailor that Yorkville ever produced has never been approached. This could even include parts of Brooklyn and the Bronx. The notion that Pop was a tailor was an opinion held only by him. To his customers he was known as “Misfit Sam.”

They say that every man has a book in him. This is about as accurate as most generalizations. Take, for example, “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man you-know-what.” Most wealthy people I know like to sleep late, and will fire the help if they are disturbed before three in the afternoon. You don’t see Marilyn Monroe getting up at six in the morning. The truth is, I don’t see Marilyn getting up at any hour, more’s the pity.

Recognition didn’t come overnight in the old days. We bounced around for many years before we made it. We played towns I would refuse to be buried in today, even if the funeral were free and they tossed in a tombstone.

After we hit the big time on Broadway, naturally our lives changed. Each member of the family reacted differently. Chico stopped going to poolrooms and started to patronize the more prosperous race tracks. After he got through with them, they were even more prosperous. Zeppo bought a forty-foot cruiser and tore up Long Island Sound as though to the manner born. Harpo, a shy and silent fellow, was taken up by the Algonquin crowd, at that time probably the most famous and brilliant conversational group in America. The quips flew thick, fast and deadly, and God help you if you were a dullard!

I am not sure how I got to be a comedian or a comic. As a lad, I don’t remember knocking anyone over with my wit. I’m a pretty wary fellow, and have neither the desire nor the equipment to know what makes one man funny to another man. My guess is that there aren’t a hundred top-flight professional comedians, male and female, in the whole world. But because we are laughed at, I don’t think people really understand how essential we are to their sanity. If it weren’t for the brief respite we give the world with our foolishness, the world would see mass suicide in numbers that compare with the death rate of the lemmings.

And so ( just between Groucho and us) it seems that there is a Sanity Clause after all. 🙂

 

 

 

 

HALFWIT HUNT

My last post ventured forth in search of the brilliant wit of certain Presidents/would-be Presidents (past and present). Now I think it only fair to give equal time to the dim-witted musings of those of such sapience as to merit their own re-visiting. By so doing, I intend to demonstrate that a politician need not be Ronald Obama, Barack Reagan, or even Lucy Lou* to prove his/her comedic bone fides (or fidos, as the case may be) for high office.

*canine Mayor of Rabbit Hash, KY, whose dogged bid for the Presidency regrettably went up in smoke when her campaign headquarters went down in flames:

So, without further adog, let us turn our attention to the business at hand (or paw):

When a great many people are unable to find work, unemployment results. –Calvin Coolidge

Rarely is the question asked, “Is our children learning?” –George W. Bush

The voters have spoken — the bastards! –Morris Udall (after his loss in the 1976 Democratic Presidential primary)

It isn’t pollution that’s harming our environment. It’s the impurities in our air and water that are doing it. –Dan Quayle (V.P. under George H. W. Bush and later a Presidential candidate for a short time)

Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country, and neither do we. –George W. Bush

My friends, no matter how rough the road may be, we can and we will never, never surrender to what is right. –Dan Quayle

Too many good docs are getting out of the business. Too many OB-GYNs aren’t able to practice their love with women all across this country. –George W. Bush

I have made good judgments in the past. I have made good judgments in the future. –Dan Quayle

Hattie, I’m horny. –Bruce Babbitt to Mrs. Babbitt (not realizing his microphone was on) during his 1988 Democratic Presidential campaign

A zebra cannot change his spots. –Al Gore (not true; zebras change their spots every time they move — ha ha)

I want to be sure [the choice for new IRS commissioner] is a ruthless son of a bitch, that he will do what he’s told, that every income tax return I want to see, I see, [and] that he will go after our enemies and not our friends. If he isn’t, he doesn’t get the job. –Richard Nixon (May 1971 tapes)

There’s a place in Hell reserved for women who don’t support other women. –Sarah Palin on 10/4/08, when she was John McCain’s running mate

Well, Sarah, I may not be a woman, but I’ll be damned — who knew that you could be counted on to support Hillary Clinton for President in 2016? And now I can bring this post to a close, mercifully finding no need to inflict on my readers proof, in so many words, of The Donald’s endlessly witless qualifications.

WIT HUNT

Eight years ago, I said it was time to change the tone of politics; in hindsight, I should have been more specific. — Barack Obama (2016 White House Correspondents’ Dinner)

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I am going to miss President Obama when he’s ‘gone’….if for no other virtue than his laid-back wit — a quality sadly lacking in the two major candidates to succeed him, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump  (not to mention his wit-less former GOP rivals):

One View: 2016 candidates lack wit of predecessors

At least Hillary managed a treasonable (to Trump apologists) facsimile of wit in a June 21 speech: “Trump has written a lot of books about business – they all seem to end at chapter 11” (a reference to his four corporate bankruptcies). Granted, that line was probably conceived by a speech writer, but she delivered it as if it were her baby, and to hold it against her is extraneous to witticisms delivered by past actual or would-be Presidents. Wit the help of assiduous research, here are a dozen of yore favorites (and I quote):

I do declare, if this be true, General Pinckney has kept them all for himself and cheated me out of my two. –John Adams (in response to rumors that he had dispatched the General to England to bring back four mistresses: two for Pinckney and two for Adams)

If I had two faces, would I be wearing this one? –Abraham Lincoln (when accused by Stephen Douglas of being two-faced)

Accuracy to a newspaper is what virtue is to a lady; but a newspaper can always print a retraction. –Adlai Stevenson

Politics is supposed to be the second-oldest profession. I have come to realize that it bears a very close resemblance to the first. –Ronald Reagan

Being President is like running a cemetery: you’ve got a lot of people under you and nobody’s listening. –Bill Clinton

If the Republicans will stop telling lies about the Democrats, we will stop telling the truth about them. –Adlai Stevenson

Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt. –Abraham Lincoln (Are you listening, Donald Trump?)

I hope you’re all Republicans. —Ronald Reagan (to surgeons upon entering the operating room following 1981 assassination attempt)

I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone. –John F. Kennedy (at a White House dinner honoring Nobel Prize winners)

I have left orders to be awakened at any time in case of national emergency — even if I’m in a cabinet meeting. –Ronald Reagan

A hypocrite is the kind of politician who would cut down a redwood tree, then mount the stump and make a speech for conservation. –Adlai Stevenson

When they call the role in the Senate, the Senators don’t know whether to answer “present” or “not guilty.” –Teddy Roosevelt

And with that exhaustive compendium, I’m at wit’s end.

 

HUMOR INCORPORATED

Humor must both teach and preach if it would live forever; by forever, I mean 30 years.
–Mark Twain

If Webster’s definition of humor as the “quality of imagination quick to perceive the ludicrous or express itself in an amusing way” is on the mark, Twain underestimated the staying power of his humor by nigh onto 100 years (and counting). But “staying” is just one of humor’s possible powers, and because (as Lord Acton famously observed) power tends to corrupt, humor cannot absolutely avoid Acton’s axiom.

My musing on this subject is occasioned by April being National Humor Month — so proclaimed in 1976 by Larry Wilde, Founder/Director of The Carmel Institute of Humor: http://www.larrywilde.com/

As you might expect, The Carmel Institute of Humor is not without serious competition. A similar entity I’ve come across is The Humor Project, Inc., founded by Joel Goodman in 1977 “as the first organization in the world to focus full-time on the positive power of humor” — a claim that suggests a merger of Norman Vincent Peale’s “The Power of Positive Thinking” with funny business. And, from such appealing funny businesses as Goodman’s, have big businesses grown (judging by their “power” promotions): https://www.humorproject.com/

Now, far be it from me to regard the corporatizing of humor as a phony business — hey, there are worse things to make of humor than a commodity, and worse ways to earn a buck than to commercialize the process. But, purist that I am, I see making humor in the same light as making love: much to be preferred on a human level than as an industry (the virtues of consumer capitalism notwithstanding). Nonetheless, I’m not so doctrinaire as to deny either humor or sex to potential customers when free(?) enterprise comes a-courting.

Unlike Larry Wilde and Joel Goodman, mistermuse does not have a Speaker’s Bureau, a three-day Annual Conference (discounted fee for early registration), a five-point humor program, seminars or workshops. But mistermuse does offer an every-five-days discourse on subjects of interest (his, if not yours) — usually with tongue in cheek, and never with hat in hand. Dis course today concludes with ten humorous quotes, which come with a funny-back guarantee if he doesn’t think they’re priceless:

Bigamy is having one wife too many. Monogamy is the same.Oscar Wilde (not to be confused with Larry – or Curly or Moe, for that matter)
Conference: a meeting held to decide when the next meeting will take place. –Evan Esar
You can’t study comedy; it’s within you. –Don Rickles (the Donald Trump of insult-comics)
Start every day off with a smile and get it over with. –W.C. Fields
Everything is funny, as long as it’s happening to somebody else. –Will Rogers
Culture is roughly anything we do and monkeys don’t. –Lord Raglan
In politics, an absurdity is not a handicap. –Napoleon Bonesapart (I’ve been waiting a long time for the opportunity to butcher that name)
Politicians do more funny things naturally than I can think of doing purposely. –Will Rogers
Humor is just another defense against the universe. –Mel Brooks
Wit – the salt with which the American humorist spoils his intellectual cookery by leaving it out. –Ambrose Bierce

Over, and out.