“It Never Hurts to Smile” by Mike Rosen

I’m Sorry, But That’s Just Funny

For more years than I care to remember I have been a fan of quotations. Even though many are published out of context, I enjoy reading the inspirational, the morally instructive, and, yes, the bon mots that often come from the most unexpected of personages.

Frankly, I could not tell you when my interest in the words of the famous and powerful originated, but I remember as an adolescent finding a hardcover edition of Edwards’ “The New Dictionary of Thoughts” in my parent’s bookcase. If you’re not familiar with this particular tome, the book categorizes by subject thousands of quotations from the ancients to modern day saints, sinners, and scholars. I still have the book and even to this day spend time poring over its many entries.

However, it wasn’t until I was in my early teens before I discovered how funny some of these people were (and unexpectedly so, in several instances). While I’m not certain, I believe the first one was when I read that in response to a reporter’s question of what he thought of Western civilization, Mohandas Gandhi replied, “I think it would be a good idea.”

Don’t get me wrong, I always knew famous people could be funny. As an avid reader from an early age, I knew the wit of people like Mark Twain, Dorothy Parker, and Oscar Wilde. And, of course, I knew (quite well) the humor of professional humorists such as Groucho Marx, Elaine May, Ernie Kovacs, and so on. So when those folks said something humorous to a reporter, interviewer, friend, whomever, it wasn’t a surprise. But I recall laughing when in a history class a professor told of Phillip of Macedonia’s threat to Sparta: “You are advised to submit without further delay, for if I bring my army into your land, I will destroy your farms, slay your people, and raze your city.” What was Sparta’s reply? “If.” Mine was the only voice that laughed, and the teacher smiled at me which indicated that he, too, got the humor.

And so, dear friends, allow me to regale you this week with some of my favorite witticisms of the mighty, the powerful, the influential, the ordinary, and, again, the unexpected. Some of these may not have intended to be humorous, and certainly not all are knee-slappers, but nonetheless …

When asked how to write a symphony, Wolfgang Mozart suggested to an admirer that he begin with something easier and then work his way up to a symphony. The admirer pointed out that Mozart wrote his first symphony when he was eight years old. “Yes,” Mozart replied, “But I never asked anyone how to do it.”

When John Montagu insulted his political adversary John Wilkes by saying Wilkes would die either on the gallows or by the pox, Wilkes retorted, “That will depend, my lord, on whether I embrace your politics or your mistress.”

Although they were good friends, when Noel Coward (no stranger to a witty remark) saw Edna Ferber in a suit he commented that she almost looked like a man. Ferber replied with “So do you.”

Over one hundred years ago, author/journalist Ambrose Bierce defined a sweater as “a garment worn by a child when its mother is feeling chilly.”

Juggler/comedian Dan Bennett defined middle age this way: “Middle age is having a choice between two temptations and choosing the one that’ll get you home earlier.” (There’s no way I’m going to argue with that definition.)

I’ve always smiled at Truman Capote’s comment on older age: “Life is a moderately good play with a badly written third act.”

Some of the best marriage advice I’ve ever read came from comic actor Will Ferrell: “Before you marry a person, you should first make them use a computer with slow Internet service to see who they really are.”

To whom else would you refer for remarks on the fourth estate than the venerable Walter Cronkite? “Objective journalism and an opinion column are about as similar as the Bible and Playboy magazine.”

Not everyone will get this, but actress Mindy Kaling’s definition of love tickles my funny bone: “True love is singing karaoke ‘Under Pressure’ and letting the other person sing the Freddy Mercury part.”

The late columnist and raconteur Art Buchwald had this smile-inducing description of television: “Every time you think television has hit its lowest ebb, a new program comes along to make you wonder where you thought the ebb was.”

Monty Python alumnus Eric Idle might have been referring to his own country, however his following definition well applies to one or two other countries, as well. “A lot has been said about politics; some of it complimentary, but most of it accurate.”

Did you know that former Vice-President Al Gore has a self-deprecating sense of humor? I didn’t. In referring to his claim to have created the Internet, Mr. Gore wrote, “I was pretty tired when I made that comment because I had been up very late the night before inventing the camcorder.”

I confess that I think some of the most creatively funny words aren’t written on paper, but inscribed on tombstones and gravesite markers. Here are a few; see if you agree.

Cartoonist and cultural icon Robert Ripley had his tombstone engraved with “I Died…Believe it or Not!

Beloved cartoon voice creator Mel Blanc’s epitaph begins with “That’s All Folks!”

There can be no doubt that one of the twentieth century’s strongest personalities and sharpest wits belonged to Winston Churchill whose epitaph states, “I am ready to meet my Maker. Whether my Maker is prepared for the great ordeal of meeting me is another matter.”

Although he enjoyed great success as both a producer and director, it was his love of the screenplays he’d written that led to Billy Wilder’s, “I’m A Writer But Then Nobody’s Perfect”

Producer and talk show host Merv Griffin’s epitaph: “I Will Not Be Back After This Message!”

Of course, you wouldn’t expect anything serious from Rodney Dangerfield: “There Goes The Neighborhood”

Of course, it isn’t only the famous who have penned funny final words. A couple in D.C. had this to tell the world: “We Finally Found A Place To Park In Georgetown!”

A man named John Yeast offered this apology, “Forgive Me For Not Rising”

Many of us can commiserate with this woman’s final words: “She Always Said Her Feet Were Killing Her, But No One Believed Her”

An undeniable chuckler: “Here Lies An Atheist. All Dressed Up And No Place To Go”

A marker in Tennessee reads: “I Came Here Without Being Consulted And I Leave Without My Consent”

You’ve got to love this epitaph: “I Was Hoping For A Pyramid”

On a woman’s tombstone, underneath her name, birth and death dates, and an etching of the state of Texas, is a small inscription close to the base, not easily read from a distance. What does it say, you ask? “If You Can Read This, You’re Standing On My Boobs”

Naturally, after all this, I have started to wonder what I would want my tombstone to say to visitors. I’ve narrowed the possibilities to two, let me know which one you vote for:

“Did I Leave the Stove On?”

“Just Check With Neil, I’m Sure My Pledge Is Paid Up”

This week’s Street Advertising Smile:  

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