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Comedy has a popular meaning (stand-up, along with any discourse generally intended to amuse), which differs from its academic definition, namely the comic theatre, whose Western origins are found in Ancient Greece. The theatrical genre can be simply described as a dramatic performance pitting two societies against each other in an amusing agon or conflict. Comedy contains variations on the elements of surprise, incongruity, conflict, repetitiveness, and the effect of opposite expectations, and there are many recognized genres.
- False Humour differs from the True as a monkey does from a man.... I have here only pointed at the whole species of false humorists; but, as one of my principal designs in this paper is to beat down that malignant spirit which discovers itself in the writings of the present age, I shall not scruple, for the future, to single out any of the small wits that infest the world with such compositions as are ill-natured, immoral, and absurd.
- Jesting and levity lead a man to lewdness.
- Akiba ben Joseph, Pirkei Avot, 3:17.
- A good comedian can say things funny and other guys just say funny things.
- Fred Allen, attributed by Robert Lemke in The Sunday Press (Binghamton, NY), “Rock ‘n Roll ‘Musically Horrid” Says Ex-2-a-Dayer,” pg. 2-C, col. 1 (9 August 1959)
- Without laughter life on our planet would be intolerable. So important is laughter to us that humanity highly rewards members of one of the most unusual professions on earth, those who make a living by inducing laughter in others. This is very strange if you stop to think of it: that otherwise sane and responsible citizens should devote their professional energies to causing others to make sharp, explosive barking-like exhalations.
- Steve Allen, Funny People (1981)
- I think that the tendency for most people is to fall back on a comic interpretation of things — because things are so sad, so terrible. If you didn't laugh you'd kill yourself. But the truth of the matter is that existence in general is very very tragic, very very sad, very brutal and very unhappy.
- Schizophrenics aren't clever or wise or witty — they may make some very odd remarks but that's because they're mad, and there's nothing to be got out of what they say. When they laugh at things the rest of us don't think are funny, like the death of a parent, they're not being penetrating, and on other occasions they're not wryly amused at the simplicity and stupidity of the psychiatrist, however well justified that might be in many cases. They're laughing because they're mad, too mad to be able to tell what's funny any more.The rewards for being sane may not be very many but knowing what's funny is one of them.
- Kingsley Amis, Stanley and the Women, p. 147
- What we eventually run up against are the forces of humourlessness, and let me assure you that the humourless as a bunch don't just not know what's funny, they don't know what's serious. They have no common sense, either, and shouldn't be trusted with anything.
- Martin Amis, "Political Correctness: Robert Bly and Philip Larkin" (1997)
- By calling him humourless I mean to impugn his seriousness, categorically: such a man must rig up his probity ex nihilo.
- Martin Amis, Experience (2000), Part I: "Failures of Tolerance"
- Laughter is the closest thing to the grace of God.
- Karl Barth, as quoted in The Harper Book Of Quotations (1993) edited by Robert I. Fitzhenry, p. 223
- Humor tells you where the trouble is.
- Louise Bernikow, in Alone in America: The Search for Companionship (1986), p. 113
- JESTER, n. An officer formerly attached to a king's household, whose business it was to amuse the court by ludicrous actions and utterances, the absurdity being attested by his motley costume. The king himself being attired with dignity, it took the world some centuries to discover that his own conduct and decrees were sufficiently ridiculous for the amusement not only of his court but of all mankind. The jester was commonly called a fool, but the poets and romancers have ever delighted to represent him as a singularly wise and witty person. In the circus of to-day the melancholy ghost of the court fool effects the dejection of humbler audiences with the same jests wherewith in life he gloomed the marble hall, panged the patrician sense of humor and tapped the tank of royal tears.
- Ambrose Bierce, The Cynic's Dictionary (1906); republished as The Devil's Dictionary (1911).
- Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die.
- Mel Brooks, The 2,000 Year Old Man (1961)
- Comedy is a weird but very beautiful thing. Even though it seems foolish and silly and crazy, comedy has the most to say about the human condition. Because if you can laugh, you can get by. You can survive when things are bad when you have a sense of humor.
- Mel Brooks, All About Me! (New York: Ballantine Books, 2021), p. 451
- It is the duty of the humor of any given nation in time of high crisis to attack the catastrophe that faces it in such a manner as to cause the people to laugh at it in such a way that they cannot die before they are killed.
- Lord Buckley, "H-Bomb" (1960), a comic monologue), as quoted in "It's Comedy! From Skit To Song To Satire" in The New York Times (27 October 1989)
- Comedy is tragedy plus time.
- Carol Burnett, as quoted in Starting from Scratch (1989) by Rita Mae Brown
- Humor is properly the exponent of low things; that which first renders them poetical to the mind. The man of Humor sees common life, even mean life, under the new light of sportfulness and love; whatever has existence has a charm for him. Humor has justly been regarded as the finest perfection of poetic genius. He who wants it, be his other gifts what they may, has only half a mind; an eye for what is above him, not for what is about him or below him.
- Thomas Carlyle, in 'Schiller" (1831), in Fraser's Magazine; later in Critical and Miscellaneous Essays (1839)
- Imagine if you could actually be that happy? That would be powerful, man. People would be tunneling under the street to avoid you. They'd go "Oh, man — is that happy guy still out there?"
- Jim Carrey, in Jim Carrey's Unnatural Act (1991)
- The most difficult character in comedy is that of the fool, and he must be no simpleton that plays the part.
- Miguel de Cervantes, as quoted in The Two Hands of God: The Myths of Polarity (1969) by Alan Watts
- The literature of joy is infinitely more difficult, more rare, and more triumphant than the black and white literature of pain.
- G. K. Chesterton, "A Defence of Farce", in The Defendant (1901)
- It is not funny that anything else should fall down, only that a man should fall down … Why do we laugh? Because it is a gravely religious matter: it is the Fall of Man. Only man can be absurd: for only man can be dignified.
- G. K. Chesterton, "Spiritualism", in All Things Considered (1908)
- Don't you know Sunday? Don't you know that his jokes are always so big and simple that one has never thought of them?
- G. K. Chesterton, in The Man Who Was Thursday (1908), Ch. X: The Duel
- A joke's a very serious thing.
- Charles Churchill, The Ghost (1763), book iv, line 1386
- If I can get you to laugh with me, you like me better, which makes you more open to my ideas. And, if I can persuade you to laugh at a particular point that I make, by laughing at it you acknowledge it as true.
- John Cleese, as quoted in What Winners Do to Win! : The 7 Minutes a Day That Can Change Your Life (2003) by Nicki Joy, p. 113
- Erasmus dramatizes a well-established political position: that of the fool who claims license to criticize all and sundry without reprisal, since his madness defines him as not fully a person and therefore not a political being with political desires and ambitions. The Praise of Folly, therefore sketches the possibility of a position for the critic of the scene of political rivalry, a position not simply impartial between the rivals but also, by self-definition, off the stage of rivalry altogether.
- J. M. Coetzee, “Erasmus’s Praise of Folly: Rivalry and Madness,” Neophilologus 76 (1992), p. 1
- Not living in fear is a great gift, because certainly these days we do it so much. And do you know what I like about comedy? You can't laugh and be afraid at the same time — of anything. If you're laughing, I defy you to be afraid.
- I don't perceive my role as a newsman at all. I'm a comedian from stem to stern. You can cut me open and count the rings of jokes. If people learn something about the news by watching the show, that is incidental to my goal.
- Stephen Colbert, when asked what he perceives his role to be, given that many young people claim to get their news from The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, on newsman."Harvard University: A Conversation with Stephen Colbert" (1 December 2006).
- Men will confess to treason, murder, arson, false teeth, or a wig. How many of them will own up to a lack of humour?
- Frank Moore Colby, (1926) The Colby Essays, Vol. 1., "Satire and Teeth". Reported in Robert Andrews, The Columbia Dictionary of Quotations, Columbia University Press. (1993) ISBN 0231071949. p. 431
- Humor, to me, is a crucial part of life in general. It’s such an incredibly subtle and passionate way of relating to people. Your sense of humor communicates what you are, your approach to life. You’re very vulnerable when you make a joke. Not when you’re telling a joke so much, but when you’re joking around. To me, it’s just an instinctive, natural part of character development—showing what a character is. Also, you do it (I do it), when you’re under pressure, it’s a way of dealing with impossible situations. Untenable situations can only be dealt with through humor, if not despair and resignation. So, I prefer the humor. That’s how I like to use it in a horror film. But it’s not any different in how I would use it in any other film.
- David Cronenberg in "David Cronenberg by Bette Gordon", Bomb (January 1, 1989)
- I think you are absolutely right about everything, except I think humor springs from rage, hay fever, overdue rent and miscellaneous hell.
- Will Cuppy, in a letter to Max Eastman, 1936, about Eastman's book, The Enjoyment of Laughter
- Unpublished source: "Eastman mss.", Lilly Library Manuscript Collections, Indiana University
- I detest jokes – when somebody tells me one I feel my IQ dropping; the brain cells start to disappear. But something is funny when the person delivering the line doesn’t know it’s funny or doesn’t treat it as a joke. Maybe it comes from a place of truth, or it’s a sort of rage against society.
- Johnny Depp. From an interview in Live magazine, “Here’s Johnny”, The Mail on Sunday, October 30 2011, interviewed by Martyn Palmer
- Comedy is in act superior to tragedy and humourous reasoning superior to grandiloquent reasoning.
- Attributed to Friedrich Engels by Karl Marx in Comments on the North American Events, Die Presse (12 October 1862)
- Thou canst not joke an Enemy into a Friend; but thou may'st a Friend into an Enemy.
- Comedy is an escape, not from the truth but from despair; a narrow escape into faith.
- Christopher Fry, Time (November 20, 1950)
- Jest not with the two-edged sword of God's word.
- Thomas Fuller, The Holy State and the Profane State (1642), Of Jesting. Maxim II.
- He that will lose his friend for a jest, deserves to die a beggar by the bargain.
- Thomas Fuller, The Holy State and the Profane State (1642), Of Jesting. Maxim VII.
- No time to break jests when the heartstrings are about to be broken.
- Thomas Fuller, The Holy State and the Profane State (1642), Of Jesting. Maxim VIII.
- There are no exact guidelines. There are probably no guidelines at all. The only thing I can recommend at this stage is a sense of humor, an ability to see things in their ridiculous and absurd dimensions, to laugh at others and at ourselves, a sense of irony regarding everything that calls out for parody in this world.
- The difference between British comedy and Russian drama is pacing.
- Barta Heiner (as quoted by Melissa Leilani Larson)
- Less at thine own things laugh; lest in the jest
Thy person share, and the conceit advance,
Make not thy sport abuses: for the fly
That feeds on dung is colored thereby.
- George Herbert, The Temple (1633), Church Porch, Stanza 39.
- "You should not take old people who are already dead seriously. It does them injustice. We immortals do not like things to be taken seriously. We like joking. Seriousness, young man, is an accident of time. It consists, I don't mind telling you in confidence, in putting too high a value on time. I, too, once put too high a value on time. For that reason I wished to be a hundred years old. In eternity, however, there is no time, you see. Eternity is a mere moment, just long enough for a joke."
- Humor, if we are to be serious about it, arises from the ineluctable fact that we are all born into a losing struggle. Those who risk agony and death to bring children into this fiasco simply can’t afford to be too frivolous. (And there just aren’t that many episiotomy jokes, even in the male repertoire.) I am certain that this is also partly why, in all cultures, it is females who are the rank-and-file mainstay of religion, which in turn is the official enemy of all humor.
- Christopher Hitchens, "Why Women Aren’t Funny", Vanity Fair, (January 1, 2007).
- I never dare to write
As funny as I can.
- Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., in The Height of the Ridiculous (1852)
- People that make puns are like wanton boys that put coppers on the railroad tracks.
- Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table (1858), I.
- Quamquam ridentem dicere verum quid vetat? ut pueris olim dant crustula blandi doctores, elementa velint ut discere prima.
- What is to prevent one from telling truth as he laughs, even as teachers sometimes give cookies to children to coax them into learning their A B C?
- Horace, Satires, Book I, Satire 1, H. Fairclough, trans. (1926), p. 7
- While rape jokes may not directly condone rape, they can desensitize their audience to it. Manuela Thomae and Viki Tendayi, who conducted a study on a related issue of the correlation between rape proclivity and sexist jokes, argue: If a person holds hostile sexist attitudes, then exposure to sexist jokes may create a situation which not only enhances tolerance of discrimination against women, but also appears to elevate the propensity to commit rape. These results sound a note of caution towards the use of sexist jokes in social settings.
- Amy Jenkins, "Rape Humor: Why It’s Not “Just a Joke”", Brainstorm v. VI, University of Oklahoma, (2014), p.6.
- The effect of jokes that mock victims of assault seems to be fairly consistent among audiences, which is why comedians like to use them: rape jokes evoke an emotional response. They are used by comedians and the media to cheaply shock the audience into awkward “did-they-really-just-say-that?” laughter. When audiences allow this sort of humor, it desensitizes them to the horrors of sexual assault; eventually, audiences associate the use of rape in a joke with laughter and consider sexual assault legitimate comedic material. This effect of rape humor is deeply disturbing—it seeks to make sexual assault funny. I imagine that three possible events occur in audience members’ heads after hearing a rape joke: laughter due to shock/discomfort; mindless laughter; or the terrifying, literal image of a rape occurring. It takes courage to speak up when someone tells a joke that crosses the line from comedic wit into tasteless, knee-jerkreaction laughter—especially considering that women most commonly attempt to combat these jokes, and often become disregarded as sensitive and humorless.
- Amy Jenkins, "Rape Humor: Why It’s Not “Just a Joke”", Brainstorm v. VI, University of Oklahoma, (2014), p.7.
- I can't even really tell a joke. I find being funny very hard work. I am always asked about it and I feel guilty saying that, but it's the truth. I love my work but it ain't easy.
- The more one suffers, the more, I believe, has one a sense for the comic. It is only by the deepest suffering that one acquires true authority in the use of the comic, an authority which by one word transforms as by magic the reasonable creature one calls man into a caricature.
- Søren Kierkegaard, in Stages on Life's Way (1845)
- The law of levity is allowed to supersede the law of gravity.
- R. A. Lafferty, in Space Chantey (1968)
- That's part of our policy, is not to be taken seriously, because I think our opposition, whoever they may be, in all their manifest forms, don't know how to handle humor. You know, and we are humorous, we are, what are they, Laurel and Hardy. That's John and Yoko, and we stand a better chance under that guise, because all the serious people, like Martin Luther King, and Kennedy, and Gandhi, got shot.
- John Lennon, as quoted in a BBC interview with David Wigg (8 May 1969)
- Dictatorship... is devoid of humor. The basic reason why Americans will never endure a dictator is... their sense of humor.
- Emil Ludwig, Three Portraits: Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin (1940)
- As examples from history show, when jokes start circulating about a powerful leader, cracks in political legitimacy begin to appear.
- Creator — A comedian whose audience is afraid to laugh.
- H. L. Mencken, in A Mencken Chrestomathy, ch. 30 (1949)
- If we can't have sanity, we can fake it with humor. Humor gives you the same distance from the situation, the same metaview, only laughing is easier than sanity and possibly more fun.
- Jude Milhon, attributed via Usenet
- Humor is the contemplation of the finite from the point of view of the infinite.
- Christian Morgenstern, as quoted in The Hidden Souls of Words (2004) by Mary Cox Garner, p. 142
- Humor is perhaps a sense of intellectual perspective: an awareness that some things are really important, others not; and that the two kinds are most oddly jumbled in everyday affairs.
- Christopher Morley, as quoted in An Enchanted Life : An Adept's Guide to Masterful Magick (2001) by Patricia Telesco, p. 189
- As soon as you realize everything's a joke, being the Comedian is the only thing that makes sense.
- Alan Moore, in Watchmen (1986)
- The test of a real comedian is whether you laugh at him before he opens his mouth.
- George Jean Nathan, "Test of a Comedian", The American Mercury ( September 1929)
- Since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.
- I'd like to make you laugh for about ten minutes. Though I'm gonna be on for an hour.
- Richard Pryor, reported in "In quotes: Richard Pryor" at BBC News (11 December 2005)
- Now everything is funny as long as it is happening to somebody Else, but when it happens to you, why it seems to lose some of its Humor, and if it keeps on happening, why the entire laughter kinder Fades out of it.
- Will Rogers, in "Warning to Jokers: Lay off the Prince", in The Illiterate Digest (1924), p. 131
- Every Gag I tell must be based on truth. No matter how much I may exaggerate it, it must have a certain amount of Truth. ... Now Rumor travels Faster, but it don't stay put as long as Truth.
- Will Rogers, The Illiterate Digest (1924) "Politics Getting Ready to Jell"
- I certainly know that [A] comedian can only last till he either takes himself serious or his audience takes him serious and I don't want either of those to happen to me til I am dead (if then).
- Will Rogers, Daily Telegram #1538, "The First Good News of the 1928 Campaign! Mr. Rogers Says He Will Not Run For Anything" (28 June 1931)
- There is no credit to being a comedian, when you have the whole Government working for you. All you have to do is report the facts. I don't even have to exaggerate.
- Variant: People often ask me, 'Will, where do you get your jokes?' I just tell 'em, 'Well, I watch the government and report the facts, that is all I do, and I don't even find it necessary to exaggerate.
- Variant: I don't make jokes. I just watch the government and report the facts.
- Will Rogers, as quoted in Saturday Review (25 August 1962)
- Nothing is more curious than the almost savage hostility that Humour excites in those who lack it.
- George Saintsbury, in A Last Vintage, p. 172
- Moria and stultitia are both rendered nowadays as 'folly', but both have far stronger senses than folly has now. They imply derangement of mind, madness, mania. Such are the defects attributed to Christians by the worldly-wise. And vice-versa. ... Although the mutual laughter may seem six of one and half-a-dozen of the other, it is not. The Christian is profoundly mad merely by the standards of the world. To the world the wicked seem wise, but are mad in the sight of God. The Christian is touched by the Infinite and will not only have the last laugh at the end of time: even now he laughs more insanely than the worldlings.
- Michael Andrew Screech, Laughter at the Foot of the Cross (1998), p. 73
- Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio: a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy.
- William Shakespeare, Hamlet (1600-02), Act V, scene 1, line 203.
- Jesters do often prove prophets.
- William Shakespeare, King Lear (1608), Act V, scene 3, line 71.
- A jest's prosperity lies in the ear
Of him that hears it, never in the tongue
Of him that makes it.
- William Shakespeare, Love's Labour's Lost (c. 1595-6), Act V, scene 2, line 871.
- A dry jest, sir…. I have them at my fingers' end.
- William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night (c. 1601-02), Act I, scene 3, line 80.
- If tragedy is an experience of hyperinvolvement, comedy is an experience of underinvolvement, of detachment.
- Susan Sontag, "Notes on Camp", Against Interpretation (1961)
- If comedy is tragedy plus time, I need more fucking time. But I would really settle for less fucking tragedy.
- Asperæ facetiæ, ubi nimis ex vero traxere,
Acram sui memoriam relinquunt.
- Comedy is simply a funny way of being serious.
- Peter Ustinov, as quoted in Morrow's International Dictionary of Contemporary Quotations (1982) by Jonathon Green
- A tragedy can never suffer by delay: a comedy may, because the allusions or the manners represented in it maybe temporary.
- Horace Walpole, letter 123 To Robert Jephson (13 July 1777)
- The world is a comedy to those that think; a tragedy to those that feel.
- Horace Walpole, letter to Anne, Countess of Ossory, (16 August 1776)
- A favourite saying of Walpole's, it is repeated in other of his letters, and might be derived from a similar statement attributed to Jean de La Bruyère, though unsourced: "Life is a tragedy for those who feel, and a comedy for those who think". An earlier form occurs in another published letter:
- I have often said, and oftener think, that this world is a comedy to those that think, a tragedy to those that feel — a solution of why Democritus laughed and Heraclitus wept.
- Letter to Sir Horace Mann (31 December 1769)
- The man with the real sense of humor is the man who can put himself in the spectator's place and laugh at his own misfortunes. That is what I am called upon to do every day.
- Bert Williams, minstrel show comedian, in "The Comic Side of Trouble" in The American Magazine (January 1918), p. 33
- Comedy can be a cathartic way to deal with personal trauma.
- A serious and good philosophical work could be written consisting entirely of jokes.
- Ludwig Wittgenstein, as quoted in "A View from the Asylum" in Philosophical Investigations from the Sanctity of the Press (2004), by Henry Dribble, p. 87
- Comedy only works when it comes from an honest place and the relief that I’d miscarried twins was real!
- Ali Wong in "Ali Wong: 'Being able to joke about my miscarriage was a relief'", by Hadley Freeman, The Guardian, (9 Jun, 2016).
Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations
- Quotes reported in Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations (1922), p. 381.
- Unconscious humour.
- Samuel Butler, Life and Habit (Pub. 1877). Butler claims to have been the first user of the phrase as a synonym for dullness.
- A man who could make so vile a pun would not scruple to pick a pocket.
- John Dennis, The Gentleman's Magazine, Volume LI, p. 324. Claimed for Daniel Purcell but given to Dennis by Hood, also by Victor in an Epistle to Steele.
- And however our Dennises take offence,
A double meaning shows double sense;
And if proverbs tell truth,
A double tooth
Is wisdom's adopted dwelling.
- Thomas Hood, Miss Kilmansegg.
- Of all the griefs that harass the distress'd,
Sure the most bitter is a scornful jest;
Fate never wounds more deep the generous heart,
Than when a blockhead's insult points the dart.
- Samuel Johnson, London, line 165. Imitation of Juvenal, Satire, III. V. 152.
- La moquerie est souvent une indigence d'esprit.
- Jesting, often, only proves a want of intellect.
- La Bruyère.
- Joking decides great things,
Stronger and better oft than earnest can.
- John Milton, Horace.
- That's a good joke but we do it much better in England.
- General Oglethorpe to a Prince of Würtemberg who at dinner flicked some wine in Oglethorpe's face, asserting the insult to be a joke Oglethorpe threw a whole wine glass in the Prince's face in return. Boswell's Life of Johnson (1772).
- Diseur de bon mots, mauvais caractère.
- A jester, a bad character.
- Blaise Pascal, Pensées (1669), Art, VI. 22.
- A jester, a bad character.
- Si quid dictum est per jocum,
Non æquum est id te serio prævortier.
- If anything is spoken in jest, it is not fair to turn it to earnest.
- Plautus, Amphitruo, III. 2. 39.
- If anything is spoken in jest, it is not fair to turn it to earnest.
- Omissis jocis.
- Joking set aside.
- Pliny the Younger, Epistles, I. 21.
- Joking set aside.
- Der Spass verliert Alles, wenn der Spassmacher selber lacht.
- A jest loses its point when the jester laughs himself.
- Friedrich Schiller, Fiesco, I, 7.
- A jest loses its point when the jester laughs himself.
- Now I perceive the devil understands Welsh;
And 'tis no marvel he is so humorous.
- William Shakespeare, Henry IV, Part I (c. 1597), Act III, scene 1, line 233
- There's the humour of it.
- William Shakespeare, The Merry Wives of Windsor (c. 1597; published 1602), Act I, scene 1. (Inserted by Theobald from the quarto)
- A college joke to cure the dumps.
- Jonathan Swift, Cassinus and Peter.
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