An original idea. That can't be too hard. The library must be full of them.
The Liar (1991)
I am a lover of truth, a worshipper of freedom, a celebrant at the altar of language and purity and tolerance. That is my religion, and every day I am sorely, grossly, heinously and deeply offended, wounded, mortified and injured by a thousand different blasphemies against it. When the fundamental canons of truth, honesty, compassion and decency are hourly assaulted by fatuous bishops, pompous, illiberal and ignorant priests, politicians and prelates, sanctimonious censors, self-appointed moralists and busy-bodies, what recourse of ancient laws have I? None whatever. Nor would I ask for any. For unlike these blistering imbeciles my belief in my religion is strong and I know that lies will always fail and indecency and intolerance will always perish.
"Trefusis Blasphemes" radio broadcast, as published in Paperweight (1993)
If I had a large amount of money I should certainly found a hospital for those whose grip upon the world is so tenuous that they can be severely offended by words and phrases and yet remain all unoffended by the injustice, violence and oppression that howls daily about our ears.
"Trefusis on Any Questions" in Paperweight (1993) p. 61.
Originally broadcast on Loose Ends, BBC Radio 4, circa 1987.
The beauty of the brain is that you can still be as greedy as you like for knowledge and it doesn’t show.
Radio Times interview (2013)
I don't need you to remind me of my age, I have a bladder to do that for me.
I have always disbelieved that Sicilian saying about revenge being a dish best served cold. I feel that--don't you?--when I see blinking, quivering octogenarian Nazi war criminals being led away in chains. Why not then? It's too late now. I want to see them taken back in time and punished then...Blame, certainly, is a dish only edible when served fresh and warm. Old blames, grudges and scores congeal and curdle and cause the most terrible indigestion.
I have to mime at parties when everyone sings Happy Birthday . . . mime or mumble and rumble and growl and grunt so deep that only moles, manta rays and mushrooms can hear me.
on his frustrating inability to sing
I know that my early life was at one and the same time so common as to be unremarkable, and so strange as to be the stuff of fiction. I know of course that this is how all human lives are, but that it is only given to a few of us to luxuriate in the bath of self-revelation, self-curiosity, apology, revenge, bafflement, vanity and egoism that goes under the name Autobiography. You have seen me at my washpot scrubbing at the grime of years: to wallow in a washpot may not be the same thing as to be purified and cleansed, but I have come away from this very draining, highly bewildering and passionately intense few months feeling slightly less dirty. Less dirty about the first twenty years of my life, at least. The second twenty, now that is another story.
It is a cliché that most clichés are true, but then like most clichés, that cliché is untrue.
It is, I know, for I have experienced it perhaps twice in my life, an awful privilege to be too much loved and perhaps the kindest thing I ever did in my life was never to let Matthew know to what degree he had destroyed my peace and my happiness.
I remember nothing of this, no ambulance rides, nothing. Nothing between switching out the bedside lamp and the sudden indignity of rebirth: the slaps, the brightness, the tubing, the speed, the urgent insistence that I be choked back into breathing life. I have felt so sorry for babies ever since.
On his suicide attempt at age 17
LSD reveals the whatness of things, their quiddity, their essence. The wateriness of water is suddenly revealed to you, the carpetness of carpets, the woodness of wood, the yellowness of yellow, the fingernailness of fingernails, the allness of all, the nothingness of all, the allness of nothing. For me music gives access to every one of these essences of existence, but at a fraction of the social or financial cost of a drug and without the need to cry 'Wow!' all the time, which is one of LSD's most distressing and least endearing side-effects.
When I had first caught sight of Matthew I saw the beauty in everything. Now I saw only ugliness and decay. All beauty was in the past. Again and again I wrote in poems, in notes, on scraps of paper. My whole life stretched out gloriously behind me. If I wrote that sick phrase once, I wrote it fifty times. And I believed it, too.
Life, that can shower you with so much splendour, is unremittingly cruel to those who have given up.
My vocal cords are made of tweed. I give off an air of Oxford donnishness and old BBC wirelesses.
My first words, as I was being born... I looked up at my mother and said, "that's the last time I'm coming out one of those."
On being gay
Stephen Fry actually admitted this was a quote from a friend, not himself. (Moab Is My Washpot)
I used many times to touch my own chest and feel, under its asthmatic quiver, the engine of the heart and lungs and blood and feel amazed at what I sensed was the enormity of the power I possessed. Not magical power, but real power. The power simply to go on, the power to endure, that is power enough, but I felt I had also the power to create, to add, to delight, to amaze and to transform.
Didn't Woody Allen say that all literature was a footnote to Faust? Perhaps all adolescence is a dialogue between Faust and Christ. We tremble on the brink of selling that part of ourselves that is real, unique, angry, defiant and whole for the rewards of attainment, achievement, success and the golden prizes of integration and acceptance; but we also in our great creating imagination, rehearse the sacrifice we will make: the pain and terror we will take from others' shoulders; our penetration into the lives and souls of our fellows; our submission to willingness to be rejected and despised for the sake of truth and love and, in the wilderness, our angry rebuttals of the hypocrisy, deception and compromise of a world which we see to be so false. There is nothing so self-righteous nor so right as an adolescent imagination.
… but love, like all art, as Oscar said, it's quite useless. It is the useless things that make life worth living and that make life dangerous too: wine, love, art, beauty. Without them life is safe but not worth bothering with.
[On libraries] What's great about them is that anybody can go into them and find a book and borrow it free of charge and read it. They don't have to steal it from a bookshop... You know when you're young, you're growing up, they're almost sexually exciting places because books are powerhouses of knowledge, and therefore they're kind of slightly dark and dangerous. You see books that kind of make you go 'Oh!'
All the cold-reading clairvoyants and the nonsensical astrologers and absurd ESP merchants and other such people who talk about vibrations and energies.... God, if there’s a word that drives me mad it’s “energy” used in a nonsensical way—don’t get me started!
The key word for me (my spleen isn't really big enough to explode with all the splenetic juices of fury that drive me when I consider this), but the real key word that triggers my rage is the word 'energy', when people start talking about it in terms of negative or positive types. For instance, "there's very negative energy in here." What are you talking about? What do you mean? I mean, let's think about it. What does energy mean? Well, we know what it means: energy from petrol when it's burned, it moves the car. "This room has positive energy" — well, where the fuck's it going then? It's not moving. It's covering up such woolly thinking, such pathetic nonsense. And astrology: most people will say of astrology, "Well, it's harmless fun." And I should say that for 80% of the cases it probably is harmless fun, but there's a strong way in which it isn't harmless. One, because it is so anti-science. You will hear things like, "Science doesn't know everything." Well, of course science doesn't know everything. But because science doesn't know everything, that doesn't mean science knows nothing. Science knows enough for us to be watched by a few million people now on television, for these lights to be working, for quite extraordinary miracles to have taken place in terms of the harnessing of the physical world and our dim approaches towards understanding it. And as Wittgenstein quite rightly said, "When we understand every single secret of the universe, there will still be left the eternal mystery of the human heart."
Room 101 (2001) Season 6 Episode 10
The powers of the placebo are so strong that it may be morally wrong to call homeopathy a lie because the moment you say it then a placebo falls to pieces and loses its power. I am a great believer in double-blind random testing, which is the basis of all drug testing. People still insist on things like holistic healing and things that have no real basis in evidence because they want it to be true—it’s as simple as that. If you’re dying of cancer or very, very ill, then you’ll cling to a straw. I feel pretty dark thoughts about the kind of people who throw straws at drowning, dying men and women, and I’m sure most of us would agree it’s a pretty lousy thing to do. Some of these people perhaps believe in the snake oil they sell or allow themselves to believe in it. That’s why James Randi is so good, because he knows what magicians know: if you do a card trick on someone, they will report that it was unbelievable, they describe the effect the magician wanted, and they miss out all the steps in between that seemed irrelevant because the magician made them irrelevant, so they didn’t notice them. People will swear that a clairvoyant mentioned the name of their aunt from nowhere, and they will be astonished if you then play a recording that shows that thirty-two names were said before the aunt’s name, none of which had any effect on them. That’s because they wanted to hear their aunt’s name; they wanted the trick to work, so they forgot all the failures in the same way as people forget all their dreams that have no relevance to their lives, but they mark when they dream of someone they haven’t met for ages that they see the next day. I would be astounded if everyone had coincidences like that—yet people say that is somehow closed-minded of me!
"Last Chance to Think" Interview (2010) by Kylie Sturgess in Skeptical Inquirer. Vol 34 (1)
Alternative medicine people call themselves "holistic" and say it's the "whole" approach. Well, if it's the whole approach, let it be the mind as well. Use logic, use sense, use the incredible five wits you were given by creation.
Room 101, Season 6 Episode 10
Well, my interpretation is no more valid than anyone else’s, but I would say in terms of medicine, people want to take control of their own lives, and ironically they seem to think that they are taking control of their lives more by using so-called complementary or alternative medicines than by using orthodox medicine. In other words, they think it’s a statement of originality and individuality. To you and me it seems self-evidently ridiculous, this homeopathic medicine. It is so preposterous, and yet some people I know and respect insist on believing it.
Fry on the reason for the popularity of alternative medicine. "Last Chance to Think" Interview (2010) by Kylie Sturgess in Skeptical Inquirer. Vol 34 (1)
On the subject of biblical texts and examples to why you can't do certain things with your body that you wish to, I find that absolutely absurd. I've always been extremely uncomfortable with the idea in any society that the belief is based on revealed truth, that's to say on a text like a Bible or a Qur'an, or whatever it is. It seems to me that the greatness of our culture, for all its incredible faults, is that we have grown up on the Greek ideal of discovering the truth, discovering by looking around us, by empirical experiment, by the combination of the experience of generations of ancestors who have contributed to our sum knowledge of the way the world works, and so on. And to have that snatched away and to be told what to think by a book, however great it may be in places, this is a book that says you can sell your daughter into slavery, it's a book that bans menstruating women from within miles of temples. The fact that it also says that for one man to lie with another man is an abomination, is no more made relevant or important than the fact that you can't eat shellfish.
We expect a very high standard of living. We expect food to be cheap and available. We expect energy to be cheap and available. … And we pay this group of styleless sexless people whom we call politicians a small amount of money in order to lay off our own guilt. Our own cant and hypocrisy is laid at their door. And apparently, it's they who are the hypocrites. It is they who are corrupt. It is they who refuse to solve the problems of the world. Well, it isn't. It's us. It's me, and it's you. ... Suppose you're prime minister, you've got all these illegal immigrants. What are you supposed to do? Are you supposed to hide the true facts? That's hardly something the public would accept, so you campaign and you say "we don't know how many there are - let's do something about it", and then you're accused of incompetence. Well, of course you don't know how many there are: they're illegal immigrants. Do we expect magic from our politicians? We're not going to get it. They're just human beings like you and me. ... As someone who worked hard for a Labour victory in the 90s, do I regret it? Not really. It was bound to happen. And it'll happen with the next government, and the one after it. Because all governments serve us. They serve the filth.
I should say today that it's tragic that people lose faith in what was once an honourable profession but people will lose faith in journalists. There's nothing one can do about it. People no longer trust journalists - we'll have to turn to politics instead for our belief in people. I almost mean that. Although, of course, anybody can talk about snouts in troughs and go on about it, for journalists to do so is almost beyond belief. Beyond belief. I know lots of journalists - I know more journalists than I know politicians - and I've never met a more venal and disgusting crowd of people when it comes to expenses and allowances...Not all [of them] but then not all human beings are either. I've cheated expenses. I've fiddled things. You have, of course you have. Let's not confuse what politicians get really wrong - things like wars, things where people die - with the rather tedious bourgeois obsession with whether or not they've charged for their wisteria. It's not that important, it really isn't. It isn't what we're fighting for. It isn't what voting is for and the idea that 'Oh, we've all lost faith in politics' [is] nonsense. It's a journalistic made-up frenzy. I know you don't want me to say that. You want me to say "No, it matters, it's important." It isn't it. Believe me, it isn't. It's not the big deal; it's not what we should be worrying about. I know no one's going to pay any attention and newspapers will great joy over filling yards and yards of newsprint with tiny, pointless details of this politician's or that politician's squalid and sad little life as they see it. It's not the big picture, it really isn't. You know, we get the politicians we deserve, it's our fault as much as anybody else's. This has been going on for years and suddenly because a journalist discovers it it's the biggest story ever! It's absolute nonsense, it really is.
I think faith in each other is much harder than faith in God or faith in crystals. I very rarely have faith in God; I occasionally have little spasms of it, but they go away, if I think hard enough about it. I am incandescent with rage at the idea of horoscopes and of crystals and of the nonsense of 'New Age', or indeed even more pseudo-scientific things: self-help, and the whole culture of 'searching for answers', when for me, as someone brought up in the unashamed Western tradition of music and poetry and philosophy, all the answers are there in the work that has been done by humanity before us, in literature, in art, in science, in all the marvels that have created this moment now, instead of people looking away. The image to me . . . is gold does exist, and for 'gold' say 'truth', say 'the answer', say 'love', say 'justice', say anything: it does exist. But the only way in this world you can achieve gold is to be incredibly intelligent about geology, to learn what mankind has learnt, to learn where it might lie, and then break your fingers and blister your skin in digging for it, and then sweat and sweat in a forge, and smelt it. And you will have gold, but you will never have it by closing your eyes and wishing for it. No angel will lean out of the bar of heaven and drop down sheets of gold for you. And we live in a society in which people believe they will. But the real answer, that there is gold, and that all you have to do is try and understand the world enough to get down into the muck of it, and you will have it, you will have truth, you will have justice, you will have understanding, but not by wishing for it.
You cannot work too hard at poetry. People are bad at it not because they have tin ears, but because they simply don't have the faintest idea how much work goes into it. It's not as if you're ordering a pizza or doing something that requires direct communication in a very banal way. But it seems these days the only people who spend time over things are retired people and prisoners. We bolt things, untasted. It's so easy to say, 'That'll do.' Everyone's in a hurry. People are intellectually lazy, morally lazy, ethically lazy...All the time. When people get angry with a traffic warden they don't stop and think what it would be like to be a traffic warden or how annoying it would be if people could park wherever they liked. People talk lazily about how hypocritical politicians are. But everyone is. On the one hand we hate that petrol is expensive and on the other we go on about global warming. We abrogate the responsibility for thought and moral decisions onto others and then have the luxury of saying it's not good enough.
What decent person would want to spend a life picking and cavilling? Picture this scene. A critic arrives at the gates of heaven. 'And what did you do?' asks Saint Peter. 'Well', says the dead soul. 'I criticised things'. 'I beg your pardon?' 'You know, other people wrote things, performed things, painted things and I said stuff like, "thin and unconvincing", "turgid and uninspired", "competent and serviceable,"...you know'.
It's now very common to hear people say, "I'm rather offended by that", as if that gives them certain rights. It's no more than a whine. It has no meaning, it has no purpose, it has no reason to be respected as a phrase. "I'm offended by that." Well, so fucking what?
I genuinely believe that the Catholic church is not, to put it at its mildest, a force for good in the world... We certainly don’t need the stigmatisation, the victimisation that leads to the playground bullying when people say: “You’re a disordered, morally evil individual.” That’s not nice, it isn’t nice.
"The Catholic church is a force for good in the world", November 7th 2009, Abridged Intelligence² debate speech.
Well I'm afraid it simply does, um, [the Catholic Church] does condemn [homosexuality], yes, it calls it a - the official word is disorder, but it was refined by the current Pontiff, Ratzinger, who called it a 'moral evil'. But on the other hand we must remember, as the point that was made is that the church is very loose on moral evils because, although they try to accuse people like me who believe in the empiricism and the enlightenment of somehow what they call moral relativism, as if it's some appalling sin where what it actually means is thought, um, they um, they for example thought that slavery was perfectly fine... absolutely okay, and then they didn't, and what is the point of the Catholic Church if it says 'oh well we couldn't know better because nobody else did'? (To the affirmative team) Then what are you for?!
Answering a question during the Intelligence² debate: "The Catholic Church is a force for good in the world", November 7th 2009
There are a series of men and women whose whole job is to stop you from having people filmed in cars not wearing seat belts or making phone calls. It’s called compliance. Compliance with what?! Compliance with being an arsehole?! Compliance with stupidity?! Compliance with making this country a shithole!? I cannot believe that anybody would allow this to happen. I cannot believe they wouldn’t just say no, I’m gonna film it the way it should be. What is the point of having cars and backgrounds and extras, what’s the point of trying to make it realistic, why not just do it against cardboard? If you're not allowed to do it as it really would be done –because what? Because you’re setting a bad example? Well what kind of example are you setting by betraying your country, or shooting people in the face? I don’t know where to begin, and I don’t know where to end. I want to take the people who are responsible for this and I want to squeeze the life out of them! I never want them to get up again. I want them to understand how insane they are. And I have a horrible feeling that they’re shaking their head and saying something about how it’s wrong to set a bad example to children or something, whereas shooting people in the face (how many times do I have to say this?) apparently isn’t setting a bad example to children –oh my god! I want to explode with fury! And the awful thing is they win! The directors and the producers of the programme comply! Ugh, why don’t they just tell them to fuck off?!
Stephen Fry's Podgrams, Series 1 Episode 5: Compliance Defiance, 3/9/08
Swearing is a really important part of one's life. It would be impossible to imagine going through life without swearing and without enjoying swearing... There used to be mad, silly, prissy people who used to say swearing was a sign of a poor vocabulary - such utter nonsense. The people I know who swear the most tend to have the widest vocabularies and the kind of person who says swearing is a sign of a poor vocabulary usually have a pretty poor vocabulary themselves... The sort of twee person who thinks swearing is in any way a sign of a lack of education or a lack of verbal interest or -is just a fucking lunatic... I haven't met anybody who's truly shocked at swearing, really, they're only shocked on behalf of other people. Well, you know, that's preposterous... or they say 'it's not necessary'. As if that should stop one doing it! It's not necessary to have coloured socks, it's not necessary for this cushion to be here, but is anyone going to write in and say 'I was shocked to see that cushion there, it really wasn't necessary'? No, things not being necessary is what makes life interesting - the little extras in life.
Stephen Fry on the joys of swearing. Stephen Fry: Guilty, BBC4, September 8th 2007
Weak watery sun, but sun nonetheless. Why does it take me nearly 2 hours just to get through the morning emails? Pah, poo and pants.
A cut glass English accent can fool unsuspecting Americans into detecting a brilliance that isn't there.
Wit can be beautiful, because it expresses and distils an idea.
On the subject of criteria he used to judge in The Most Beautiful Tweet contest, Hay Festival 2010
I actually got a Ugandan Minister to say, on camera— he's the Minister of Ethics and Integrity, it's the only such ministry in the world— and I said to him, "Look, even if these three utterly false supports on which you base your homophobia are true, which they aren't, there's so much more to worry about in your country than the odd gay person going to bed with the other gay person. For example, you have almost an epidemic of child rape in this country, which is just frightening."
And he said, "Ah, but it is the right kind of child rape."
I said, "That was on camera. Do you know that was on camera?"
He said, "Yes."
I said, "Can you just explain what you meant?"
"Well, it is men raping girls. Which is natural."
The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, 2013-05-22
I was called by my agent, who said "Would you like to record a track with Kate Bush?" To which there is only F-ing one possible answer. Unless its me singing. I said, "She does know I can't sing?" "No-no-no, it would be voicing, saying words for snow. … I still can't believe it says "Kate Bush-Stephen Fry."
Stephen Fry, talking about his work with Kate on 50 Words for Snow, and the credits on the album.
She has a very intense poetic mind. That's what makes it — that voice that comes in.
Aquinas and Augustus of Hippo, both proposed this extraordinary idea that babies who were unbaptised would not know heaven. They also proposed the idea of purgatory which doesn’t exist in The Bible. There’s absolutely no evidence for it. However, what an extraordinary brilliant coup to imagine such a thing as purgatory. That a soul needs to be prayed for, in order to go to heaven. In order to turn left when he enters the aeroplane of heaven and get a first class seat. That, he needs to be prayed for. And many hundreds, indeed over a thousand years, you’ll be amazed what generous terms those prayers came at. Sometimes as little as two thirds of a year’s salary. Could ensure that a dead loved one would go to heaven. And money could ensure that your baby. Your dead child, your dead uncle, your dead mother, could go to heaven. And if you were rich enough, you could have a chantry built and monks would permanently sing prayers so that that existence in heaven for the child would go up and up and up until they were at the table of the Lord themselves.
On what he would say to God were he to meet him, February 2015
Host: Suppose it's all true, and you walk up to the pearly gates and you are confronted by God. What will Stephen Fry say to him, her or it?
Stephen Fry: I’d say, bone cancer in children? What’s that about? How dare you? How dare you create a world in which there is such misery that is not our fault? It’s not right, it’s utterly, utterly evil. Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid god who creates a world that is so full of injustice and pain? That's what I would say.
Host: And you expect to get in?
Stephen Fry: No, but I wouldn't want to. I wouldn't want to get in on his terms. They're wrong. Now if I died and it was Pluto, Hades, and if it was the twelve Greek gods, then I would have more truck with it. Because the Greek were... they didn't pretend not to be human in their appetites, and in their capriciousness, and in their unreasonableness. They didn't present themselves as being all seeing, all wise, all kind, all beneficent.
Because the god who created this universe, if it was created by a god, is quite clearly a maniac, an utter maniac, totally selfish. We have to spend our life on our knees thanking him? What kind of god would do that?
Yes the world is very splendid, but it also has in it insects whose whole life cycle is to burrow into the eyes of children and make them blind. They eat outwards from the eyes. Why? Why did you do that to us? You could easily have made a creation where that didn't exist.