- If I could walk that way, I wouldn’t need the talcum powder. [Groucho Marx]
- At which end, my Lord? [criminal defendant responding to “Hanging Judge Jeffreys'” statement, “There’s a great rogue at the end of my cane.”]
The ability to relate to people is a hallmark of wisdom. We can sum up wit with one observation: Some people know how to tell a joke, some don’t.
Garrison Keillor's work is a real-time narrative of wit. His humor offers the comforting warmth of a fire in the hearth.
- Garrison Keillor, In Search of Lake Wobegon (Studio, 2001) recounts his origins.
- Judith Yaross Lee, Garrison Keillor: A Voice of America (University of Mississippi Press, 1991).
- On life, cheerfulness and aging
- In 1985 with David Letterman
- Program in 2008
- News from Lake Wobegon, February 14, 2009
- News from Lake Wobegon, February 5, 2009
- News from Lake Wobegon, March 21, 2009
- News from Lake Wobebon, The Lives of the Cobwoys, January 24, 2009
- News from Lake Wobegon, The Lives of the Cowboys, January 31, 2009
Garrison Keillor's columns:
- Groucho Marx, Groucho and Me (B. Geis Associates, 1959).
- Robert S. Bader, ed., Groucho Marx and Other Short Stories and Tall Tales: The Selected Writings of Groucho Marx (Faber & Faber, 1996).
- Groucho Marx, The Groucho Letters: Letters from and to Groucho Marx (Simon & Schuster, 1967).
- Mardy Grothe, Viva la Repartee: clever comebacks & witty retorts from history's great wits & wordsmiths (Collins, 2005).
- Mardy Grothe, Oxymoronica: paradoxical wit & wisdom from history's greatest wordsmiths (Harper, 2004).
- Mardy Grothe, I Never Metaphor I Didn't Like: a comprehensive compilation of history's greatest analogies, metaphors, and similes (Harper, 2008).
- Michelle Lovrick, Women's Wicked Wit: From Jane Austen to Roseann Barr(Chicago Review Press, 2001).
- Amy Gash, ed., What the Dormouse Said: Lessons for Grown-Ups from Children's Books (Algonquin Books, 1999)
- Des MacHale, Wit: Quotations from Woody Allen to Oscar Wilde (Roberts Rinehart Publishers, 1998).
- Matt Lee and Ted Lee, The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook: Stories and Recipes for Southerners and Would-Be Southerners (W. W. Norton & Company, 2006).
- Ralph Keyes, The Wit & Wisdom of Oscar Wilde: A Treasury of Quotations(Gramercy, 1999).
- Oscar Wilde, Oscar Wilde's Wit & Wisdom: A Book of Quotations (Dover Publications, 1998).
Other great witticists:
- Richard Langworth, ed., The Definitive Wit of Winston Churchill (Public Affairs, 2009).
- James C. Humes, ed., The Wit and Wisdom of Winston Churchill: A Treasury of More Than 1,000 Quotations (Harper Perennial, 1995).
- Bob Blaisdell, ed., The Wit and Wisdom of Abraham Lincoln: A Book of Quotations (Gramercy, 1999).
- Alex Ayres, ed., The Wit and Wisdom of Mark Twain (Running Press, 1991).
- Andy Rooney, Andy Rooney: 60 Years of Wisdom and Wit (Public Affairs, 2009).
- Andy Rooney, Years of Minutes: The Best of Rooney from 60 Minutes (Public Affairs, 2003).
- Ben Yagoda, Will Rogers: A Biography (Knopf, 1993).
- Richard D. White, Jr., Will Rogers: A Political Life (Texas Tech University Press, 2011): on the serious political side of everyman’s funny man.
- Joseph H. Carter, Never Met a Man I Didn't Like: The Life and Writings of Will Rogers (Harper, 1991).
- Benjamin Franklin, Wit and Wisdom (Peter Pauper Press, 1998).
- Hermione Lee, Tom Stoppard: A Life (Knopf, 2021): “It’s Tom Stoppard’s World, and We Don’t Live in It”
Wit, in print:
- Kelly Oxford, When You Find Out the World Is Against You: And Other Funny Memories About Awful Moments (Dey Street Books, 2017): “. . . Oxford has a gift for snarky one-liners and self-effacing humor . . .”
Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest: A Trivial Comedy for Serious People (1895), the master witticist's magnum opus, uses a sharp stick to poke fun at the mores and conventions of Victorian England.
Garrison Keillor's books:
- Garrison Keillor, Life Among the Lutherans (Augsberg Fortress Publishers, 2009).
- Garrison Keillor, Leaving Home (Penguin, 1990).
- Garrison Keillor, Pontoon: A Lake Wobegon Novel (Viking, 2007).
- Garrison Keillor and Jenny Lind Nilsson, The Sandy Bottom Orchestra (Hyperion Books, 1996).
- Garrison Keillor, Good Poems for Hard Times (Penguin, 2006).
- Gospel Birds and Other Stories from Lake Wobegon
- Summer: Stories from the Collection: News from Lake Wobegon
- Spring: Stories from the Collection: News from Lake Wobegon
- Faith: Stories from the Collection: More News from Lake Wobegon
- Plenty of Pretty Good Jokes
- A Prairie Home Companion: Final Performance
- Groucho Marx, Memoirs of a Mangy Lover (Da Capo Press, 2002).
- Penelope Lively, How It All Began: A Novel (Viking, 2012): “ . . . an elegant, witty work of fiction, deceptively simple, emotionally and intellectually penetrating, the kind of novel that brings a plot to satisfying closure but whose questions linger long afterward in the reader’s mind.”
Film and Stage
- The 1952 version of Oscar Wilde's "The Importance of Being Earnest" is by far the best, and a desert-island, version of this work available on film.
- Annie Hall is Woody Allen’s drily sardonic exposition on life and relationships
- Broadcast News, a look at the people who (used to) provide us information
- Dead of Night, a witty look at murder
- Limitless: “a seductively cynical, sharp-eyed comic fable for an age of greed and speed”
- Love in the Afternoon: watch for the musicians
- The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek: “The ‘miracle’ which sets all things right is a beautiful touch of extravagance that is the liveliest spoof of all.”
- Mr. Hulot’s Holiday, a French satire, giving the audience “an amused affection for human nature”
- A Taxing Woman’s Return: “don’t be deceived” by the film’s “cool, breezy manner”; “it scalds”
- The Thin Man, a film noir: “The film's strong suit is the witty repartee between Nick and Nora Charles, who manage to behave like saucily illicit lovers throughout the film even though they're married.”
- This Is Spinal Tap, a mock documentary about a rock band
- Joan Miró, Harlequin's Carnival (1924-25)
- Amedeo Modigliani, Portrait of Pablo Picasso (1915)
- Amedeo Modigliani, Portrait of Jean Cocteau (1916)
- Honoré Daumier, Baron Jacques-Antoine-Adrien Delort (1773-1846)
- Honoré Daumier, Jean-Marie Fruchard (1788-1872), Deputy (1833)
Music: songs and other short pieces
Music: Composers, artists, and major works
In his three “Razumovsky” string quartets, Op. 59 (1806), Beethoven played, with extraordinary intelligence and understanding, with Russian themes. Like a person of great wisdom encountering someone new, Beethoven expanded on those themes in a variety of ways, challenging listeners to keep up with him.
- Quartet No. 7 in F major, Op. 59, No. 1 (performances by the Budapest, Alban Berg, and Juilliard string quartets)
- Quartet No. 8 in E minor, Op. 59, No. 2 (performances by the Budapest, Alban Berg, and Cecilia string quartets)
- Quartet No. 9 in C major, Op. 59, No. 3 (performances by the Budapest, Alban Berg, and Jasper, string quartets)
Jazz saxophonist Sonny Rollins could insert new musical themes into his live performances to suit a momentary occasion, such as the time he began playing a riff on “Auld Lang Syne” during a performance of a standard jazz work when new year arrived. When some friends and I saw him perform in Newark a few years ago, when he was well into his seventies, one of my friends remarked that she hoped he could remember the tunes without falling over; I assured her that he could play them at great length, in his sleep. Asleep, Sonny Rollins has more musical facility than most of us have while awake.
- “Way Out West” album
- “Volume 1” (1957) album
- “Rollins Plays for Bird” album
- “Saxophone Colossus” album
- “Freedom Suite” album
- “East Broadway Run Down” album
- “The Bridge” album
- “Newk’s Time” album
- Live in Europe (1959)
- Live in Denmark (1968)
- Jazz Jamboree (1980)
- Live in Tokyo (1988)
Frank Zappa albums:
- “Weasels Ripped My Flesh”
- “One Size Fits All”
- “Burnt Weeny Sandwich”
- “Sheik Yerbouti”
- “Joe's Garage”
- “Hot Rats”
- “Dance Me This”
- “Greasy Love Songs”
- “Everything Is Healing Nicely”
- “You Can’t Do That on Stage Anymore, Volume 5”
- “Them Or Us”
- “Zappa ’88: The Last U.S. Show”
The Bobs (an a capella quartet with a twisted sense of humor) albums:
- “My, I’m Large”
- “The Bobs”
- “Art for Art's Sake”
- “Songs at Any Speed”
- “Get your Monkey off my Dog”
- “Rhapsody in Bob”
- “i brow club”
- “Too Many Santas!”
- “Shut up and Sing!”
- “Sing the Songs of . . .”
In these two piano concerti by Bacevičius, the soloist flits in, out and about impishly, while members of the orchestra make offhand remarks:
- Potsa Lotsa SL, “Silk Songs for Space Dogs”
- Flip Phillips, “Flipenstein”: a witty take on “horror” classics
- Pago Libre & Friends, “Got Hard”
I lost my patronage in Spoon River
From trying to put my mind in the camera
To catch the soul of the person.
The very best picture I ever took
Was of Judge Somers, attorney at law.
He sat upright and had me pause
Till he got his cross-eye straight.
Then when he was ready he said "all right."
And I yelled "overruled" and his eye turned up.
And I caught him just as he used to look
When saying "I except."
[Edgar Lee Masters, “Penniwit, the Artist”]
- Ogden Nash, “A Word to Husbands”
- Aditi Machado, Emporium (Nightboat, 2020): “'Wordplay' isn’t quite the term for what’s going on here; it’s more like linguistic athleticism.”