Quotations about   humor

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The person who can bring the spirit of laughter into a room is indeed blessed.

Bennett Cerf (1898-1971) American publisher, humorist
(Attributed)
Added on 28-Apr-22 | Last updated 28-Apr-22
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Given the disaster Russian history has been more or less continuously for the last five centuries, its humor is of the darkest, most extreme kind. Russian humor is to ordinary humor what backwoods fundamentalist poisonous snake handling is to a petting zoo. Russian humor is slapstick, only you actually die.

Ian Frazier (b. 1951) American writer and humorist
“A Strangely Funny Russian Genius,” New York Review of Books (7 May 2015)
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Reviewing books by Russian writer Daniil Kharms.
Added on 1-Jun-21 | Last updated 1-Jun-21
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If you are a person who looks at the funny side of things, then sometimes when you are lowest, when everything seems totally hopeless, you will come up with some of your best ideas. Happiness does not create humor. There’s nothing funny about being happy. Sadness creates humor.

Charles Schulz (1922-2000) American cartoonist
“On Staying Power,” My Life with Charlie Brown (2010) [ed. Inge]
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Added on 23-Apr-21 | Last updated 23-Apr-21
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Sometimes you laugh because you’ve got no more room for crying. Sometimes you laugh because table manners on a beach are funny. And sometimes you laugh because you’re alive, when you really shouldn’t be.

Terry Pratchett (1948-2015) English author
Nation (2009)
Added on 9-Mar-21 | Last updated 9-Mar-21
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Remember, that the wit, humor, and jokes of most mixed companies are local. They thrive in that particular soil, but will not often bear transplanting. Every company is differently circumstanced, has its particular cant, and jargon; which may give occasion to wit and mirth, within that circle, but would seem flat and insipid in any other, and therefore will not bear repeating.

Lord Chesterfield (1694-1773) English statesman, wit [Philip Dormer Stanhope]
Letter to his son (29 Oct 1748)
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Added on 4-Mar-21 | Last updated 4-Mar-21
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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 (1922-2000) American composer, entertainer, and wit.
Funny People, Introduction (1981)
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Added on 12-Feb-21 | Last updated 12-Feb-21
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Humor is the most honest of emotions. Applause for a speech can be insincere, but with humor, if the audience doesn’t like it there’s no faking it.

Robert Orben (b. 1927) American comedy writer, magician, speechwriter
In “A Little Night Humor,” Washington Post (28 Jan 1982)
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Added on 13-Nov-20 | Last updated 13-Nov-20
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Thou canst not joke an Enemy into a Friend; but thou may’st a Friend into an Enemy.

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) American statesman, scientist, philosopher
Poor Richard’s Almanack (Apr 1739)
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Added on 17-Sep-20 | Last updated 17-Sep-20
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Behold the hippopotamus!
We laugh at how he looks to us,
And yet in moments dank and grim,
I wonder how we look to him.

Ogden Nash (1902-1971) American poet
“The Hippopotamus”
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Added on 11-Sep-20 | Last updated 11-Sep-20
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Among other things I think humor is a shield, a weapon, a survival kit. Not only has this brief span of ours been threatened by such perils not of our making such as fire and flood, Tyrannosaurus Rex, the black death, and hurricanes named after chorus girls, but we have been most ingenious in devising means for destroying each other, a habit we haven’t yet learned how to kick.

So here we are several billion of us, crowded into our global concentration camp for the duration. How are we to survive? Solemnity is not the answer, any more than witless and irresponsible frivolity is. I think our best chance lies in humor, which in this case means a wry acceptance of our predicament. We don’t have to like it but we can at least recognize its ridiculous aspects, one of which is ourselves.

Ogden Nash (1902-1971) American poet
Commencement address at his daughter Linell’s boarding school
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Quoted in Douglas M. Parker, Dana Giaoia, Ogden Nash: The Life and Work of America's Laureate of Light (2005).
Added on 4-Sep-20 | Last updated 4-Sep-20
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Fake quotes will ruin the Internet.

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) American statesman, scientist, philosopher
(Attributed)
Added on 3-Aug-20 | Last updated 3-Aug-20
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There are three things which are real: God, human folly, and laughter. Since the first two pass our comprehension, we must do what we can with the third.

Aubrey Menen (1912-1989) English writer
Rama Retold (1954)
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Added on 2-Jul-20 | Last updated 2-Jul-20
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Everything is funnier in retrospect, funnier and prettier and cooler. You can laugh at anything from far enough away.

Chuck Palahniuk (b. 1962) American novelist and freelance journalist
Stranger Than Fiction: True Stories, “Consolation Prizes” (2004)
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Added on 23-Jun-20 | Last updated 23-Jun-20
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Thare would be a grate supply ov wit and humor in this world, if we would only giv others the same credit for being witty that we claim for ourselfs.

[There would be a great supply of wit and humor in this world, if we would only give others the same credit for being witty that we claim for ourselves.]

Josh Billings (1818-1885) American humorist [pseud. of Henry Wheeler Shaw]
Everybody’s Friend, Or; Josh Billing’s Encyclopedia and Proverbial Philosophy of Wit and Humor, “Mollassis Kandy” (1874)
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Added on 4-Jun-20 | Last updated 4-Jun-20
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There is no possibility of being witty without a little ill-nature; the malice in a good thing is the barb that makes it stick.

Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751-1816) Irish dramatist, satirist, politician
The School for Scandal, Act 1 (1777)
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Added on 23-Mar-20 | Last updated 23-Mar-20
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DICAEPOLIS: Comedy too can sometimes discern what is right. I shall not please, but I shall say what is true.

Aristophanes (c. 450-c. 388 BC) Athenian comedic playwright
Acharnians, ll. 500-501 (425 BC) [tr. Athenian Society (1912)]
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Added on 18-Mar-20 | Last updated 18-Mar-20
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I believe in aristocracy, though — if that is the right word, and if a democrat may use it. Not an aristocracy of power, based upon rank and influence, but an aristocracy of the sensitive, the considerate and the plucky. Its members are to be found in all nations and classes, and all through the ages, and there is a secret understanding between them when they meet. They represent the true human tradition, the one permanent victory of our queer race over cruelty and chaos. Thousands of them perish in obscurity, a few are great names. They are sensitive for others as well as for themselves, they are considerate without being fussy, their pluck is not swankiness but the power to endure, and they can take a joke.

E. M. Forster (1879-1970) English novelist, essayist, critic, librettist [Edward Morgan Forster]
“What I Believe,” The Nation (16 Jul 1938)
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Added on 5-Feb-20 | Last updated 5-Feb-20
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I love people who make me laugh. I honestly think it’s the thing I like most, to laugh. It cures a multitude of ills. It’s probably the most important thing in a person.

Audrey Hepburn (1929-1993) Belgian-English actress
“Hepburn Heart,” Interview with Dominick Dunne, Vanity Fair (May 1991)
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Added on 31-Jan-20 | Last updated 31-Jan-20
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I believe there’s an intrinsic irreverence in the American psyche, and when something comes along that offers even an echo of that irreverence, people respond to it.

Martin Mull (b. 1943) American actor, comedian
“20 Questions with Martin Mull,” Playboy (Apr 1984)
Added on 4-Sep-19 | Last updated 4-Sep-19
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A faint smile hovered around the man’s lips. It was the sort of smile that lies on sandbanks waiting for incautious swimmers.

Terry Pratchett (1948-2015) English author
Mort (1987)
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Added on 15-Oct-18 | Last updated 15-Oct-18
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Laugh if you are wise, O girl, laugh.

[Ride, si sapis, o puella, ride]

Martial (AD c.39-c.103) Spanish Roman poet, satirist, epigrammatist [Marcus Valerius Martialis]
Epigrams [Epigrammata], Book 2, epigram 41 “To Maximina” (2.41) [tr. Ker (1919)]
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Quoting Ovid (unsourced).

Alt. trans.:
  • Laugh if thou art wise, girl, laugh. [tr. Bohn (1871)]
  • Laugh, my girl, laugh, if you bee wise" -- [16th C Manuscript]
  • Laugh, lovely maid, laugh oft, if thou art wise. -- [Anon. (1695)]
 
Added on 6-Sep-17 | Last updated 14-Jan-22
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I have found throughout my life that, if all else fails, the character of a man can be recognized by nothing so surely as by a jest which he takes badly.

Georg C. Lichtenberg (1742-1799) German physicist, writer
Aphorisms, Notebook K, #46 (1793-96) [tr. Hollingdale (1990)]
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Alternate translation: "A person reveals his character by nothing so clearly as the joke he resents."
Added on 9-May-17 | Last updated 7-Jul-21
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“John has warned me that you are a jokester. Well, I am not. If we are to have any kind of successful association, you’d best understand right now that I do not enjoy humor. Whether or not successful.”

“Okay if now and then I enjoy a wry, inward smile if struck by one of life’s vagaries?”

Robert B. Parker (1932-2010) American writer
Looking for Rachel Wallace (1980)
Added on 22-Mar-17 | Last updated 22-Mar-17
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It is part of the price of leadership of this great and free nation to be the target of clever satirists. You have given the gift of laughter to our people. May we never grow so somber or self-important that we fail to appreciate the humor in our lives.

Lyndon B. Johnson (1908-1973) American politician, educator, US President (1963-69)
Letter to the Smothers Brothers (Nov 1968)

Replying to a letter from them apologizing for making him the target of so much of their humor. More info here and here.
Added on 22-Feb-17 | Last updated 22-Feb-17
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“It’s not funny.”

“No, it isn’t, no more than everything else. Laughing is better than crying, though. When you can.”

Robert B. Parker (1932-2010) American writer
Promised Land (1976)
Added on 22-Feb-17 | Last updated 22-Feb-17
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I have observed that in comedies the best actor plays the droll, while some scrub rogue is made the fine gentleman or hero. Thus it is in the farce of life. Wise men spend their time in mirth, ’tis only fools who are serious.

Henry St John, 1st Viscount Bolingbroke (1678-1751) English politician, government official, political philosopher [Lord Bolingbroke]
(Attributed)

Quoted in Gleason's Pictorial (Boston) (3 Dec 1853).
Added on 19-Dec-16 | Last updated 19-Dec-16
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It’s probably wrong to believe there can be any limit to the horror which the human mind can experience. On the contrary, it seems that some exponential effect begins to obtain as deeper and deeper darkness falls — as little as one may like to support the idea that when the nightmare grows black enough, horror spawns horror, one coincidental evil begets other, often more deliberate evils, until finally blackness seems to cover everything.

And the most terrifying question of all may be just how much horror the human mind can stand and still maintain a wakeful, staring, unrelenting sanity. That such events have their own Rube Goldberg absurdity goes almost without saying. At some point, it all starts to become rather funny. That may be the point at which sanity begins either to save itself or to buckle and break down; that point at which one’s sense of humor begins to reassert itself.

Stephen King (b. 1947) American author
Pet Sematary (1983)
Added on 10-Aug-16 | Last updated 10-Aug-16
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If you can’t joke about the most horrendous things in the world, what’s the point of jokes? What’s the point in having humor? Humor is to get us over terrible things. That’s all it’s for. That’s why you should laugh at funerals. Of course it’s the wrong thing to say. That’s why it’s funny.

Gervais - humor terrible things - wist_info quote

Ricky Gervais (b. 1961) English comedian, actor, director, writer
Interview with Chris Heath, GQ (15 May 2013)
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Added on 7-Jul-16 | Last updated 7-Jul-16
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Every age has its pleasures, its style of wit, and its own ways.

Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux (1636-1711) French poet and critic
The Art of Poetry [L’Art Poétique], Canto 3 (1674)
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Brevity is the soul of wit.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) English dramatist and poet
Hamlet, Act 2, sc. 2 [Polonius] (1600)
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In full:
"Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit,
And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes,
I will be brief ...."
Added on 20-May-16 | Last updated 20-May-16
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Wit lies in recognizing the resemblance among things which differ and the difference between things which are alike.

[L’esprit consiste à connaître la ressemblance des choses diverses et la différence des choses semblables.]

Germaine de Staël (1766-1817) Swiss-French writer, woman of letters, critic, salonist [Anne Louise Germaine de Staël-Holstein, Madame de Staël, Madame Necker]
Germany [De l’Allemagne], Part 3, ch. 8 (1813)
Added on 23-Feb-16 | Last updated 23-Feb-16
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For every ten jokes, thou hast got a hundred enemies.

Laurence Sterne (1713-1786) Anglo-Irish novelist, Anglican clergyman
Tristam Shandy, Book 1, ch. 12 (1760-1767)
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Alas, irreverence has been subsumed by mere grossness, at least in the so-called mass media. What we have now — to quote myself at my most pretentious — is a nimiety of scurrility with a concomitant exiguity of taste. For example, the freedom (hooray!) to say almost anything you want on television about society’s problems has been co-opted (alas!) by the freedom to talk instead about flatulence, orgasms, genitalia, masturbation, etc., etc., and to replace real comment with pop-culture references and so-called “adult” language. Irreverence is easy — what’s hard is wit.

Lehrer - whats hard is wit - wist_info quote

Tom Lehrer (b. 1928) American mathematician, satirist, songwriter
Rhino Records online chat (17 Jun 1997)
Added on 21-Jan-16 | Last updated 21-Jan-16
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Men are contented to be laughed at for their wit, but not for their folly.

Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) English writer and churchman
“Thoughts on Various Subjects” (1706)
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Added on 22-Oct-15 | Last updated 22-Oct-15
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We who think we are about to die will laugh at anything.

Terry Pratchett (1948-2015) English author
Night Watch (2002)
Added on 1-Jul-15 | Last updated 24-Jun-15
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But finally, there is one other quality I would mention among these that I believe will fit you for difficult and important posts. This is a healthy and lively sense of humor.

Dwight David Eisenhower (1890-1969) American general, US President (1953-61)
Commencement Address, US Naval Academy (4 Jun 1958)
Added on 25-Jun-15 | Last updated 25-Jun-15
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For telling a good and incisive religious joke, you should be praised. For telling a bad one, you should be ridiculed and reviled. The idea that you could be prosecuted for the telling of either is quite fantastic.

Rowan Atkinson (b. 1955) English actor, comedian, and screenwriter
Letter to The Times of London (Oct 2001)
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Regarding proposed legislation outlaw "incitement to religious hatred."
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Humor can be dissected, as a frog can, but the thing dies in the process and the innards are discouraging to any but the purely scientific mind.

E.B. White (1899-1985) American author, critic, humorist [Elwyn Brooks White]
“The Preaching Humorist,” The Saturday Review of Literature (18 Oct 1941)

The apparent origin of "Analyzing humor is a bit like dissecting a frog: You learn how it works but you end up with a dead frog" (and variants). Also attributed to Mark Twain (not found in his writing) and André Maurois (who said something similar in 1960). See here for more.
Added on 16-Feb-15 | Last updated 16-Feb-15
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God writes a lot of comedy, Donna; the trouble is, he’s stuck with so many bad actors who don’t know how to play funny.

Garrison Keillor (b. 1942) American entertainer, author
Happy to be Here (1983)
Added on 25-Sep-14 | Last updated 25-Sep-14
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As nothing is more provoking to some tempers than raillery, a prudent person will not always be satirically witty where he can, but only where he may without offence. For he will consider the that the finest stroke of raillery is but a witticism; and that there is hardly any person so mean, whose good will is not preferable to the pleasure of a horse-laugh.

James Burgh (1714-1775) British politician and writer
The Dignity of Human Nature, Sec. 5 “Miscellaneous Thoughts on Prudence in Conversation” (1754)
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Added on 18-Sep-14 | Last updated 18-Sep-14
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Good humor may be said to be one of the very best articles of dress one can wear in society.

William Makepeace Thackeray (1811-1863) English novelist
Sketches and Travels in London, “On Tailoring — and Toilets in General” (1856)
Added on 8-Aug-14 | Last updated 8-Aug-14
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A sense of humor keen enough to show a man his own absurdities will keep him from the commission of all sins, or nearly all, save those that are worth committing.

Samuel Butler (1835-1902) English novelist, satirist, scholar
The Note-Books of Samuel Butler, ch. 1, “Life” (1912)
Added on 31-Jul-14 | Last updated 5-Sep-19
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Wit without humanity degenerates into bitterness. Learning without prudence into pedantry.

James Burgh (1714-1775) British politician and writer
The Dignity of Human Nature, Sec. 5 “Miscellaneous Thoughts on Prudence in Conversation” (1754)
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Added on 26-Jun-14 | Last updated 26-Jun-14
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The difference between a satirist and a humorist is that the satirist shoots to kill while the humorist brings his prey back alive.

Peter De Vries (1910-1993) American editor, novelist, satirist
Interview (May 1964) in Roy Newquist, Counterpoint (1964)
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Laugh whenever you can. Keeps you from killing yourself when things are bad. That and vodka.

Jim Butcher (b. 1971) American author
Changes, ch. 33 [Sanya] (2010)
Added on 28-Jan-14 | Last updated 28-Jan-14
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A jest breaks no bones.

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) English writer, lexicographer, critic
Comment (4 Jun 1781)

In James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson (1791)
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Religion is too important a matter to its devotees to be a subject of ridicule. If they indulge in absurdities, they are to be pitied rather than ridiculed.

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) German philosopher
Lecture, Königsberg (1775)

Quoted in H. L. Mencken, A New Dictionary of Quotations on Historical Principles from Ancient and Modern Sources (1946).
Added on 2-Jan-14 | Last updated 2-Jan-14
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At all events, the next best thing to being witty one’s self, is to be able to quote another’s wit.

Christian Nestell Bovee (1820-1904) American epigrammatist, writer, publisher
Intuitions and Summaries of Thought, Vol. 2 (1862)
Added on 27-Nov-13 | Last updated 17-Jan-20
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We have had too many of these solemn people. Whenever I see an exceedingly solemn man, I know he is an exceedingly stupid man. No man of any humor ever founded a religion — never. Humor sees both sides. While reason is the holy light, humor carries the lantern, and the man with a keen sense of humor is preserved from the solemn stupidities of superstition.

Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899) American lawyer, agnostic, orator
“What Must We Do To Be Saved?” Sec. 11 (1880)
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Added on 16-Nov-11 | Last updated 21-Aug-14
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When Carlini was convulsing Naples with laughter, a patient waited on a physician in that city, to obtain some remedy for excessive melancholy, which was rapidly consuming his life. The physician endeavored to cheer his spirits, and advised him to go to the theater and see Carlini. He replied, “I am Carlini.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
“The Comic,” closing words, Letters and Social Aims (1875)
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This joke/anecdote has numerous variations over the last century and more. For example, see here and here.
Added on 26-Feb-09 | Last updated 22-Feb-22
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Wrinkles should merely indicate where the smiles have been.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
Following the Equator, ch. 52, epigraph (1897)
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Although my mother didn’t know anything about science, she had a great influence on me as well. In particular, she had a wonderful sense of humor, and I learned from her that the highest forms of understanding we can achieve are laughter and human compassion.

Richard Feynman (1918-1988) American physicist
What Do You Care What Other People Think?, “The Making of a Scientist” (1988)
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Added on 23-Dec-08 | Last updated 10-Jan-20
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Humor is the great thing, the saving thing. The minute it crops up, all our irritations and resentments slip away and a sunny spirit takes their place.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
“What Paul Bourget Thinks of Us?” (1899)
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Added on 7-Feb-05 | Last updated 26-Jan-19
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And if I laugh at any mortal thing,
‘Tis that I may not weep.

George Gordon, Lord Byron (1788-1824) English poet
Don Juan, Canto 4, st. 4 (1820)
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For the name of these gods there is both a serious and a humorous explanation; the serious explanation is not to be had from me, but there is no hindrance to my offering the humorous one, for the gods too are fond of a joke.

[ἀλλὰ ἔστι γὰρ καὶ σπουδαίως εἰρημένος ὁ τρόπος τῶν ὀνομάτων τούτοις τοῖς θεοῖς καὶ παιδικῶς. τὸν μὲν οὖν σπουδαῖον ἄλλους τινὰς ἐρώτα, τὸν δὲ παιδικὸν οὐδὲν κωλύει διελθεῖν: φιλοπαίσμονες γὰρ καὶ οἱ θεοί.]

Socrates - The gods, too, are fond of a joke - wist.info quote

Socrates (c.470-399 BC) Greek philosopher
In Plato, Cratylus [Κρατύλος], ch. 23 / 406c [tr. Hyers (1969)]
    (Source)

The final phrase, "The gods, too, are fond of a joke," is broadly misattributed to Aristotle, without any citation. It is also sometimes misattributed to Edward Albee.

Cratylus is dialogue about the nature of names. Socrates, here, has been asked about the origins of the names of the gods, Dionysus and Aphrodite. Burges (below) notes that Plato had been "partly initiated into the mysteries of Demeter and Dionysus," part of which dealt seriously with the meanings of those deities' names; his avoiding the "serious explanation" is not betray his oath of secrecy to the cult.

(Source (Greek)). Alternate translations:

But the mode of nomination, belonging to these divinities, is both serious and jocose. Ask therefore others about the serious mode; but nothing hinders us from relating the jocose; for these deities are lovers of jesting and sport.
[tr. Taylor (1804)]

But the manner of the appellations given to these divinities, has been said to be both serious and jocose. Ask therefore others about the serious manner; but nothing hinders us from relating the jocose; for these deities are lovers of jesting and sport.
[tr. Burges (1850)]

There is a serious and also a facetious explanation of both these names; the serious explanation is not to be had from me, but there is no objection to your hearing the facetious one; for the Gods too love a joke.
[tr. Jowett (1892)]

You see there is both a serious and a facetious account of the form of the name of these deities. You will have to ask others for the serious one; but there is nothing to hinder my giving you the facetious account, for the gods also have a sense of humor.
[tr. Fowler (1926)]

Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 4-May-22
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