Quotations about   humor

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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, #41 “To Maximina” [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 6-Sep-17
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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, K.46 (1765-99) [tr. Hollingdale (1990)]
Added on 9-May-17 | Last updated 9-May-17
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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 poltician, 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)
Added on 7-Jul-16 | Last updated 7-Jul-16
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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)
Added on 18-Feb-16 | Last updated 18-Feb-16
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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."
Added on 8-May-15 | Last updated 8-May-15
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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, “Life” [ed. Jones (1907)]
Added on 31-Jul-14 | Last updated 31-Jul-14
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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)
Added on 17-Mar-14 | Last updated 17-Mar-14
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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)
Added on 10-Jan-14 | Last updated 10-Jan-14
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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 epigrammist
Intuitions and Summaries of Thought, Vol. 2 (1862)
Added on 27-Nov-13 | Last updated 27-Nov-13
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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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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)
Added on 4-Feb-09 | Last updated 26-Jan-19
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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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Humor is just another defense against the universe.

Mel Brooks (b. 1926) American comedic actor, writer, producer [b. Melvyn Kaminsky]
(Attributed)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 12-Jul-16
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Men show their characters in nothing more clearly than in what they think laughable.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) German poet, statesman, scientist
Spruche in Prosa [Proverbs in Prose] (1819)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 21-May-14
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Imagination was given to man to compensate him for what he is not; a sense of humor to console him for what he is.

Francis Bacon (1561-1626) English philosopher, scientist, author, statesman
(Attributed)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 16-May-16
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Humor distorts nothing, and only false gods are laughed off their pedestals.

Agnes Repplier (1855-1950) American writer
(Attributed)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 24-Apr-17
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No matter what happens, somebody will find a way to take it too seriously.

Dave Barry (b. 1947) American humorist
“25 Things I Have Learned In 50 Years,” #22 (1997)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 20-Oct-14
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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)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 16-Jun-16
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