Quotations about:
    laughter


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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.

Stephen Colbert (b. 1964) American political satirist, writer, comedian
“After tragedy, TV funnyman Stephen Colbert says: ‘If you are laughing, you can’t be afraid,'” interview by James Kaplan, Parade (23 Sep 2007)
 
Added on 22-Dec-22 | Last updated 22-Dec-22
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Unless a thing is dignified, it cannot be undignified. Why is it funny that a man should sit down suddenly in the street? There is only one possible or intelligent reason: that man is the image of God. It is not funny that anything else should fall down; only that a man should fall down. No one sees anything funny in a tree falling down. No one sees a delicate absurdity in a stone falling down. No man stops in the road and roars with laughter at the sight of the snow coming down. The fall of thunderbolts is treated with some gravity. The fall of roofs and high buildings is taken seriously. It is only when a man tumbles down that we laugh. Why do we laugh? Because it is a grave religious matter: it is the Fall of Man. Only man can be absurd: for only man can be dignified.

Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874-1936) English journalist and writer
“Spiritualism,” All Things Considered (1908)
    (Source)
 
Added on 15-Dec-22 | Last updated 15-Dec-22
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We should laugh before being happy, for fear of dying without having laughed.

[Il faut rire avant que d’être heureux, de peur de mourir sans avoir ri.]

Jean de La Bruyère (1645-1696) French essayist, moralist
The Characters [Les Caractères], ch. 4 “Of the Heart [Du coeur],” § 63 (1688) [tr. Stewart (1970)]
    (Source)

(Source (French)). Alternate translations:

We must laugh before we are happy, or else we may die before we have cause to laugh.
[Bullord ed. (1696)]

We must laugh before we are happy, for fear we die before we laugh at all.
[Curll ed. (1713)]

We must laugh before we are happy, or else we may die before we ever laugh at all.
[Browne ed. (1752)]

We must laugh before we are happy, or else we may die before ever having laughed at all.
[tr. Van Laun (1885)]

We must laugh before we are happy, for fear of dying before we have laughed.
[tr. Lee (1903), "Brief Reflections on Men and Things"]

 
Added on 29-Nov-22 | Last updated 29-Nov-22
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One half of the world laughs at the other, and fools are they all.

[La mitad del mundo se está riendo de la otra mitad, con necedad de todos.]

Baltasar Gracián y Morales (1601-1658) Spanish Jesuit priest, writer, philosopher
The Art of Worldly Wisdom [Oráculo Manual y Arte de Prudencia], § 101 (1647) [tr. Jacobs (1892)]
    (Source)

(Source (Spanish)). Alternate translations:

One part of the world laughs at the other, and both laugh at their common folly.
[Flescher ed. (1685)]

Half the world laughs at the other half, even though the lot are fools.
[tr. Fischer (1937)]

Half the world is laughing at the other half, and folly rules over all.
[tr. Maurer (1992)]

 
Added on 28-Nov-22 | Last updated 28-Nov-22
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Nor ought you ever to laugh at any joke or smart saying of your own; for you will be thought to applaud your own wit. It belongs to the company, and not to him who says a good thing, to express their approbation by a laugh.

[Né de’ tuoi medesimi motti voglio che tu ti rida, che è un lodarti da te stesso: egli tocca di ridere a chi ode, e non a chi dice.]

Giovanni della Casa
Giovanni della Casa (1503-1556) Florentine poet, author, diplomat, bishop
Galateo: Or, A Treatise on Politeness and Delicacy of Manners [Il Galateo overo de’ costumi], ch. 30 (1558) [tr. Graves (1774)]
    (Source)

(Source (Italian)). Alternate translations:

But a man must beware he doe not laughe at his owne gestes, and his doings. For that makes men weene hee woulde faine praise him selfe. It is for other men to laughe that heare, and not for him that telles the tale.
[tr. Peterson (1576)]

And I do not want you to laugh at your own jokes, for it is a type of self-praise. It is the hearer who should laugh, not the speaker.
[tr. Eisenbichler/Bartlett (1986)]

The question of laughter lies with the hearer, not with the narrator.
[Source]

 
Added on 3-Nov-22 | Last updated 3-Nov-22
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A good laugh overcomes more difficulties and dissipates more dark clouds than any other one thing.

Laura Ingalls Wilder (1867-1957) American writer
“‘Thoughts are Things,'” Missouri Ruralist (5 Nov 1917)
    (Source)

Reprinted in Stephen Hines, ed., Laura Ingalls Wilder - Farm Journalist (2007).
 
Added on 21-Jul-22 | Last updated 21-Jul-22
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A good laugh is sunshine in a house.

William Makepeace Thackeray (1811-1863) English novelist
“On Love, Marriage, Men, and Women,” Sketches and Travels in London (1856)
    (Source)

This particular line is widely attributed to Thackeray, but rarely cited. Part of the problem is that it is almost always given as "A good laugh is sunshine in the house," rather than "a house."

It is also sometimes cited to his famous novel Vanity Fair (1848), though the quotation cannot be found there.
 
Added on 7-Jul-22 | Last updated 8-Jul-22
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We cannot really love anybody with whom we never laugh.

Agnes Repplier (1855-1950) American writer
“Goodness and Gayety,” Americans and Others (1912)
    (Source)

Note: Though this is usually attributed to Repplier, she precedes the phrase with "It has been wisely said that ..."
 
Added on 29-Jun-22 | Last updated 29-Jun-22
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Laughter is carbonated holiness.

Anne Lamott (b. 1954) American novelist and non-fiction writer
Plan B, ch. 5 “Holy of Holies 101” (2004)
    (Source)
 
Added on 12-May-22 | Last updated 1-Jun-22
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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 1-Jun-22
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For me, a hearty “belly laugh” is one of the most beautiful sounds in the world.

Bennett Cerf (1898-1971) American publisher, humorist
An Encyclopedia of Modern American Humor, Foreword (1954)
    (Source)

Variant: "For me, one of the most beautiful sounds in the world is a hearty laugh."
 
Added on 14-Apr-22 | Last updated 1-Jun-22
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Life is a hard battle anyway. If we laugh and sing a little as we fight the good fight of freedom, it makes it all go easier.

Truth - Life is a hard battle anyway laugh and sing a little fight the good fight of freedom easier - wist.info quote

Sojourner Truth (1797-1883) American abolitionist, women's rights activist [b. Isabella Baumfree]
Quoted in Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Letter to the Editor, New York World (13 May 1867)
    (Source)

Recorded in Stanton, Anthony, Gage, History of Woman Suffrage, Vol. 2 "1861-76", Appendix to Chapter 18 (1881).

This quote is often given with the following sentence appended to it:

I will not allow my life's light to be determined by the darkness around me.

However this is not in the original, and I have been unable to source it.
 
Added on 2-Mar-22 | Last updated 2-Mar-22
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Learn what is to be taken seriously and laugh at the rest.

Herman Hesse (1877-1962) German-born Swiss poet, novelist, painter
Steppenwolf (1927) [tr. Creighton, rev. Milleck (1963)]
    (Source)
 
Added on 1-Oct-21 | Last updated 1-Oct-21
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To laughter! The bright coinage of the bank of good will.

No picture available
Minna Antrim (1861-1950) American epigrammatist, writer
Naked Truth and Veiled Allusions (1901)
 
Added on 1-Oct-21 | Last updated 1-Oct-21
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I don’t believe there is any finer mission on earth than just to make people laugh.

Fatty Arbuckle
Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle (1887-1933) American silent film actor, comedian, director, screenwriter
“Fatty Off Guard,” interview by Elizabeth Sears (1916)
    (Source)
 
Added on 22-Sep-21 | Last updated 22-Sep-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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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)
    (Source)
 
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)
    (Source)
 
Added on 13-Nov-20 | Last updated 13-Nov-20
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What a strange machine man is! You fill him with bread, wine, fish, and radishes, and out comes sighs, laughter, and dreams.

Nikos Kazantzakis (1883-1957) Greek writer and philosopher
Zorba the Greek, ch. 23 (1946)
 
Added on 9-Nov-20 | Last updated 9-Nov-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)
    (Source)
 
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)
    (Source)
 
Added on 23-Jun-20 | Last updated 23-Jun-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)
    (Source)
 
Added on 31-Jan-20 | Last updated 31-Jan-20
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I really love language; it allows us to explain the pain and the glory, the nuances and the delicacies, of our existence. Most of all, it allows us to laugh. We need language.

Maya Angelou (1928-2014) American poet, memoirist, activist [b. Marguerite Ann Johnson]
“The Art of Fiction,” Paris Review, #116, Interview with George Plimpton (1990)
 
Added on 28-Feb-19 | Last updated 28-Feb-19
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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 (2.41) [tr. Ker (1919)]
    (Source)

"To Maximina." (Source (Latin)).

Martial says he thinks he's quoting Ovid, but it aligns with nothing known or still extant from that poet. As the phrase is hendecasyllabic, and Ovid is not known to have published anything in that meter, it is at the very least believed a paraphrase. It is still usually credited as a a fragment for Ovid. Ironically, since it is the point of this Martial epigram, in Ars Amatoria 3.279ff, Ovid warns against laughing if one's teeth are bad; see Williams for more discussion.

Alternate translations:

Laugh, my girl, laugh, if you bee wise.
[16th C Manuscript]

Laugh, lovely maid, laugh oft, if thou art wise.
[tr. Killigrew (1695)]

Laugh, my pretty damsel, laugh;
If thou'rt cunning, but by half.
[tr. Elphinston (1782), Book 6, Part 3, ep. 8]

Smile, O damsel, if you are wise, smile.
[tr. Amos (1858), ch. 3, ep. 101]

Laugh if thou art wise, girl, laugh.
[tr. Bohn's Classical (1859)]

Laugh if you are wise, girl, laugh
[tr. Bohn's Classical (1871)]

Laugh, maiden, laugh, if thou be wise.
[tr. Pott & Wright (1921)]

Smile, maiden, smile.
[tr. Francis & Tatum (1924), ep. 86]

Laugh if you have any sense, girl, laugh.
[tr. Shackleton Bailey (1993)]

Laugh, girl; if you're clever, laugh!
[tr. Williams (2004)]

 
Added on 6-Sep-17 | Last updated 11-Nov-22
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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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Some folk have been clearly rid of such pestilent fancies with very full contempt of them, making a cross upon their hearts and bidding the devil avaunt. And sometimes they laugh him to scorn, too, and then turn their mind unto some other matter. And when the devil hath seen that they have set so little by him, after certain essays, made in such times as he thought most fitting, he hath given that temptation quite over. And this he doth not only because the proud spirit cannot endure to be mocked, but also lest, with much tempting the man to the sin to which he could not in conclusion bring him, he should much increase his merit.

Thomas More (1478-1535) English lawyer, social philosopher, statesman, humanist, Christian martyr
Dialogue of Comfort Against Tribulation, Book 2, sec. 16 (1553)
    (Source)

More often elided/paraphrased as "The devil ... the proud spirit cannot endure to be mocked" or "The devil, that proud spirit, cannot endure to be mocked."

C. S. Lewis used a mis-elided version as an epigraph to The Screwtape Letters (1942): "The devil ... the prowde spirit ... cannot endure to be mocked."

Sometimes given in the original (?) spellings: "The deuill ... the prowde spirit, cannot endure to be mock'd."
 
Added on 15-Feb-17 | Last updated 15-Feb-17
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The best way to drive out the devil, if he will not yield to texts of Scripture, is to jeer and flout him, for he cannot bear scorn.

Martin Luther (1483-1546) German religious reformer
Table Talk
    (Source)

Variations:
  • "The best way to drive out the devil, if he will not go for texts of Scripture, is to jeer and flout him, for he cannot bear scorn."
  • The best way to expel the devil, if he will not depart for texts from Holy Scripture, is to jeer and flout him. [Source]
 
Added on 14-Feb-17 | Last updated 14-Feb-17
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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)
    (Source)
 
Added on 22-Oct-15 | Last updated 22-Oct-15
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Even at the movies, we laugh together, we weep alone.

James Richardson (b. 1950) American poet
Vectors: Aphorisms and Ten-Second Essays (2001)
 
Added on 25-Sep-15 | Last updated 25-Sep-15
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My pain may be the reason for somebody’s laugh, but my laugh must never be the reason for somebody’s pain.

Charlie Chaplin (1889-1977) English comic actor, film director, composer
(Attributed)
 
Added on 5-Aug-15 | Last updated 5-Aug-15
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“Why do men feel threatened by women?” I asked a male friend of mine. (I love that wonderful rhetorical device, “a male friend of mine.” It’s often used by female journalists when they want to say something particularly bitchy but don’t want to be held responsible for it themselves. It also lets people know that you do have male friends, that you aren’t one of those fire-breathing mythical monsters, The Radical Feminists, who walk around with little pairs of scissors and kick men in the shins if they open doors for you. “A male friend of mine” also gives — let us admit it — a certain weight to the opinions expressed.) So this male friend of mine, who does by the way exist, conveniently entered into the following dialogue. “I mean,” I said, “men are bigger, most of the time, they can run faster, strangle better, and they have on the average a lot more money and power.” “They’re afraid women will laugh at them,” he said. “Undercut their world view.” Then I asked some women students in a quickie poetry seminar I was giving, “Why do women feel threatened by men?” “They’re afraid of being killed,” they said.

Margaret Atwood (b. 1939) Canadian writer, literary critic, environmental activist
“Writing the Male Character,” Hagey Lecture, U. of Waterloo (9 Feb 1982)
    (Source)

Published in a revised version as "Writing the Male Character," Second Words: Selected Critical Prose, 1960-1982 (1983).

Usually paraphrased, "Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them."
 
Added on 3-Jul-14 | Last updated 20-Dec-19
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The man who is unable to laugh at his god is a man who does not quite believe in his god. In the Middle Ages, when Christians were really Christians, the burlesque mass flourished, and even bishops took part in it. Today, with not enough faith left in Christendom to make a single martyr, a burlesque mass would end in a lynching — and Jews and Protestants would help pull the rope.

H.L. Mencken (1880-1956) American writer and journalist [Henry Lewis Mencken]
“Pertinent and Impertinent,” Smart Set (Jun 1913) [as Owen Hatteras]
    (Source)
 
Added on 19-Dec-11 | Last updated 2-May-16
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“Never laugh at live dragons, Bilbo you fool!” he said to himself, and it became a favorite saying of his later, and passed into a proverb.

J.R.R. Tolkien (1892-1973) English writer, fabulist, philologist, academic [John Ronald Reuel Tolkien]
The Hobbit, ch. 12 “Inside Information” (1937)
    (Source)
 
Added on 1-Mar-11 | Last updated 25-Aug-22
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No day can be so sacred but that the laugh of a little child will make it holier still.

Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899) American lawyer, agnostic, orator
“The Liberty of Man, Woman, and Child” (1877)
    (Source)
 
Added on 28-Aug-09 | Last updated 4-Feb-16
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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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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)
    (Source)
 
Added on 23-Dec-08 | Last updated 10-Jan-20
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Your race, in its poverty, has unquestionably one really effective weapon — laughter. Power, Money, Persuasion, Supplication, Persecution — these can lift at a colossal humbug, — push it a little — crowd it a little — weaken it a little, century by century: but only Laughter can blow it to rags and atoms at a blast. Against the assault of Laughter nothing can stand. You are always fussing and fighting with your other weapons. Do you ever use that one? No; you leave it lying rusting. As a race, do you ever use it at all? No; you lack sense and the courage.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
“The Chronicle of Young Satan” (c.1897–1900, unfinished)
    (Source)

Often paraphrased: "The human race has one really effective weapon, and that is laughter." This is an (excised) passage from what was eventually posthumously published as No. 44, The Mysterious Stranger (1916).
 
Added on 3-Oct-08 | Last updated 26-Jan-19
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CREATOR: A comedian whose audience is afraid to laugh.

Mencken - creator comedian whose audience is afraid to laugh - wist.info quote

H.L. Mencken (1880-1956) American writer and journalist [Henry Lewis Mencken]
A Book of Burlesques, ch. 11 “The Jazz Webster” (1921)
    (Source)

Later included in A Mencken Chrestomathy, ch. 30 (1949). Sometimes misattributed to Voltaire.
 
Added on 6-May-08 | Last updated 29-Dec-22
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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)
    (Source)
 
Added on 7-Feb-05 | Last updated 26-Jan-19
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This world is a comedy to those that think; a tragedy to those that feel.

Horace Walpole (1717-1797) English novelist, letter writer
Letter to Anne, Countess of Upper Ossory (16 Aug 1776)
    (Source)

Walpole frequently used used this phrase or variants in letters (and in fact prefaces this quote with "I have often said ..."). Another example is an earlier letter to Horace Mann (31 Dec 1769):

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.

It may be derived from an (unsourced) similar quote attributed Jean de La Bruyère: "Life is a tragedy for those who feel, and a comedy for those who think".
 
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 19-Jan-23
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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)
    (Source)
 
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 12-Jan-23
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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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Man is the only animal that laughs and weeps, for he is the only animal that is struck with the difference between what things are, and what they ought to be.

William Hazlitt (1778-1830) English writer
Lectures on the English Comic Writers, Lecture 1 “On Wit and Humour” (1819)
    (Source)

Sometimes altered to end "... and what they might have been."
 
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 16-Mar-20
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Whoever undertakes to set himself up as a judge of Truth and Knowledge is shipwrecked by the laughter of the gods.

[Wer es unternimmt, auf dem Gebiet der Wahrheit und der Erkenntnis als Autoritat aufzutreten, scheitert am Gelachter der Gotter.]

Albert Einstein (1879-1955) German-American physicist
“Neun Aphorismen” (23 May 1953), Essays Presented to Leo Baeck on the Occasion of His Eightieth Birthday (1954) [Einstein Archives 28-962]
    (Source)

Original German. Alternate translation: "He who endeavors to present himself as an authority in matters of truth and cognition, will be wrecked by the laughter of the gods."
 
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 21-Feb-21
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Life does not cease to be funny when people die any more than it ceases to be serious when people laugh.

George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) British playwright and critic
The Doctor’s Dilemma, Act 5 [Ridgeon] (1906)
    (Source)
 
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 28-Nov-22
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Human beings reveal their character most clearly by what they find ridiculous.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) German poet, statesman, scientist
Elective Affinities (1809) [tr. Hollingdale (1971)
    (Source)

Alternate translations:
  • "Men show their characters in nothing more clearly than in what they think laughable."
  • "There is nothing in which people more betray their character than in what they laugh at."
 
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 22-Oct-21
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Always laugh when you can; it is cheap medicine.

George Gordon, Lord Byron (1788-1824) English poet
(Attributed)

Widely attributed to Byron, but no source cited.
 
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 12-Jan-23
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Among those whom I like or admire, I can find no common denominator, but among those whom I love, I can: all of them make me laugh.

W. H. Auden (1907-1973) Anglo-American poet [Wystan Hugh Auden]
The Dyer’s Hand and Other Essays, Part 7 “The Shield of Perseus,” “Notes on the Comic” (1962)
    (Source)
 
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 4-May-22
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