Leonard Rossiter

The Lowest Form of Wit

Now that the season of good will to all men is behind us Jot 101 can safely tackle the art of sarcasm, examples of which can be found in a compilation published by the gifted comic actor  Leonard Rossiter ( The Rise and Fall of Reginald Perrin, Rising Damp) in The Lowest Form of Wit (1981).

Now I ‘ didn’t get where I am today ‘ by insisting that all the items   included in his book are good or even funny examples of sarcasm, but here are some of the better ones:-

The novelist James Joyce had an encounter with a fan, a woman who grabbed his hand and asked him fervently:

‘ May I kiss the hand that wrote Ulysses ?’

‘ No’, Joyce told her. ‘ It did other things too.’

Fred Keating once remarked of the actress Tallulah Bankhead:

‘I’ve just spend an hour talking to Tallulah for a few minutes.’

Of Hollywood Rex Reed remarked:

‘Hollywood is where if you don’t have happiness you send out for it.’

Margaret Kendal called Sarah Bernhardt:

‘ A great actress from the waist down.’

And Somerset Maugham , watching Spencer Tracy on set during the filming of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde asked a friend beside him:

‘Which is he playing now?’ 

Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree was nothing if not dramatic in his entrances on stage, always contriving to make the greatest impact on an audience when he appeared for the first time. So, on the opening might of his latest play, he flung open a pair of double- doors centre-stage, at the back of the set, and stood there for a moment holding an impressive attitude and looking straight out into the house. He was just about to launch into his first speech when he was pre—empted by a voice from the goods shouting:

‘Next station Marble Arch!’

Horace Walpole commented on the on the works of Samuel Richardson:

‘The works of Richardson …are pictures of high life as conceived by a bookseller, and romances as they would be spiritualized by a Methodist preacher.’

Oscar Wilde on Hall Caine:

‘(He)… writes at the top of his voice. He is so loud that one cannot hear what he says.’

F. E. Smith ( Lord Birkenhead) once said of Churchill:

‘ Winston’s spent the best years of his life  working on his impromptu replies.’

When Dorothy Parker met a friend at a cocktail party they eyed each other up an down before the friend said:

‘ Don’t you think your dress is a little young for you, dear?’

‘ Do you think so, dear?’ asked Mrs Parker. ‘I think yours suits you perfectly, it always has.’

The obese Lord Castlerosse was out to dinner one evening when the lady sitting next to him, who knew him well, poked his fat tummy and said:

‘ Rossie, this is a disgrace. If I saw it on a girl I’d say she was pregnant!’

‘Madam’, he replied. ‘ It has been and she is.’

Edna Ferber enjoyed wearing suits, the ones with trousers. She was wearing the latest of these in New York one day when she met Noel Coward wearing one very like it:

‘You look almost like a man’, said Coward as they greeted one another.

‘So do you’, the lady replied.

Prince Philip had arrived by plane to attend a civic reception and open a sports centre or prison somewhere in the midlands. When he came down the steps he was greeted by the leader of the local council, an unassuming and no doubt well-meaning man, who was suddenly overcome by the royal presence. Totally at a loss what to say he asked feebly what the flight had been like.

‘Have you ever flown in a plane?’, the Duke asked him.

Oh, yes, your Royal Highness, many times.’

‘Well, said the Duke,’ it was just like that.’

To be continued…

R. M. Healey

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