If you want to endear yourself to another person, if you want to learn how to totally mystify your friends, there’s numerous ways to do it, but the most effective is the art of being witty. You can say the funniest and the zaniest thing to your ‘victim’ who will not know whether it’s meant as an insult or a compliment. It has a strong undercurrent of truth because it is culled from life itself – for example, when someone refers to her ‘in-laws’ as “out-laws”, you sense at once that her in-laws must be ‘good from far, but far from good’! If a husband introduces his wife as ‘my bitter-half’ behind her back (in undertones), you know that all marriages are made in Heaven, but this one was made when God was in a hurry!
At cocktail parties, if a witty person wanted to befriend a lady, he would ask her “Are you happy or married?” This breaks the ice immediately and they would start chatting like old friends and even compare notes on marriage, which is a funny institution even as life itself is funny, which means that it is infuriating, varied, wonderful, moving, tender, tiresome, desperately hard work, full of comedy but infinitely worthwhile!
I love Oscar Wilde because he is the prince of wit. “God helps those who help themselves” he turned into “God help those who help themselves.” And “Familiarity breeds contempt” into “familiarity breeds contempt and children.” He also said “Nothing succeeds like excess” instead of “Nothing succeeds like success” and “well begun is half done” became “well begun is half done only.” On Oscar Wilde getting shocked at the ugliness of a lady he was introduced to, she said graciously, “Mr. Wilde, I must be the ugliest woman in France.” “In the world, madam, in the world” he said with a deep bow. Later, on a trip to the United States, the customs officer asked Wilde what he had to declare, “Only my genius” was the reply.
Every wit has a victim. In fact, wit is what psychologically devastates its victim. Wilde’s wit could be subjective and he had the ability to laugh at himself. When he had spent all his money and was still living in luxury towards the end of his life, he declared “I’m dying beyond my means!”
Wilde’s wit was never savage. George Bernard Shaw’s often was. “Pygmalion” later made as “My Fair Lady” is a series of wit and one-liners. While attending a dance-ball, he picked up a very plain looking lady to dance with. “Mr. Shaw” asked the lady in a daze at the honour given, “What made you pick me, a wall-flower in preference to other beauties?” “It is a charity ball” was his cruel, beastly reply. Then there was Lady Astor’s dinner party where he roared for all the guests to hear “Lady Astor, I don’t like what you have cooked. Don’t you know my tastes?” The lady out-witted him by shouting “Hope they are better than your manners!”
Like Bernard Shaw, Churchill is also remembered for his biting tongue. For a politician he disliked, Churchill said while taking a toast, “Mr. Politician is such a modest man – actually he has so much to be modest about!” Churchill and his son-in-law hated each other. Once, at a family dinner, the son-in-law asked Churchill for the sake of polite conversation, “Who do you think sir, is the greatest man of the Second World War?” “Mussolini,” replied Churchill, “Because he shot Count Ciano, his son-in-law!”
“I have never suffered from indigestion for having swallowed my own words,” said Churchill, when he was accused of it. Churchill’s predecessor, Ramsay Mac Donald was also known for his icy-tongue and wit. “Mr. Mac Donald,” said an old spinster to him one day, “I like your politics, but not your long moustaches.” “Madam,” he replied, “you are not likely to come in contact either with one or the other.”
On paying an unexpected visit to Rousseau’s house, Voltaire saw him fast asleep. On the dust-covered teapoy, Voltaire sketched the head of a donkey with his finger and quietly left. “Rousseau, I visited you when you were fast asleep yesterday,” he said when the two met the next day. “Yes Voltaire, I saw your visiting card on my teapoy on waking-up!” was the witty reply.
Gladstone shouted at Disraeli during a parliamentary debate in the British House of Commons “Sir, you will either hang on the gallows, or die because of some foul disease.” Replied Disraeli, “Sir, it all depends upon whether I embrace your politics or your mistress!” At the same debate, someone asked Disraeli the difference between an accident and a disaster. “If Gladstone drops in a well, it will be an accident but if he is rescued, it will be a disaster” replied Disraeli, all within the hearing range of Gladstone! A cheeky lady told Gladstone, “Sir, if I were your wife, I would put poison in your coffee.” Gladstone replied wittily, “Madam, if I were your husband, I would willingly drink it!”
Wit and Humour can be cultivated and after a while, they become part of your thinking and vocabulary. After all, what’s life without a sense of humour? One Big ZERO!