• Sydney Smith was both a clergyman and a wit. Once, a lady guest at his country estate suggested that the estate would be more beautiful if it had deer. When the lady woke up the following morning and looked out her window, she saw two donkeys with deer antlers tied to their heads.
• Harpo Marx and Oscar Levant were motoring on Long Island when Harpo drove alongside another car, then pointed West and asked, “Denver?”
• At the Atlanta airport, country comedian Jerry Clower saw a little white boy trip and gash his head. Blood was flowing freely, the boy’s mother was upset, and airline employees were calling for help. A good-looking, well-dressed black man stepped up to Mr. Clower and said, “Mr. Clower, I am a medical doctor. Would you ask the mother if it would be all right for me to check the little boy?” Mr. Clower understood why the black doctor had spoken to him first—if the doctor had been white, the doctor would have spoken to the mother directly. Mr. Clower did speak to the mother, the mother gave permission for the black doctor to attend to her boy, and when emergency personnel arrived, they said nothing more needed to be done because the black doctor had already done everything excellently. Mr. Clower writes, “I hope one day we grow to the point where an individual can perform as a professional, whatever his race, nationality, or origin.”
• When African-American comedian Dick Gregory first went into show business, he worried about how to react when some yahoo screamed racial epithets at him. For six months he had his wife scream insults at him while he figured out the best way to react. Finally, he asked his wife, “What would you do if from this day on I started referring to you as ‘bitch’?” She replied, “I’d just ignore you.” Mr. Gregory was impressed by the attitude with which she said that, and he used that attitude in his act. Later, he found comic ways to respond to racial insults. When someone called him “nigger,” he replied very politely, “According to my contract, the management pays me $50 every time someone calls me that. Please do it again.”
• In the Jim Crow era, black comedian Nipsey Russell engaged in this bit of socially relevant material. Blacks who attempted to vote in the South were often given a literacy test that involved many questions and was impossible to pass. In one bit Mr. Russell told, a would-be black voter was asked, “What did the Founding Fathers mean when they said all men were created equal?” The would-be black voter, realizing that he would not be allowed to vote no matter what he answered, replied, “They meant when you’re white, you’re right; when you’re brown, you could stick around; but when you’re black, get waaaay back!”
• In his act, black comedian Dick Gregory used to tell a story about being in a restaurant down South during Jim Crow days. The white waitress told him, “We don’t serve colored people here.” Mr. Gregory replied, “That’s all right, I don’t eat colored people. Bring me a whole fried chicken.” Just then, three members of the KKK walked in and told Mr. Gregory, “Boy, watch what you do, because whatever you do to that chicken, we’re going to do to you.” So Mr. Gregory picked up the chicken and kissed it!
• Comedian Bob Smith’s parents accepted his homosexuality. His father, a retired state trooper, once attended an Annual Policemen’s Ball where some men sitting with him and his wife (Sue) began to talk about “fags.” His father said, “You know, my son’s gay. And it takes a lot more guts for him to deal with being gay than it does for jerks like you to sit there talking with your mouths full and your heads empty. And I don’t have to listen to it. C’mon, Sue. Let’s sit somewhere else.”