David Bruce: The Funniest People in Theater: 250 Anecdotes — Husbands and Wives, Insults, Language

Husbands and Wives

• When producer David Merrick’s second wife divorced him, she wanted to get a laugh at his expense. She succeeded admirably by taking out this advertisement in The New York Times: “NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR ANY DEBTS OTHER THAN MY OWN. [SIGNED] MRS. DAVID MERRICK.”


• Near the end of his life, celebrated homosexual wit Quentin Crisp used to give theatrical presentations of An Evening with Quentin Crisp. In the first half of the program, he would speak; in the second half, he would answer questions from the audience. A woman once asked him if he believed in reincarnation. Mr. Crisp replied that he did not, and after finding out that the woman did, he asked what she wanted to be reincarnated as. On hearing the answer — she wanted to be reincarnated as herself — he asked, “Lady, have you no ambition?”

• While playing the male lead role in Romeo and Juliet in Philadelphia, Charlotte Cushman was insulted when a man in the audience deliberately sneezed in a successful attempt to draw attention from the stage. Ms. Cushman stopped acting, led the actress playing Juliet to the side of the stage, then said, “Some man must put that person out, or I shall do it myself.” Ms. Cushman’s actions were cheered, and the man was escorted out by several other men.

• George S. Kaufman and the overweight Alexander Woollcott once wrote a play titled The Dark Tower together. During rehearsal, an actor who had to wear padding because of his role, said, “I certainly hate to walk out on the stage with a big paunch.” Mr. Kaufman replied, “You have grossly insulted Alexander Woollcott.” This pleased Mr. Woollcott, until Mr. Kaufman added, “And for that, you will receive a gold medal.”

• George Bernard Shaw sent two tickets to the opening night of one of his plays to Sir Winston Churchill, with a note saying, “Please come to my play and bring a friend, if you have one.” Sir Winston replied with his own note, saying that he couldn’t come to the opening night, but “I’ll come to the second night, if you have one.”

• After playing Sir Harry Wildair on stage to the audience’s delight, actress Peg Woffington told leading man James Quin that she thought that half the audience believed her to be a man. Well knowing of Ms. Woffington’s reputation for romantic affairs, Mr. Quin replied, “And the other half knows you are a woman.”

• George Bernard Shaw once listened to a very poor violinist. When his hostess asked for his opinion of the violinist’s talent, Mr. Shaw said that the violinist reminded him of Ignace Paderewski. The hostess said, “Paderewski? But he’s not a violinist!” Mr. Shaw replied, “Exactly.”

• John Wilkes was once bored by a conceited young man who told him, “I was born between twelve and one on the first of January. Isn’t it strange?” Mr. Wilkes replied, “Not in the slightest. You could only have been conceived on the first of April.”

• A photographer once snapped a shot of Noël Coward, then asked, “Could you please tell me your name?” Mr. Coward replied, “I recommend you to Who’s Who — and h*ll.”


• In 1913, the widow of Ernest Fenollosa gave Ezra Pound her husband’s translations of Japanese Noh plays so that he could make poetic translations of them. Mr. Pound was willing, but he requested help in understanding Noh from Japanese choreographer/dancer Michio Ito, who told him, “Noh is the d*mnedest thing in this world.” Mr. Pound replied, “I am only an American. You say Noh is the d*mnedest thing in this world — which means you know more about it than I do. That is why you have to help me.” Mr. Ito did help, Mr. Pound did make some poetic translations, and his translations inspired William Butler Yeats to write some plays in the Noh style.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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