• Humor writer H. Allen Smith once appeared on a radio interview program. His hostess did a lot of the talking, which he didn’t listen to, because he was searching his mind for interesting anecdotes to tell when the hostess allowed him to speak. During much of the interview, Mr. Smith was merely saying “Yes” or “Uh-huh” as the hostess spoke. After the interview was completed, the hostess began laughing and played back part of the tape for him. She had stated, “I’m sure that many of our listeners will agree that Mr. Smith is the foremost humorist in America today, that no one else has given us so much sheer joy as he has.” At this point, without thinking and without hearing what his hostess had been saying, Mr. Smith had said, “That’s right.”
• As a boy, future impresario James W. Morrissey sold tickets at a theater where Charles Dickens was to speak. One afternoon, a gentleman stopped by and asked him how tickets were selling. Mr. Morrissey replied that they were selling very well, and added a few words of high praise for Mr. Dickens. The gentleman replied that he guessed the praise was given in order to sell tickets, and ventured that Mr. Morrissey had never actually seen Mr. Dickens. In fact, Mr. Morrissey was unable to afford to buy a ticket, so the gentleman, saying that he was sick of hearing Dickens, gave him a few tickets. Later, at the lecture, Mr. Morrissey received a surprise — the gentleman who had given him the tickets was Charles Dickens himself.
• Charles Emory Smith was the Postmaster General under Presidents William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt, and he was a newspaper publisher. He once was asked to give an after-dinner speech, but after drinking liberally at the affair he was so drunk that he was unable to stand up. The next day his own newspaper reported on the dinner and on the many speeches that had been made at it. The newspaper mentioned that Mr. Smith had been asked to make a speech, and that his remarks would be printed on the following page — which was blank except for a tiny line at the bottom: “What else could he say?”
• While on a lecture tour, Mark Twain got a shave in a local barber shop. The barber knew that he was shaving a stranger, but he didn’t recognize Mr. Twain, so he said, “You’ve come into town at the right time. Mark Twain is lecturing tonight.” When Mr. Twain said that he was planning to attend the lecture, the barber asked if he had bought his ticket yet. Hearing that he had not, the barber said that he would have to stand, as most of the tickets were already sold. Mr. Twain sighed and then said, “That’s my luck. Whenever that fellow gives a lecture, I always have to stand.”
• Mark Twain once told a story that illustrated why speakers should be brief: Mr. Twain said he attended a church when a missionary began to speak. At first Mr. Twain was fired up with enthusiasm for the missionary’s work and wanted to donate the $400 he had and borrow all he could to give to the missionary. However, the missionary kept talking, and the longer the missionary talked, the less enthusiastic Mr. Twain became — when the offering plate was finally passed around, Mr. Twain stole ten cents from it.
• When Mark Twain was scheduled to speak at a small town, he would often enter a store and ask if people knew about his lecture being scheduled that night. Once he entered a grocery store and asked if there were anything special going on that evening. The grocer replied, “I think there’s a lecture tonight — I’ve been selling eggs all day.”
• Harold Ross, editor of The New Yorker, disliked speaking in public. Once he was given a surprise award and had to make an impromptu speech. He rose to his feet, faced the audience, feebly uttered, “Je-sus,” then sat down. Frank Sullivan, who was seated next to him, said, “Your speech was too long, Ross. I got bored after the first syllable.”
• Comic singer Anna Russell claimed to get many of her routines out of the Encyclopedia Britannica. One example is the comic lecture she does on bagpipes. She opened the “Encyclopedia Britannica” to “bagpipes” and found the complete lecture there — it needed only to be reworded.
• Joseph Chamberlain was the after-dinner speaker at a party where everyone was enjoying themselves very much. When the time for his speech approached, he was asked, “Shall we let these people enjoy themselves a little longer, or will you give your speech now?”
• Hillaire Belloc could be very imposing. He once arrived late at a lecture he was giving, but told everyone present, “I am half an hour late. It is entirely my fault. I do not apologize.”
• Abba Eban, the Israeli diplomat, was once introduced in this way: “I’m honored to introduce Mr. Abba Eban, who is well known throughout the civilized world as well as here in the Bronx.”
• Comedienne Eddie Cantor was invited to speak at many dinners. Once, 14 speakers spoke before him, and when it was his turn to talk, he said, “My dear friends, when I came here, I was a young man.”
• After Calvin Coolidge had made a speech, a woman came up to him and said, “I enjoyed your speech so much that I stood up the entire time.” Coolidge replied, “So did I.”
• Sir Winston Churchill knew that he was a great orator. When he wrote his speeches, he wrote notes where he anticipated the crowd’s responses; for example, “Cheers,” “Ovation,” and “Prolonged cheering.”
• A politician made a speech in front of a hostile crowd. Someone in the crowd threw a tomato at the politician, who deftly caught it and told the crowd, “I take these things with a grain of salt.”
Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved
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