You ever think of the perfect response to a put-down after the moment has already passed? It's the worst. Especially because you spend the next few days rolling around the kitchen floor, your body fully slathered in the peanut butter of shame, denigrating yourself over and over while loudly proclaiming, "That's what I should have said!" Actually, that's never happened to me. Well, not the part with the peanut butter at least, but I imagine it's quite common.
PROTIP: Have your dog lick it off you to heighten the self-loathing.
Throughout history, however, there have been the quick-thinking great ones who were presented with the perfect setup and, rather than botching it, proved their point or defended themselves with a punchline of just a few hilariously well-chosen words. It's the kind of quick-thinking wit you just don't see with today's celebrities.
George Bernard Shaw was a celebrated Irish playwright who lived from 1856 to 1950. His name is also super fun to say. Go ahead. Just feels good in the mouth, like a softer Jolly Rancher with some more substantial and savory overtones.
The only name in the English language more pleasing to say is Plemblebrook Pillowkins.
Anyway, in 1894, Shaw was enjoying a successful opening night for his play Arms and the Man. Indeed, he joined the actors onstage, basking in the glory of an overwhelmingly positive reception. Nevertheless, one lone dissenter began to boo loudly from the audience.
Undaunted, Shaw replied:
"I quite agree with you, my friend, but what can we two do against a whole houseful of the opposite opinion?"
Just beautiful. A classy way to say no one agrees with you. Funny, subtle, and totally foreign to the filmmakers of today. For example ...
How Quentin Tarantino Would Do It Today
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"[Bleep] you. This is [bleep]. [Bleep] you and your [bleeping] bush league [bleeeeeeep]. It's like I'm sittin' here, y'know, giving you, like, Shakespeare, and you're all, like, Season 5 of Lost in Space. Wait, y'know what? Not even [bleeping] Shakespeare, man. Like the [bleeping] pilot to Kojak, but you don't deserve Telly Savalas, man. You're like William Conrad in Cannon. At best! At [bleeping] best, man. Booing my [bleep] like some Statler and Waldorf mother[bleepers]? [Bleep] you. [Bleeeeeeeeep] youuuuuuuuuuuuuuu!
"Yes, those are our names. Quentin gets it."
Babe Ruth was one of the greatest baseball players in the history of the game. He was an impressive pitcher for the Boston Red Sox before reaching even greater glory as a New York Yankee and one of the most prolific home-run hitters of all time.
"Yes, I was on the Red Sox first. And a pitcher. Also, I never took steroids."
In 1931, while the country slipped deeper into the Depression, Yankees management asked Ruth to reduce his then-towering $80,000 salary to $75,000. Ruth refused, and at a press conference, a reporter pointed out that Ruth was making $5,000 more than President Hoover. Ruth replied:
"Maybe so, but I had a better year than he did."
Well played, Mr. Ruth. You took that sharp speeding question and smacked it over the wall in center field.
How LeBron James Would Do It Today
"Well, yes, I make hundreds of thousands of dollars more than the president in base salary alone, not counting endorsements, and I'll be happy to tell you why ... in my prime time one-hour special next week."
"I know that's not funny, and I'll be happy to explain why ... in my prime time one-hour special next week."
Groucho Marx was a vaudevillian, a movie star, a screenwriter, an author, and the host of the 1950s game show You Bet Your Life. And you thought he was just a model for novelty glasses. Peasant.
You might also know his brother Harpo "Snake in a Can of Peanut Brittle" Marx.
Part of the success of You Bet Your Life was Groucho's ability to quip. He was funny in real time all the time. Even at the end of his life, in this interview with Bill Cosby, you can see his mind still cranking out a few zingers. Groucho deserves his own list of quips, but one of his best came on his game show when talking to a contestant who had 10 children. Groucho asked why so many, to which the contestant replied, "Well, Groucho, I love my wife."
Groucho turned to the audience and replied:
"I love my cigar, but I take it out of my mouth once in a while."
How Alex Trebek Would Do It Today
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"Welcome back to Jeopardy! I'm your host, Alex Trebek, and we're talking to Jim Peterson of Kingston, New York. Now, Jim, I understand you have 10 children. Why so many?"
"Well, Alex, I love my wife."
"Yes, I'm sure you do. Good luck to you and your clan! I said 'clan,' not 'clam,' which is from the proto-Germanic 'klam.' No, I said 'clan,' referring to your large, large family. OK, let's play Jeopardy!"