The 5 Wittiest Comebacks in the History of Trash Talk
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 Responds to a Heckler
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
" you. This is . you and your bush league . 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 Shakespeare, man. Like the pilot to Kojak, but you don't deserve Telly Savalas, man. You're like William Conrad in Cannon. At best! At best, man. Booing my like some Statler and Waldorf mother? you. youuuuuuuuuuuuuuu!
"Yes, those are our names. Quentin gets it."
Babe Ruth Justifies His Salary to a Reporter
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 Generates a Metaphor During a Game Show
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
"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!"
Winston Churchill Defends His Booziness Like a Champ
Before Winston Churchill became Britain's most famous wartime prime minister, he was the young, sometimes boozy son of an aristocrat.
He was also part bulldog.
One night, at a 1912 party at his family estate, Churchill apparently got quite boisterous and irked American socialite Nancy Astor. At her wit's end, Astor stated, "Winston, if you were my husband, I'd put poison in your coffee." Churchill replied:
"Nancy, if you were my wife, I'd drink it."
Bam! A zinger worthy of a great head of state, but today ...
How Joe Biden Would Ruin It Today
"Well, lady, if you were my wife, I'd make you drink it. Well, no, that's a bit harsh. Did I just say I'd murder a woman? Sorry, got carried away with the malarkey. Obviously, I wouldn't murder a woman. I'm just saying, I'm from Delaware, and we know a thing or two about taking care of business -- whether that business is working hard at the factory to put our kids through school, or volunteering at the fire department to rescue our neighbors, or murdering women with poisoned coffee. Christ! I did it again. Never mind. I guess all I'm saying is cut me some slack. It's hard enough for me not to say politically incorrect things when I'm sober, let alone when I've been downing Jager bombs. Wait a second! Did you poison the Jager bombs? Is that what you were saying? Why would you do that?"
John Barrymore Shows Composure When Caught in the Ladies' Room
John Barrymore was a well-regarded film actor in both the silent and the sound era of motion pictures. His siblings Lionel and Ethel were also renowned thespians, and his granddaughter Drew is terrible at everything.
All downhill from here.
In any event, one night after shooting, he stopped in at a bar near Paramount Studios, and after a time he made his way to the restroom. The problem, however, was that in his drunken confusion, he'd stumbled into the ladies' room. Shocked to see the film actor relieving himself there, one woman exclaimed, "This is for ladies!"
Barrymore turned to the woman, manhood still in hand, and explained:
"And so, madam, is this."
Sassy, ribald, but sophisticated.
How Tom Cruise Would Do It Today
"What are you saying? That this isn't for ladies? What are you implying? Why are you implying that? I don't think I like that implication. I find it glib. Incredibly glib."
Watch the new HATE BY NUMBERS, where Will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas recruits Britney Spears to make even worse music. And come see Gladstone do stand-up at the Gotham Comedy Club in New York City at 9:30 p.m. on Wednesday, February 20, 2013.