Saturday, January 10, 2009

The art of the insult

Once again, I call your attention to the venerable Dick Cavett.

While reading this, I was sifting through famous insults I recall, and holding them up for comparison. I kept coming back to Joan Rivers on Elizabeth Taylor. That string of burger joint jokes. As deadly and polished as those insults were, I think we could not enjoy them because of what they targeted. Not evil but weakness. When Joan turns the gun on herself in that recent commercial in which she says “Oh honey, this face has seen more knives than a benihana”, we can laugh easily because she owns the weakness targeted. I wonder if she wrote that line herself.

And there's that Dorothy Parker review of a Kate Hepburn performance in which Kate "ran the gamut of emotion from A to B". No one ever thought of Kate as weak or vulnerable, so we can laugh. I wonder if she herself laughed.

3 comments:

evilganome said...

It is hard to think of Dick Cavett as venerable, not because of any lack of respect on my part for his talent or intelligence, but because I still think of him as a young man.

I remember him from his TV show when I was a youngster and somehow he has never aged for me. Even at 72 he is still a young, funny talented guy who will have plenty more to say to us.

He is right though. A good insult, sharp and finely and quickly crafted, is far better than the childish bludgeons that seem to pass for biting humor these days.

Gordon Baldwin said...

As an example of wit: on an occasion when Jean Harlot met Margot Asquith and continually pronounced the latter's name as Mar-got, the former is reported to have said "Miss Harlow, the "t" in Margot is silent, as it is in Harlow."

Mike said...

Cavett left out his show's most famous insult moment when novelist Mary McCarthy said of Lillian Hellman: “Everything she writes is a lie including ‘and’ and ‘the.’” (Probably because he wrote about it repeatedly in the past.)

One of my favorite Dorothy Parker quotes: "This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force."