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THE WITS AND THE WANNABES

by Ruth Minshull

“You can pretend to be serious, but you can’t pretend to be witty.”

–Sacha Guitry

I loved this quote as soon as I read it.  Who was this author? I wondered.  What else has he written?

An Internet search yielded a number of entries, most of which were in French, so I didn’t learn much about Guitry except that he was an actor, writer and director.  Apparently he had been largely underappreciated in his time.  I found no other profound words by the man (Had they all been trashed by some witless editor?).

Further Google findings, however, turned up some unintentional humor provided by a courageous French admirer who attempted to translate information about the man:  “Sacha Guitry,” he wrote, “has died for more than forty years, time passed, ‘it does not have more enemies, since one reproached him above all for being alive’ wrote of him François Truffaut.”

This clumsy text lurched along for about half a page, when it finally collapsed back into its original French (with an exhausted whimper, no doubt).  The last entry was a plea:  “Certain pages are still in construction. Do not want me too much, please!  Return quickly to note the improvements!”

Well, I haven’t returned–quickly or otherwise–but I silently promised that I would not want him too much.

Although Webster defines witty as “very clever and humorous,” you still couldn’t describe wit to a person who had never experienced it.  That would be like trying to explain the concept of obedience to a cat.

But where does one go to get this commodity? I wondered.  If you can’t fake it, can you learn it? develop it? or maybe get a pill for it?

I scanned over many of the people I had known in my lifetime, and I observed that those who were not witty to start with, never did become witty.  Oh sure, with a few drinks in them, many people think they are funnier than Robin Williams on a roll, but you would have to be comparably looped yourself to agree with them.

We can change many of our physical features—with hair dye, implants, plastic surgery, Botox.  With a bit of effort, we can improve our mental attitude and general outlook.  We can learn and improve our skills.  But, unfortunately, we can’t say, “Doctor. I want to get a wit implant.”

So, reluctantly, I have concluded that people are born with this ability, or they’re not.  It’s pre-ordained—a DNA of the soul.

While it seems to be true that you can’t pretend to be witty, some people try anyway.  They tell a joke and forget the punch line.  Or (I knew one like this.) they give you the punch line, without telling the joke—and then they wait for you to laugh.  Some of them tell blatant falsehoods, then say, “Just kidding.”  They seem to think “kidding” means “funny”; they’re trying to be clever, but they don’t know how.

I observed that if a person is often saying, “Just kidding,” or “That was a joke,” he’s probably never really funny.

Some people punish us with puns.  (Note how the word “puns” fits into the word “punish”.  Hmm.  That can’t be an accident.)  Personally, I’d rather make people laugh than groan.

There are a few clowns who make their bid for attention by being outrageous—in their clothes, behavior or remarks.  But they’re no wittier than any other wannabes.

The unfunniest pretender is the practical joker.  This half-wit has no capability for clever conversation or humor; he ridicules and humiliates others by making them the butt of pranks.  Then he expects everyone—including the victim—to laugh.  (What’s the matter?  Can’t you take a joke?)  When you meet a practical joker, notice that he or she is never a clever raconteur, never a fun and entertaining person.  You’ll generally find that the underhanded tricks are all he has in his wit bag.

So what’s an unwitted person to do?  Probably the best thing is to practice being an attentive listener.  Ask questions, respond appropriately–especially to humor.  The cleverest quipster needs to know that he can produce a good laugh in others now and then.  And, of course, he’ll think you’re brilliant because you “get it.”

Being a good audience might be just as worthwhile as being witty.

© 2010 by Ruth Minshull

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