A Question of Wit

There are a lot of funny people in the entertainment and literary world today. A lot.

See The Rolling Stone’s list of “The 50 Funniest People Now.”

You’ve got your Louis CK (love him,) Chris Rock, the genius Kate McKinnon, Julia Louis-Dreyfus (sending you healing prayers, Julia: I am in awe of you,) Jordan Peele and Keegan Michael-Key at the top of the list. Each brilliantly funny.

I found the list fascinating, and exciting. (Mainly because a friend of mine is on it, and deservedly so. So excited for them!!)

The list got me thinking about words like “wit,” “comedy,” “humor,” “satire,” and”funny.” And the different genres through which one can be “funny” or “comedic” or “witty.” Television, movies, books, magazines, live performance, cartoons, comics and on-line accounts and posts — I am sure I am missing more — oh yeah, greeting cards! (what am I missing?)

It got me thinking: is everyone who is funny witty?

I guess it depends on how you define “wit.”

One such definition, from LiteraryTerms.net, is:

“Wit is a biting or insightful kind of humor. It includes sharp comebacks, clever banter, and dry, one-line jokes. It is often cynical or insulting, which is what provides it with its characteristic sharpness.

One key hallmark of wit is that it often takes a second to figure out. A witty remark is one that goes over people’s heads at first, but that they then get (and laugh at) after a few moments. A witty remark is a kind of mental time-bomb that only goes off once it’s been processed a bit. Thus, wittiness is a subjective quality – for some people, a line will be immediately understood and therefore not very witty (even though it might still be funny or clever). But other people might hear the same line and need to process it for a moment before they get it. To them, the line would be witty.

The following story is probably the single most frequently cited example of wit: Winston Churchill was once at a party, apparently quite drunk, when he had an encounter with a high-class socialite from another political party. The woman turned her nose up at Churchill and said with disdain, “You, sir, are drunk.” Churchill, not missing a beat, responded in a dry tone of voice, “You, madam, are ugly, and in the morning I shall be sober.”

I prefer this from LiteraryDevices.net, which is more of the literary use definition, but I think it gets to the nut of what makes wit wit and not comedy.

“Wit has originated from an old English term wit, which means “to know.” It is a literary device used to make the readers laugh. Over the years, its meanings have kept changing. Today, it is associated with laughter and comedy. It is, in fact, a clever expression of thought; whether harmless or aggressive, with or without any disparaging intent toward something or someone.

Wit has paradoxical and mocking quality, and evokes laughter through apt phrasing. It is a cleverly woven expression and idea that evokes pleasure and amusement when used appropriately. Wit has historically been a specific sign of a cultivated intellect and mind. It was often found in poetry, but stage plays were also full of wit, specifically during the Restoration Period. In modern times, wit is a hallmark of political and social writings.”

I don’t think all funny people are witty.

I also think people used to be wittier. Maybe wit was valued differently (as was reading) than it may be today.

Just posing the questions.

I can say that when I think of wit, I think of the writer Dorothy Parker.

Call me old-fashioned, but I think she was the master of wit. Especially, but not limited to, within her short stories such as “You Were Perfectly Fine,” “The Lovely Leave,” “The Telephone Call,” and my hands- down favorite: “The Garter.”


Who do you think is truly witty these days?

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt: witty

4 thoughts on “A Question of Wit

  1. Your analysis of wit is excellent. I only really noticed the lack of true wit these days when I recently caught an old episode of Frasier on TV. The humour was delightfully clever and witty and there is really nothing like that any more, sadly.

    Liked by 1 person

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