Some Of The Cleverest Comebacks Ever

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Writing about Winston Churchill last week reminded me of some things I’ve heard or read over the years. I dislike nasty remarks, but I love it when someone has a good comeback to one. It makes my day because I have always believed that people with a sharp tongue earn it when a nasty remark backfires. I’ve dug a few choice zings out of my memory for you. Lean back and enjoy yourself, Johnny. This, you will love. 

Back in 1986 the evening news on one of the stations down in the Valley carried a two- or three-minute snippet from a televised debate between two candidates for the U.S. Senate. Their names are not important (that’s my excuse for not remembering them). During the short clip one of the two candidates got really nasty. Finally, he puffed himself up with self-importance, scowled at his opponent, and challenged him to take a drug test.

The reply?

“I’ll take a drug test if you’ll take an IQ test.”

I laughed so hard and long I missed the rest of the news.

Here’s another one I love, even though I have to admit I was not crazy about either of the two people involved, but then I was only a dumb kid during the years they filled the air with venom. 

Dorothy Parker and Clare Booth Luce hated each other. One day Parker arrived at the door to a fancy party at the same time as Luce, a stuffy sounding Connecticut Congress-member.

Clare Booth Luce waved a hand as the crowd in the room went silent and people watched. “Age before beauty,” she said.

Parker swept into the room with a loud response. “Pearls before swine!”

Wow!

Here’s one I remember well because it was repeated about a thousand times on the radio during the 1956 campaign between Adlai Stevenson and Dwight Eisenhower. I remember Stevenson as a far too cerebral type who made very little impression on people. He paused during a speech one day and a woman supporter yelled, “Senator, you have the vote of every thinking person in America.”

“That’s not enough,” Stevenson said. “We need a majority.”

I laughed the first time they aired that, but the more they kept repeating it, the more I thought about it. By the time the election was over I was listening to Stevenson’s speeches whenever they were broadcast. Smart man. Had a lot to say, and a good sense of humor. Didn’t stand a chance against Ike, though.

Back when I was deep into in classical music I read a book about the great composers. I loved Beethoven, Brahms, Mendelssohn and Tschaikovsky, but I always wondered why people thought Mozart was so great. I never found out, but one day I learned that he had a lot of common sense. 

A young man who wanted to write great music wrote to him and said, “Herr Mozart, I am thinking of writing symphonies. Can you give me any suggestions as to how to get started?”

Mozart wrote back, “A symphony is a very complex musical form, perhaps you should begin with some simple songs and work your way up to a symphony.”

The young man wrote back, “But Herr Mozart, you were writing symphonies when you were 8 years old.”

Mozart’s answer still breaks me up whenever I think of it. “Yes, but I never asked anybody how to do it.”

I’d never have come across this next one except for the fact that I was casually scanning an article nearly 60 years ago and saw that the person the article was about was the son of Nathan Hale. That came as a surprise because I grew up in New London where Hale taught before he went off to war and I had always thought he was unmarried.

I went to an encyclopedia in the New London library, looked up the person in the article, the Reverend Edward Everett Hale, and skimmed through his life. It turned out that the Nathan Hale, who was his father was not the Nathan Hale from New London. I’ll be honest with you, the reverend’s life was a one big ho-hum to me until I came across a remark he made that you’ll just love.

Around 1900 or so, Reverend Hale was chosen as the Chaplain of the United States Senate. During the time he held that position someone asked him if he prayed for the senators. 

Ready for this, Johnny?

“No, I look at the Senators and pray for the country.”

It wouldn’t be right to end this without letting you hear the best comeback I ever heard — spoken by Winston Churchill, of course.

Lady Astor, a woman who hated Churchill because she was jealous of his success, once growled, “Winston, if you were my husband I’d put poison in your tea.”

Churchill bowed. “And if I were your husband, I’d drink it.”

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