One of the funniest books I have ever read is The Bedside Book of Insults. It’s a book that catalogues a host of quotations about the great and the good – who now appear neither great nor good after the tongue-lashing they receive from their critics. True, most of the insults are brutal and mean, but what is an insult for otherwise? The main joy of the book is the wit and insolence of some of the insulters. It only has 150 or so pages but there are gems on every page and, even if you don’t know who the person is who is being insulted, it’s still a hoot and can bring a smile to the lips if not a guffaw to the quivering gut. The quotes were compiled by William Cole and Louis Phillips who are both poets and writers and who have written a few other books of quotations which, like the book in question are amply fleshed out with illustrations from the 18th and 19th centuries.
Here are some stellar examples of witty wickedness from this remarkable but modest tome:
Dave Barry speaking of Bob Martinez, governor of Florida: “Governor Martinez exudes the warm personal charm of a millipede.”
S.J. Perelman on Groucho Marx: “The man was a major comedian, which is to say that he had the compassion of an icicle, the effrontery of a carnival shill, and the generosity of a pawnbroker.”
Bette Davis on Joan Crawford: “The best time I ever had with Joan Crawford was when I pushed her down stairs in Whatever Happened to baby Jane.”
Betsy Braddock to Winston Churchill: “Winston, you’re drunk!” Churchill’s reply: “Bessie, you’re ugly, but tomorrow I’ll be sober.”
Jean Harlow, approaching Margot, Lady Asquith at a Hollywood party: “Why, you are Margott Asquith, aren’t you?” Lady Asquith’s reply: “No, my dear. I am Margot Asquith. The ‘t’ is silent, as in Harlow.”
George S. Kaufman about Guido Nadzo the Italian actor: “Guido Nadzo is nadzo guido.”
Groucho Marx commenting on S.J. Perelman’s first book, Dawn Ginsbergh’s Revenge: “From the moment I picked up your book until I laid it down I was convulsed with laughter. Some day I intend reading it.”
Roy Blount, Jnr. on Ronald Reagan: “… the most widely beloved American since E.T.”
Jonathan Hunt on Ronald Reagan: “In a disastrous fire in President Reagan’s library both books were destroyed. And the real tragedy is that he hadn’t finished coloring one.”
Winston Churchill on Charles de Gaulle: “He is like a female llama surprised in her bath.”
The impressive list goes on and I’d better stop there before I breach copyright by blogging the whole book (I notice, by the way, that it can be bought from Amazon.com for $0.01) Who knew that insulting people could turn into a minor, yet highly entertaining, art form? Yes, I’m sure many hours of thought went into thinking up these impromptu jibes and outstanding zingers, but the results are stunning, in more ways than one. People don’t quite insult celebrities the same way they did in the old days. Whether this is because the would-be insulters have become too timid or politically correct, or because potential insultees have become hypersensitive or litigious is anybody’s guess. All I know is that I got a kick out of reading this exquisite volume and, if you have a strong stomach and are not easily shocked, I would highly recommend it.