Wise Guy Comebacks.

Margaret Dumont: "How impertinent of you, Sir! I've never been so insulted in my life!" Groucho Marx: "Relax, Madam! The evening's young!"

Wise guy comebacks are best remembered when they land in one-line form. They are the essence of intimidating wit and all sustaining comedy over time. They are the lines that somehow speak for all of us as the statements we wish we had thought of or said ourselves in our own behalf. They are that way because they truly belong to all of us. Our laughter as the audience serves as proof.

Bob Hope, Jack Benny, and Groucho Marx were masters of the one-liner wise guy comeback. Here are examples of each using the one-line comeback to greatest advantage:

Bob Hope (From the 1940 movie “Ghostbreakers”) Bob is asking fellow actor Richard Carlson about zombies):

Richard Carlson: “A zombie has no will of his own. He walks around blindly with those dead eyes, following orders, not knowing what to do, not caring.”

Bob Hope: “You mean like Democrats?”

Jack Benny (From his 1940s radio program, I’ve remembered this one for sixty years):

Armed Robber: “Your money or your life!”

Jack Benny: (arms raised and silent)


Jack Benny: “I’m thinking! I’m thinking!”

Groucho Marx (from an interview after one of his divorces):

Interviewer: “What does the California community property law mean to you now that you’re getting divorced?”

Groucho Marx: “It means that she now gets to live off the property and I now get to live off the community.”

Priceless stuff.

Even we everyday people have our moments. The first one for me that comes to personal memory happened when I was 16 and working as a  shelf stocker at the old A&P Grocery Store that used to operate in the Houston East End near the intersection of Lawndale at 75th:

Matronly Customer: “Young man, can you tell me where I might find the all day suckers?”

Grocery Clerk (me): “Yes, Madam, you’re talking to one of them!”

I almost got fired. The customer cracked up with laughter and I then did take her to the aisle and shelf that contained the wrapped version she wanted, but I wasn’t aware that my boss had been standing in the next aisle and heard the whole brief exchange. He told me that it was lucky for me that the customer laughed because, otherwise, I was about to be fired for my “Smart Aleck” remark – and would be, if I ever did it again. I didn’t, but I did do other things of that nature on my road to whatever state of adult maturity I actually achieved over time.

The most recent personal example unfolded last night. It’s what “inspired” me to write this piece this morning and, as per usual, this opportunity came literally knocking at my door about 7:00 PM Friday evening.

The knock sent our dogs into their worst snarling, barking mode as I made my way from my study to see who was at the door. Through the window, I could see that it was a young high school kid. He was dressed in a white shirt and tie and I presume he had come to sell me magazines for the sake of some locally worthy cause. Our conversation never got that far, thanks to the opening he gave me for early termination. I support a lot of causes, but none of them are items I’ve purchased at the front door. To me, door-to-door sales are the “spam of 3-D life.”

I will leave you with my short report of this easy set-up exchange. If the young man was smart, he changed his script before he knocked on any more doors:

Door Opens …

Enthusiastic Student Salesman: “You must be the king of the house!”

Grumpy Wizened Resident: “That’s correct, I am the king here, but you will have to excuse me for  now. I was on my way to the throne when you rang the doorbell!”

The student left and never returned. Only the postman rings twice, or so they say. I’ve never quite understood the meaning of that old movie title. Even my postman never rings twice when I tell him I’m on my way to the throne.

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6 Responses to “Wise Guy Comebacks.”

  1. Ted Leach Says:

    Here’s another good Jack Benny one: “You’re gonna give us ten thousand dollars, or we’re gonna break both your legs.” Jack: “Does it have to be both?”

  2. Ted Leach Says:

    One more. “City Slickers.”

    Billy Crystal: “Hey Curley, you kill anyone today?”
    Jack Palance: “Day ain’t over yet.”

    Now I’ll be thinking of more all day.

  3. Bill McCurdy Says:

    Ted Leach: Those two are classics! Keep ’em coming as posts here when they occur to you. – Hope the rest of you do the same. I can think of far worse ways to spend a Saturday than to spend it recallng and re-igniting the lamps of warm humor that we’ve found throughout the string of our lives. – Bill McCurdy

  4. Bob Hulsey Says:

    My grandmother was an undiagnosed alcoholic who existed on vodka dry martinis when she could. She loved being taken to a “real restaurant” (as opposed to any eating establishment that didn’t serve liquor) where the waitress’ first question would always be “would anybody like to have a cocktail before their meal”? My grandmother would always chirp in her Yankee accent, “Yes de-ah, I’ll have a vodka dry martini – straight up.”

    So, one night, I just couldn’t resist. I added. “She’ll have the first one straight up and the rest lying down.”

    That got a frosty stare from Grandma but the rest of the table howled with delight.

    Groucho delivered one of my all-time favorite quotes: “I wouldn’t want to belong to any club that would have somebody like me for a member.”

  5. Paul Wynn Says:

    Ha that’s the sad part about trying to say what you want to say at work. I do comebacks all the time against rude customers and the only one above me is usually not there but customers always complain to corporate. One of these days I know I’m going to get it. I just hope its not soon. How was your experience working in a grocery store?

  6. Bill McCurdy Says:

    To Paul Wynn:

    Paul – As I wrote in the article, my boss overheard the “all day suckers” crack as I was delivering it. He said “it was lucky for me that the customer laughed because, otherwise, I was about to be fired for my “Smart Aleck” remark – and would be, if I ever did it again.”

    Over time, I’ve come to see his point without losing my own sense of humor. I’ve been self-employed for something like a thousand years since my own incident took place, but some things don’t change over time. If you work for someone else, they get to call the tune on how you’re expected to behave on the job.

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