Woman (to Winston Churchill): “Winston, you’re disgustingly drunk!!
Churchill: “Madam, you are disgustingly ugly. But tomorrow I shall be sober.”
You can almost hear the Basil Brush ‘boom-boom’ after the word ‘sober’. Yet, wouldn’t it be bordering on rudeness to ask what the woman said to that? For that would plunge our piece of light banter towards the tedium of truth – or worse – the pettiness of preciseness.
Because delightfully the dual purpose of the insult that insults nobody is to exalt (a), ourselves and our friends by identifying with the repartee and (b), giving it alleged or actual credence by attributing it to a celebrity.
Are the famous irked when insulted? Probably. They’re human, aren’t they? Not really. The famous and their rejoinders live in the lexicon of legend. Which is why we rarely hear the voice of the potential insulter. Except as patsy provider of the feed line allowing the celebrity to zap back with the killer retort.
We are always on the side of the celebrity. While the repetition of, perhaps fictional brilliance is half-way to feeling that we’ve said it ourselves, ascribing it to a celebrity is our disclaimer in case nobody laughs.
Some insults are so entertaining they need no attribution and will stand alone long after their authors are forgotten. Dorothy Parker – to a drunk who said he couldn’t bear fools, “Apparently your mother could.” Groucho Marx: “He may look like an idiot and talk like an idiot, but don’t let that fool you. He really is an idiot.”