Humor has many forms, jokes, anecdotes, quips, verses, limericks, satire, slapstick, stand-up, parody, morbid, topical and many more. But personally, I feel repartee outshines all these forms, as the ultimate genre of humour.
The Merriam-Webster definition of répartee
a quick and witty reply; a succession or interchange of clever retorts ; amusing and usually light sparring with words; adroitness and cleverness in reply ; skill in répartee
One of the earliest known uses of répartee leads us to the origin of the word, ‘laconic’ meaning terse or involving the use of minimum words to the point of seeming rude. Here’s a pictorial story:
I was exposed to this refined art of responding while studying at MIT Manipal, courtesy my dear friend R Sampath who’s blessed with razor sharp humour and acerbic wit. I set off bragging that my debating talent had been recognised by Mysore University as I’d been selected captain of the debating team. I began, “Hey Sampath, my debating talent….” and even before I could go on, he cut me short with, “which itself is debatable….”.
Later, when both of us were chatting up over coffee at Kamath’s, a popular campus hangout, I got to witness first-hand what I consider the all-time classic retort. A weedy junior came up to him and blabbered, “I smoke grass, my brother’s into cocaine and my dad does ganja..” Pat came Sampath’s rejoinder, “so you must be from a JOINT family, I presume!”
I tried my best to emulate my friend but it took me really long to master the art of crafting a reasonably swift and smart response. My intent has never been to insult but to save my skin and show presence of mind. Here are three instances.
I was conducting a training program on Conflict Management for a client at a five star property. We’d called for a break and the coffee kettles were placed right behind where the participants were seated. As they began to settle down, there was a loud burst and one of the kettles caught fire. The hotel staff immediately rushed in and contained the fire. No harm, no foul. Now my challenge was to redirect everyone’s attention back to the session, as many of them were shuffling nervously in their seats, glancing backwards continuously. So I came up with, “In all my fifteen years of public speaking, my speeches have often managed to ignite minds. This is the first time my talk has ignited an object!” The resounding laughter and applause that followed successfully brought back attention back to the session.
Much later in a Toastmasters meeting, the charming MC of the day, Priya announced that she would be asking five GK ( general knowledge) questions throughout the meeting and the member who gets all the answers right would be awarded a gift hamper. We were all excited and I managed to answer four questions but flunked the last one, which was, “what is a female donkey called?”.
Results were declared and a new member won the prize for answering all the questions correctly. And then, Priya looked at me n absolute disbelief so as to say “I expected CK to win because I thought he was well read and a really smart guy. Come on! Even a Standard/ Grade 3 kid would have answered it!” This rebuke called for some quick salvaging of my dented reputation and I blurted out, “Priya, now I know why I couldn’t answer that question. You see, my school principal is to blame since I was a really bright kid when I was young. So bright that she blessed me with a double promotion straight from Grade 2 to Grade4! If only she hadn’t and I’d attended Grade 3! That hamper would’ve been mine.” Everyone, including Priya, burst forth in guffaws and I managed to save face.
Well,the female of a donkey is called ‘Jeni’
I was to give a vote of thanks at the end of an Officers Training Program for Toastmasters in Bangalore. Members from various parts of the state were in attendance. A gentleman from Mangalore Toastmasters said “we have recently started a chapter in Manglore with 28 members, 17 of them being women!” After thanking everyone I added, “I thank the Toastmaster from Mangalore for giving us 17 great reasons to visit his club!” Needless to add, this remark at the end of a tiring day-long session brought on instant smiles and earned me new friends.
So répartee needn’t always be used to insult someone but you just have to give it back when the other person needlessly jibes you.
Another interesting incident of a legal exchange was related to me by a good friend Sanjay Hegde, Supreme Court advocate and a contemporary during my days at MIT Manipal. He used to captain the debating team of MGM College, Udupi.
Supreme Court jury to Mr G Ramaswamy, senior counsel: “Do you think we are fools sitting here?”
Mr G Ramaswamy, tongue-in-cheek, held his own: “If I say yes, it’d be tantamount to contempt and if I were to say no, perjury.”
The jury let out a hearty laugh.
The frail, peace loving Mahatma Gandhi was famous for classy retorts. Here are just two anecdotes:
Here’s répartee, Father-of-the-Nation style!
Reporter: What do you think of Western civilization ?
Gandhi: I think it would be a good idea !
Gandhiji went to meet King George in London in a loin cloth. When a reporter expressed his astonishment, he replied “Well, the King certainly wore enough for both of us !”
I’ve compiled a treasure trove of some of the best comebacks and retorts I’ve enjoyed.
Winston Churchill was being interviewed on his 89th birthday by a young reporter. The reporter noticed that age had taken a toll on Churchill and mockingly said, “I hope I will be able to interview you next year on your 90th birthday!”
And the venerable statesman replied “Why not, you look quite healthy, young man !”
Winston Churchill & Lady Astor were constantly feuding: On one occasion she said, “If you were my husband I’d give you poison.”
He said, “If you were my wife, I’d drink it.”
Someone once asked Oscar Wilde, “Do you know that SUGAR is the only word spelt with ‘SU” and pronounced ‘SHUgar’ ?
Wilde’s quick retort, “Are you SURE?”
When humourist Oliver Herford asked matinée idol Dustin Farnum, “How are things going ?”
The vain actor said, “I’ve never been better! My new play is a smash hit. Why, just yesterday, I had the audience glued to their seats.”
Herford wryly replied: “HOW CLEVER OF YOU TO THINK OF IT!”
The 30th U. S. President Calvin Coolidge was a politician of very few words, earning the well deserved moniker, ‘Silent Cal’.
At a White House dinner one evening, a female guest sidled up to the President and whispered in his ear, “You must talk to me, Mr. President. I made a bet today, that I could get more than two words out of you.”
Coolidge, coolly whispered back, “You lose.”
This one happened closer home at one of our Toastmaster meetings.
“Please help me welcome Distinguished Toastmaster Jai Narayan” declared MC of the evening, Anoop Menon.
“I am not yet a DTM but you may call me a distinguished looking Toastmaster!” quipped the ever-jocund Jai Narayan.
A question answered mercilessly on Quora:
“How big is the specific ocean ?”
“Can you be more pacific?”
“I’ve never been better! My new play is a smash hit. Why,only yesterday, I had the audience glued to their seats.”
Herford wryly replied:
HOW CLEVER OF YOU TO THINK OF IT !
The 30th U. S. President Calvin Coolidge was a politician of very few words, well deserving the nickname, “Silent Cal”. At a White House dinner one evening, a female guest sidled up to the President and whispered in his ear, “You must talk to me, Mr. President. I made a bet today that I could get more than two words out of you.” Coolidge whispered back:“You lose.”
“Please help me welcome Distinguished Toastmaster Jai Narayan” MC Anoop Menon. ” I am not yet a DTM but you may call me a distinguished looking Toastmaster !” – Jai Narayan.
A question answered mercilessly on Quora: “How big is the specific ocean ?” “Can you be more pacific?”
The hostess asked George Bernard Shaw at her party about the violinist who was entertaining the audience.
Shaw replied, “he reminds me of Beethoven.”
She exclaimed, “but Beethoven was not a violinist!”
Shaw’s cryptic rejoinder, “neither is this gentleman!”
If you’ve reached this far, I am sure, you’ve enjoyed the ride. Do chip in with your contributions so I can compile version 2.0.
Thank you and here’s the parting shot!
On a train from London to Manchester to watch a cricket match, an Australian was berating the English gentleman sitting across from him in the compartment. “You English are too stuffy. You set yourselves apart too much. You think your stiff upper lip makes you above us. Look at me….I’m ME! I have Italian blood, Greek blood, a little Irish blood and some Aborigine blood… What do you say to that?”
The Englishman replied, “Awfully sporting of your mother, old chap!”
On that note, dear reader, until we meet again tomorrow on a different plateau, ENJOY!