Edgar Allan Poe? Edward Hastings Ford? Lloyd Biggle Jr.? Pat Williams? Joss Whedon? Bumper Sticker? T-Shirt Slogan? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: The following statement has been attributed to Edgar Allan Poe, the influential writer of detective fiction and the macabre:
I don’t suffer from insanity, I enjoy every minute of it!
Poe died in 1849 and I think this expression only emerged in the twentieth century. Would you please explore this topic?
Quote Investigator: There is no substantive evidence that Poe said or wrote this quotation. An article titled “Did Poe Really Say That?” on the website of “The Museum of Edgar Allan Poe” in Richmond, Virginia examined the saying and concluded that it was not from Poe. 1
The earliest instance located by QI appeared in a 1946 article “That’s No Gag, That’s a Switch” published in “The New York Times”. The piece presented many examples of the construction of new jokes via the modification of existing jokes. According to the paper the quip was originally crafted by the comedian Edward Hastings Ford who performed using the persona ‘Senator’ Ed Ford. The phrasing was different, but the core jest was the same. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 2
Senator Ford, one of the best of the topical talkers, takes this oldie:
“Does anyone in your family suffer with rheumatism?”
“Sure, what else can they do but suffer with rheumatism?”
and switches it to:
“Does anyone in your family suffer from insanity?”
“No, they enjoy it.”
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.
In 1957 the SF author Lloyd Biggle Jr. published a short story called “Leading Man” in “Galaxy Science Fiction” magazine. The work was later reprinted in his collection “The Metallic Muse” in 1972. The tale was about an elaborate mental hospital with personnel and patients playacting historical roles. An instance of the quip was included: 3 4
“Seems as though you have to be insane to have any fun.”
He winced. “Hush! Not that word — we have no insane people here. Our patients merely suffer mental delusions.”
“They don’t suffer anything. They enjoy every minute of it. Think of the money it must cost to run this place.”
In 1984 a compendium of 6,000 one-liners called “Nothing But Winners” was published by Pat Williams and Ken Hussar. Williams was the general manager of a successful professional basketball team. The book was discussed in the “Cleveland Plain Dealer” of Cleveland, Ohio, and several of the jests were reprinted including the following: 5
“The sportswriter for your local paper doesn’t suffer from insanity. He enjoys it.”
In 1985 a speaker at a high school sports banquet held in Indiana credited the punchline to Barb Yun who was the wife of a coach named Fred Yun: 6
“Does your husband suffer from insanity?” the irate fan supposedly asked the coach’s wife. “No,” Barb answered, “he enjoys it.”
In 1995 “The Washington Post” printed a column called “Cybersurfing” that discussed catch phrases tacked on the end of electronic messages. One of the examples given exactly matched the expression under investigation: 7
I don’t suffer from insanity, I enjoy every minute of it.
In May 1997 the New York Times News Service distributed an article that presented a compilation of bumper sticker messages, and the statement above was included. 8
In July 1997 the slogan reappeared in the pages of “The Washington Post”, and this time it was emblazoned on a shirt that was designated one of “The Funniest T-Shirts of Summer 1997”: 9
I Don’t Suffer from Insanity–I Enjoy Every Minute of It.
In 2012 an inquiry was sent to a specialized mailing list for answering reference questions. The questioner skeptically noted that the saying had been attributed to the television and movie writer/director Joss Whedon: 10
Our student thinks this one comes from Joss Whedon, though I see it variously attributed, or anonymous: “I don’t suffer from insanity, I enjoy every minute of it!”
In conclusion, this joke was in circulation by 1946 and QI would tentatively credit Edward Hastings Ford with the version in “The New York Times” article. The phrasing evolved over time. The connection to Edgar Allan Poe was spurious.
Image Notes: Artwork from Gustave Doré designed to illustrate the short story “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe. Images have been cropped and resized.
(Great thanks to Nina Gilbert whose inquiry addressed to Wombats led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Special thanks to Dan J. Bye who identified the Biggle citation. In addition, thanks to Dennis Lien and other Wombat discussants.)
- Website: The Museum of Edgar Allan Poe, Article title: Museum News: Did Poe Really Say That?, Article Author: Kelly, Date on website: September 10, 2014, Website description: Web presence of the Poe Museum of Richmond, Virginia. The Museum is located in The Old Stone House. (Accessed poemuseum.org on December 20, 2015) link ↩
- 1946 May 12, New York Times, “That’s No Gag, That’s a Switch” by Joe Laurie Jr. (Stage and radio comedian), Start Page 21, Quote Page 59, New York. (ProQuest) ↩
- 1957 June, Galaxy Science Fiction, Leading Man by Lloyd Biggle Jr., Start Page 95, Quote Page 104, Published by Galaxy Publishing Corporation, New York. (Internet Archive) ↩
- 2003 (Copyright 1972), The Metallic Muse: Stories of Music in Science Fiction, by Lloyd Biggle Jr., Short Story: Leading Man, Start Page 49, Quote Page 59, (Note states “Leading Man” was first published in “Galaxy Science Fiction” in June 1957), Published by Wildside Press, Holicong, Pennsylvania. (Google Books Preview) ↩
- 1984 November 21, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Williams’ book of one-liners has ’em laughing by Bill Livingston, Quote Page 3C, Column 6, Cleveland, Ohio. (GenealogyBank) ↩
- 1985 March 26 , The Indiana Gazette, IHS Boosters laud cagers, Sledzik by Bob Fulton (Gazette Sports Writer), Quote Page 16, Column 5, Indiana, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1995 March 16, The Washington Post, Cybersurfing: Virtually Irish On the Internet, Net Handles by Scott Moore, Quote Page D7, Column 2, Washington, D.C. (ProQuest) ↩
- 1997 May 8, The Deseret News, Bumper crop of bumper stickers might drive you to distraction (New York Times News Service), Quote Page C9, Column 3, Salt Lake City, Utah. (Google News Archive) ↩
- 1997 July 31, The Washington Post, The Funniest T-Shirts of Summer 1997 by Bob Levey, Quote Page B11, Washington, D.C. (ProQuest) ↩
- Mailing List: Project Wombat, Website: project-wombat.org, Message Sender: Nina Gilbert, Date: Nov 25, 2012, Article Title: Quick check of yearbook quotes – first of two lists, Mailing List Description: Discussion list for difficult reference questions. (Accessed December 21, 2015) ↩