Brant Parker? Johnny Hart? L. Frank Baum? Walt Kelly? Allan Sherman? Mel Brooks? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: I vaguely recall seeing a comic strip with a clever joke based on two different senses of the word “revolting”. An advisor warned a monarch about an uprising, and he replied acerbically:
Advisor: The peasants are revolting.
Monarch: Yes, they are appalling, but I love them anyway.
Would you please explore the history of this wordplay?
Quote Investigator: With the publication of “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” in 1900 L. Frank Baum initiated a beloved fantasy series. The 1904 sequel was titled “The Marvelous Land of Oz: Being an Account of the Further Adventures of the Scarecrow and Tin Woodman”. During one episode in the book a character named General Jinjur led an army of young women with the goal of capturing the Emerald City. Baum included an instance of the wordplay. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1
“Still, you must surrender!” exclaimed the General, fiercely. “We are revolting!”
“You don’t look it,” said the Guardian, gazing from one to another, admiringly.
“But we are!” cried Jinjur, stamping her foot, impatiently; “and we mean to conquer the Emerald City!”
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.
In 1955 “The Times Record” of Troy, New York printed a variant joke that used the same double-meaning: 2
A South American was describing his country to an American woman
“Our most popular sport is bullfighting,” he told her.
“Isn’t it revolting?” she asked.
“No,” smiled the man. “That’s the second most popular sport.”
In 1957 the prominent cartoonist Walt Kelly published a collection titled “Pogo’s Sunday Punch” that included a story “War Nor Peace” containing the quip: 3
You can’t treat us peasants like peasants—just for that we’ll overthrow the gummermint! We’re revolting!
You don’t have to tell me—your king loves you anyway—take that and that!
In 1958 “The Ithaca Journal” of Ithaca, New York printed the following: 4
Have you ever noticed how easy it is to garble up a joke and lose the whole point?
Here’s a tricky one that can backfire when being relayed to the boss: The messenger rushed in and told the king:
“The peasants are revolting.”
“Revolting,” said the king, “they’re disgusting.”
The comedian Allan Sherman included a different joke based on the same wordplay in a 1963 song about King Louis XVI of France called “You Went the Wrong Way Old King Louie”: 5
That’s why the people are revolting, ’cause Louie, you’re pretty revolting yourself.
In 1964 “The Philadelphia Inquirer” of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania told readers about the upcoming debut of a comic strip called “The Wizard of Id” created by the team of Brant Parker and Johnny Hart: 6
The comic is straight from the Dark Ages-but its satirical, tongue-in-cheek views of royalty somehow never made the formal history books.
There is the King of Id—”a tyrant’s tyrant” — who, when told the peasants are “revolting,” calmly replies, “You can say THAT again.”
The 1981 movie “History of the World: Part I” written and directed by Mel Brooks included the following dialog: 7
Count de Monet: I’ve come on the most urgent of business. It is said that the people are revolting.
King Louis XVI: You said it! They stink on ice!
In conclusion, the joke is difficult to trace because it can be expressed in many ways. Currently, the earliest instance appeared in L. Frank Baum’s “The Marvelous Land of Oz” in 1904. It later appeared in comic strips such as “Pogo” by Walt Kelly” and “The Wizard of Id” by Brant Parker and Johnny Hart.
Image Notes: Reduced-size low-resolution book covers from two comic collections: “The Wizard of Id: The Dailies & Sundays” and “The Peasants Are Revolting!” Both collections were created by Brant Parker and Johnny Hart.
(Great thanks to Fred Shapiro whose inquiry about famous quotations in comic strips led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Special thanks to the mailing list discussants: Randy Alexander who found the “The Marvelous Land of Oz” citation, Jeff Prucher who located the Pogo citation, James A. Landau who found an instance of the 1955 joke, and Bruce Reznick who pointed to the 1963 song by Allan Sherman. Thanks to Barry Popik for his research on this topic. Also, thanks to Arnold Zwicky for his linguistic analysis and presentation of several examples.)
- 1904, The Marvelous Land of Oz: Being an Account of the Further Adventures of the Scarecrow and Tin Woodman by L. Frank Baum, Quote Page 92, The Reilly and Britton Company, Chicago, Illinois. (Google Books Full View) link ↩
- 1955 July 8, The Times Record, The Table Gossip, Quote Page 8, Column 2, Troy, New York. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1957, Pogo’s Sunday Punch by Walt Kelly, Story: War Nor Peace, Quote Page 13 of story, Panel 1, Simon and Schuster, New York. (Verified with scans) ↩
- 1958 January 30, The Ithaca Journal, Article: Short Takes, Quote Page 2, Column 7, Ithaca, New York. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- YouTube video, Title: Allan Sherman – You Went The Wrong Way Old King Louie, Uploaded on Feb 1, 2016, Uploaded by: philsmusic1000, (Quotation starts at 3 minute 10 seconds of 3 minutes 32 seconds)(The song “You went the wrong way old King Louie” from the 1963 album “My Son, the Nut”)(Accessed on youtube.com on June 5, 2017) link ↩
- 1964 November 8, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Comic Strip Makes Debut, Section 2, Quote Page 1, Column 1, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers.com) ↩
- YouTube video, Title: The People are Revolting, Uploaded on September 26, 2015, Uploaded by: William DeHuff, (Quotation starts at 10 seconds of 43 seconds) (Film clip from the 1981 movie “History of the World: Part I”, directed and written by Mel Brooks) (Accessed on youtube.com on June 4, 2017) link ↩