The Most Fun You Can Have Without Laughing

H. L. Mencken? Woody Allen? Walter Winchell? Alfred Lunt? Sarah Bernhardt? E. V. Durling? Jim Bishop? Colonel Stoopnagle? Frederick Chase Taylor? Leo Rosten? Humphrey Bogart? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The following declaration of high praise has been applied to love making:

The most fun you can have without laughing.

Influential commentator H. L. Mencken and popular comedian Woody Allen have both received credit for this remark. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: H. L. Mencken did place a version of this saying into his massive 1942 compendium of quotations, but he did not take credit; instead, he asserted that the author was unidentified. More than three decades later Woody Allen employed an instance in his 1977 Oscar-winning movie “Annie Hall”.

The earliest match located by QI occurred in the widely-syndicated column of Walter Winchell in January 1938. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

The latest definition of necking: How you can have the most fun without laughing.

QI hypothesizes that a comparable statement referring to sex was circulating at the time. Winchell or his informant bowdlerized the remark to yield the version about “necking”. Taboos of the period restricted depictions of carnality in newspapers.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Most Fun You Can Have Without Laughing

Notes:

  1. 1938 January 25, Wilkes-Barre Times Leader, On Broadway Walter Winchell, Quote Page 24, Column 6, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)

An Empty Carriage Drove Up To the Théâtre Français and Sarah Bernhardt Alighted From It

Target: Sarah Bernhardt? Alexander H. Stephens?

Dear Quote Investigator: Complaints about the body shapes of people in the public eye have a very long history. Small and thin individuals have sometimes been targeted with the following type of quip:

An empty vehicle rolled up to the hotel and so-and-so got out of it.

Would you please explore the history of this joke?

Quote Investigator: Sarah Bernhardt was a prominent French stage actress who was notably thin. A quip circulating in France was printed in a New York newspaper in May 1879. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

. . . only yesterday, says a correspondent, you may read in the same paper a fragment of conversation as follows: “An empty carriage stops and who is it who steps out? Sarah Bernhardt.”

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading An Empty Carriage Drove Up To the Théâtre Français and Sarah Bernhardt Alighted From It

Notes:

  1. 1879 May 31, Buffalo Commercial Advertiser, Table Talk, Quote Page 2, Column 4, Buffalo, New York. (Newspapers_com)