Mark Twain? W. C. Fields? Harris Dickson? Barracuda Pete? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: I mentioned a joke credited to Mark Twain to a friend recently:
It’s easy to quit smoking. I’ve done it hundreds of times.
She said that the jest was actually created by the famous comedian W. C. Fields and not Twain. Also, she claimed the original version was about drinking and not smoking:
It’s easy to quit drinking. I’ve done it a thousand times.
The results of my internet searches were confusing. The phrasing of the comical remark varies; for example, here is another quotation attributed to Twain:
Giving up smoking is the easiest thing in the world. I know because I’ve done it thousands of times.
No one seems to know when or where these statements were made. Could you explore this topic?
Quote Investigator: Mark Twain did write about quitting smoking, but there is no substantive evidence that he made this particular joke. W. C. Fields did deliver a version of the gag about stopping drinking in a comedy routine called “The Temperance Lecture” which was broadcast to radio listeners by 1938. However, the drinking joke was in circulation years earlier.
“Noel,” he said, “I thought you’d quit playing poker?”
Duke smiled back blandly. “I have; I’ve quit more’n a thousand times, every time the game breaks up. Shucks, boy, it’s dead easy to quit playing poker. But I must have a little sport when I go to town—that don’t count. I’ve got to tear down the gates and take the bridles off for a day or so; my system needs it.
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.