Life is a Tragedy when Seen in Closeup, But a Comedy in Longshot

Charlie Chaplin? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The cinema icon Charlie Chaplin depicted comic and tragic situations in his films, and he also experienced both in his personal life. One of his memorable quotations metaphorically employed the film director terms closeup and longshot to contrast tragedy and comedy. Would you help me to find a citation for his statement?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI appeared in a 1972 “Chicago Tribune” article about a gala attended by honoree Charlie Chaplin that was held at the Philharmonic Hall in New York City. The program notes for the event were written by the influential film critic Richard Roud. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

“Life is a tragedy when seen in closeup, but a comedy in long-shot,” is a Chaplin quote that Richard Roud, director of the New York Film Festival, borrowed to introduce the program notes for the gala.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Life is a Tragedy when Seen in Closeup, But a Comedy in Longshot


  1. 1972 April 6, Chicago Tribune, ‘Little Tramp’ Triumphs: Chaplin Savors His ‘Renaissance’ by Carol Kramer (Chicago Tribune News Service), Section 2, Quote Page 2, Column 7, Chicago, Illinois. (Newspapers_com)

They’re Cheering Us Both, You Because Nobody Understands You, and Me Because Everybody Understands Me

Charlie Chaplin? Albert Einstein? János Plesch? Hans Albert Einstein? Eduard Einstein? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The entertainer Charlie Chaplin and the scientist Albert Einstein were two of the most famous individuals of the last century. I have heard the following anecdote about a meeting between them in the 1930s. While traveling together they were recognized and a crowd of people started to vigorously applaud the luminaries. They waved to the throng and reportedly exchanged the following words:

Einstein: What I most admire about your art, is your universality. You don’t say a word, yet the world understands you!

Chaplin: True. But your glory is even greater! The whole world admires you, even though they don’t understand a word of what you say.

I think these words are apocryphal. Is there any truth to this tale?

Quote Investigator: The dialog above is probably inaccurate. The earliest evidence known to QI appeared in an article written by Charlie Chaplin for “Woman’s Home Companion” in October 1933 . The well-known comedian wrote a series of pieces for the magazine about his world travels, and his latest journey included a stay in Germany.

Previously, when Einstein had traveled to the United States he had visited with Chaplin. Thus, Chaplin decided to reciprocate, and he went to the “modest flat” of Einstein where he was introduced to the scientist’s wife, daughter (a sculptress), and son.

After dinner, Chaplin had arranged for a group of Japanese children to perform a dance routine for entertainment. One of the young dancers asked for autographs from both Chaplin and Einstein. Chaplin included a comic sketch of his large shoes while Einstein included one of his equations. Einstein then scrutinized the signatures, and the two luminaries exchanged remarks that prefigured the quotation under examination: 1

“But yours is more interesting,” he said humorously, comparing the two sketches.

“More comprehensible to the little girl perhaps,” I laughed, “and to me and many others.”

Interestingly, Chaplin credited the crucially insightful statement about fame to Einstein’s son. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI:

“We sat down to delicious home-baked tarts made by Mrs. Einstein. During the course of conversation, his son remarked on the psychology of the popularity of Einstein and myself.

“You are popular,” he said, “because you are understood by the masses. On the other hand, the professor’s popularity with the masses is because he is not understood.'”

Einstein had two sons: Hans Albert Einstein and Eduard Einstein. QI does not know which son Chaplin meant to credit.

A different tale about the origin of the quotation was later published by one of Einstein’s friends. See below for additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading They’re Cheering Us Both, You Because Nobody Understands You, and Me Because Everybody Understands Me


  1. 1933 October, Woman’s Home Companion, Volume 60, Number 10, A Comedian Sees the World – Part II by Charles Chaplin, Start Page 15, Quote Page 17, The Crowell Publishing Company, Springfield, Ohio. (Verified; thanks to the staff of the Downtown Public Library of Spokane, Washington)

A Day Without Laughter is a Day Wasted

Charlie Chaplin? Steve Martin? Groucho Marx? Nicolas Chamfort?

Dear Quote Investigator: The following guideline for living makes sense to me, so I try to find humor in something every day:

A day without laughter is a day wasted

When I read this maxim originally it was credited to Charlie Chaplin, but I once heard it attributed to Groucho Marx. Do you know who said it and on what occasion?

Quote Investigator: This principle is sometimes credited to popular comedic entertainers such as Charlie Chaplin and Groucho Marx, but the idea was expressed more than two centuries ago. The French writer Nicolas Chamfort was famous for his witticisms and epigrams. In 1795 the periodical Mercure Français reprinted the following saying from one of his manuscripts [MFNC]:

La plus perdue de toutes les journées est celle où l’on n’a pas ri.

The earliest instance of this aphorism in the English language located by QI is dated 1803 in a periodical titled “Flowers of Literature” in a section titled “Laughing” [FLFB]:

I admire the man who exclaimed, “I have lost a day!” because he had neglected to do any good in the course of it; but another has observed that “the most lost of all days, is that in which we have not laughed*;” and, I must confess, that I feel myself greatly of his opinion.

The asterisk footnote pointed to the bottom of the page where the French phrase listed above was presented. The text did not identify Chamfort as the author of the saying, but it did give his precise French wording as the source of the English epigram.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading A Day Without Laughter is a Day Wasted