Woody Allen? Groucho Marx? Cloquet? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: The comedian and movie director Woody Allen sometimes constructs ontological jokes. For example, the following is attributed to Allen:
I hate reality, but it is still the only place where I can get a decent steak.
Oddly, the following very similar quip has been credited to Groucho Marx:
I’m not crazy about reality, but it’s still the only place to get a decent meal.
Did Allen engage in plagiarism? Would you please explore this question?
Quote Investigator: The first line above was similar to a line spoken by Woody Allen during an interview published in 1993. QI has found no substantive evidence that the second line was employed by Groucho. The initial citation located by QI for the second jest appeared in 2003, and yet Groucho died a quarter century before that date.
The earliest variant in this family known to QI was contained in a short story written by Allen called “The Condemned” that was published in “The New Yorker” magazine in 1977. The tale hinged on the parodic existential dilemmas of a would-be assassin named Cloquet. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1
He’s dreaming, Cloquet thought, as he stood over him, revolver in hand. He’s dreaming, and I exist in reality. Cloquet hated reality but realized it was still the only place to get a good steak. He had never taken a human life before. True, he had once shot a mad dog, but only after it had been certified as mad by a team of psychiatrists.
Thus, Allen was willing to recycle the joke in 1993, but QI does not believe that he lifted it from Groucho.
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.