Herbert Beerbohm Tree? Frederick Henry Townsend? George du Maurier? Yogi Berra? Mutt and Jeff? An inebriate? A woman carrying packages?
Dear Quote Investigator: I have read several instances of a popular comical anecdote. Two different versions featured baseball Hall-of-Famer Yogi Berra. One night he was presented with a grandfather clock at a banquet dinner. Yogi was struggling to carry the clock down the street when a drunken individual bumped into him.
“Excuse me,” said Yogi.
The drunk looked at him unhappily and demanded, “Why don’t you carry a wrist watch like everybody else?”
In another version of the story Yogi was inebriated. He collided with a person carrying a large clock, and Yogi delivered the final humorous line.
In a third version of the tale a famous actor and theater manager in England was the protagonist. Herbert Beerbohm Tree observed a man staggering down the street under the weight of a grandfather clock and remarked: “My poor fellow, why not carry a watch?”
Can you clarify the origin of this anecdote?
Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence of this basic jest known to QI appeared in a cartoon drawn by Frederick Henry Townsend in the London humor magazine Punch in March 1907. Here is the image and the caption: 1
Funny Man. “Pardon me, Sir, but wouldn’t you find it more convenient to carry a watch?”
Top quotation expert and BBC broadcaster Nigel Rees included this key citation in his compilation “Cassell’s Humorous Quotations”. 2 The joke was noticed across the ocean, and the cartoon was reprinted in The Washington Post in April 3 and a Pennsylvanian newspaper in October. 4
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.
- 1907 March 27, Punch or The London Charivari, [Cartoon by F. H. Townsend with caption: ‘Funny Man. “Pardon Me…”‘], Page 223, Published at the Punch Office, London. (Google Books full view) link ↩
- 2001, Cassell’s Humorous Quotations, Compiled by Nigel Rees, Section: Advice, Quote Page 24, [Cassell, London], Sterling Pub. Co., New York. (Verified on paper) ↩
- 1907 April 14, Washington Post, [Reprint of cartoon from Punch magazine], Quote Page 12 (NArch Page 42), Washington, D. C. (NewspaperArchive) ↩
- 1907 October 7, The Altoona Mirror, [Reprint of cartoon from Punch magazine], Quote Page 9, Altoona, Pennsylvania. (NewspaperArchive) ↩