Marc Connelly? Nicholas Longworth? S. H. Hale? Franklin P. Adams? Apocryphal? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: Recently I saw a list of the funniest ripostes, but it did not include the squelcher that I believe is the best. An unhappy card player wished to embarrass a bald man who was excelling. The disgruntled man placed his hand on the winner’s gleaming dome and said, “Hey, this feels smooth and soft exactly like my sweet wife’s behind.”
In response the man touched his glabrous scalp thoughtfully and said, “That is curious. You know; you’re right.”
The punchline of this anecdote was been attributed to the playwright Marc Connelly who was a member of the celebrated Algonquin Round Table and to Nicholas Longworth who was the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives. Would you explore its provenance?
Quote Investigator: The earliest published version of this tale found by QI was set in a barber shop and was less risqué. In July 1924 “The Roswell Daily Record” of Roswell, New Mexico printed the following. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1
S. H. Hale tells this one on a fresh young barber he had working for him several years ago. This particular barber thought he would kid a bald-headed man.
“Don’t you know,” he said, rubbing the bald spot, “your head feels just like my wife’s cheek”.
The customer reached up and stroked his head for a moment and then said: “By golly it does, doesn’t it.”
The word “cheek” presented a double-entendre, but QI believes that the Roswell newspaper editor in 1924 probably expected readers to think of the face and not the buttocks.
The joke was bawdy, and it suggested cuckoldry; hence, coarser instances probably circulated only via the spoken word initially. Newspapers in the 1920s printed a version with the phrase “my wife’s cheek”, and periodicals in the 1950s printed a variant referencing “my wife’s leg”. By the 1960s a biography printed an instance with “my wife’s bottom”, and a memoir printed an instance with “my wife’s behind”.
Privately printed literature was more candid. In 1934 a limited edition collection of taboo humor included an instance with “my wife’s ass”. The rejoinder was attributed to Mark Connelly.
Nicholas Longworth was Speaker of the House from 1925 to 1931, i.e., after the barber shop version of the anecdote was circulating. He died in 1931. The earliest citation found by QI crediting the punchline to Longworth was published in a 1968 book about Washington politics. Detailed information is given further below.
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.
- 1924 July 12, The Roswell Daily Record, Local Snap Shots (Contributed), Quote Page 4, Column 5, Roswell, New Mexico. (NewspaperArchive) ↩