“Take my wife, please!”
With this immortal one-liner, Henny Youngman takes the listener on a journey. The first three words, “Take my wife,” lull the audience into thinking that Youngman plans to use his wife as a conversational example of some kind. Yet with the ingeniously placed “please,” it’s revealed that he actually finds spending time with his wife unpleasant and wishes to be rid of her.
“I never forget a face —
but I’m going to make an exception in your case.”
A razor-sharp turn of phrase. Groucho Marx takes a common expression about being skilled at remembering people he’s met, then subverts it into an attack on the target’s physical appearance — a trait over which they have no control.
“Don’t look at me in that tone of voice.”
In nine simple words, Dorothy Parker befuddles the listener by demanding completion of a task that is physically impossible; the humor arises from how many went mad attempting it.
“I get no respect!”
Rodney Dangerfield’s recurring mantra is amusing because it evokes the lifelong sadness of a man who has never belonged.
“Marriage is really tough because
you have to deal with feelings… and lawyers.”
Another journey for the audience. First, Richard Pryor establishes the joke’s premise and demarcates his own authority: I have experienced marriage; here is a way in which it is difficult. Then, with the listener preparing for an ordinary complaint — “Sometimes one spouse is messier than the other,” for example, or “Kissing becomes tiresome” — Pryor explodes that expectation by suggesting that he finds emotions taxing and resents state intrusion into what should be a religious contract.
“Your house is just a place for your stuff.”
Now we’re in wacky territory. When George Carlin asserts that houses are essentially receptacles for our various belongings, he hilariously ignores the fact that walls and roofs are also meant to keep bugs out.
“I hate housework. You make the beds, you do the dishes,
and six months later you have to start all over again.”
A textbook bait-and-switch. Joan Rivers begins with the typical complaint that tidying up is never a pleasant task, then reveals that she is woefully derelict in that department. Still, the comedy comes primarily from the image of Rivers’s sink overflowing with four months’ worth of dirty dishes, combined with the knowledge that two more months must pass before she begins to address the issue, and surely there must be no clean plates left in the house. What is she eating off of? Does she ever have company over? What’s going on with Joan?
“A day without sunshine is like, you know, night.”
Steve Martin’s observation that the sun sets just before dusk is not so much amusing as it is a strikingly important reminder.
“Everywhere is walking distance if you have the time.”
Playing off the common notion that only short distances are considered walkable, Steven Wright humorously notes that the man who can walk one mile can indeed walk a thousand, and whether we choose to sit or walk, the same grave awaits us all.
Widely considered the apex of twentieth-century comedy, these two words signal Ace Ventura’s acceptance of the status quo.