The Books of My Numberless Dreams

The distance between wise-caracking and wit

Posted on: September 10, 2007

INTERVIEWER

You have an extensive reputation as a wit. Has this interfered, do you think, with your acceptance as a serious writer?

 

PARKER

I don’t want to be classed as a humorist. It makes me feel guilty. I’ve never read a good tough quotable female humorist and I never was one myself. I couldn’t do it. A “smart cracker” they called me, and that makes me sick and unhappy. There’s a helluva distance between wise-cracking and wit. Wit has truth in it; wise-cracking is simply callisthenics [sic] with words. I didn’t mind so much when they were good but for a long time anything that was called a crack was attributed to me…and then they got the shaggy dogs.

 

INTERVIEWER

How about satire?

 

PARKER

Ah, satire. That’s another matter. They’re the big boys. If I’d been called a satirist there’d be no living with me. But by satirist I mean those boys in other centuries. The people we call satirists now are those who make cracks at topical topics and consider themselves satirists — creatures like George S. Kaufman and such who don’t even know what satire is. Lord knows, a writer should show his times, but not show them in wisecracks. Their stuff is not satire; it’s as dull as yesterday’s newspaper. Successful satire has got to be pretty good the day after tomorrow.

 

From “The Art of Fiction” No. 13 interview with Dorothy Parker, the Paris Review,  Summer 1956 

3 Responses to "The distance between wise-caracking and wit"

Wise-cracking is like a nervous tic of mine. I totally agree, it’s just calisthenics with words. Once in a while I’m witty, I think. In fact I think a sharp, witty comment is often the best way of revealing the truth.

Unfortunately, I’m not quick enough to be a wise-cracker, and I only wish I was witty. Gotta love that Dorothy Parker! Thanks for the quotes.

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