Number 9 in the list - 'Nice beaver! Thank you, I just got it stuffed!' - is all right, but isn't much more than a schoolyard joke.Number 7 - 'Is that hair gel?' - (from Something about Mary) isn't even a one-liner. And you have to wonder how exactly number 10 could get into a 'best of all time' list: 'When I met Mary I got that old-fashioned romantic feeling where I'd do anything to bone her' .
Kenneth Williams tops the list with 'Infamy! Infamy! They've all got it in for me!', which is pretty good, but Mel Brooks got in similar one liners, for instance: 'Let's face it! You can't Torquemada anything!' I also like a few of the one-liners Brooks gives the Sherrif of Rottingham in Men in Tights. He strides through the film, crying,
'You deer to steal a king's dare!'
'Struckley has locksed again!'
This habit he has of mixing up words is fun, but when Robin Hood bursts into a feast and begins wooing Maid Marian, he has a complete breakdown:
'KING! ILLEGAL! KILL! FOREST! IT! PIG! WILD! IS!'
'Gah! It is ILLEGAL to kill a PIG in the king's FOREST, Locksley. Don't you know that?'
Now I think that's pretty funny, but then, that's just me. Anyway, why are we just going for movie one-liners? Some of the best come from plays and books. Lines from 'There's Something About Mary' remind me of Aristophanes at his least amusing -
'Another! Make it donkey shit this time!'
'Another, another! From a boy with lots of lovers. He says he likes them friction treated.'
(And Aristophanes at his least amusing is still hilarious.)
Aristophanes even has the honour of composing one of the longest one-liners in history. It's just one word long, or should I say it's just one long word. (And a warning: I'll be referring to this word a lot. I plan to make it a party trick. Yes, I am the death of every party.)
Wikipedia describes it thusly:
The gynecocracy of this play attempts to treat everyone equally. They create this dish so that they can serve one food that fits everyone's needs.Ogden Nash has an engaging ability to make his one-liners rhyme:
Hark! It's midnight, children dear!
Duck! Here comes another year!
His poem 'The Middle' is so clever, but it fits in four short lines, and deserves to be quoted in full:
When I remember bygone days,
I think how evening follows morn;
So many I loved were not yet dead,
So many I love were not yet born.
Of course, you expect one-liners to be pithy and terse, but sometimes (like the Aristophanes quote above) the joke lies in their length. This is a neat trick that some writers have, of packing a lot of detail into their writing while keeping the structure simple. P J O'Rourke does this:
Usually, writers will do anything to avoid writing. For instance, the previous sentence was written at one o'clock this afternoon. It is now a quarter to four. I have spent the past two hours and forty-five minutes sorting my neckties by width, looking up the word paisley in three dictionaries, attempting to find the town of that name on The New York Times Atlas of the World map of Scotland, sorting my reference books by width, trying to get the bookcase to stop wobbling by stuffing a matchbook cover under its corner, dialing the telephone number on the matchbook cover to see if I should take computer courses at night, looking at the computer ads in the newspaper and deciding to buy a computer because writing seems to be difficult on my old Remington, reading an interesting article on sorghum farming in Uruguay that was in the newspaper next to the computer ads, cutting that and other interesting articles out of the newspaper, sorting - by width - all the interesting articles I've cut out of newspapers, fastening them neatly together with paper clips and making a very attractive paper-clip necklace and bracelet set, which I will present to my girlfriend as soon as she comes home from the three-hour low-impact aerobic workout that I made her go to so I could have some time alone to write.
S J Perelman does it as well, although in his case it's never quite certain where his one-liners are leading you to:
I guess I’m just an old mad scientist at bottom. Give me an underground laboratory, half a dozen atom-smashers, and a beautiful girl in a diaphanous veil waiting to be turned into a chimpanzee, and I care not who writes the nation’s laws.
I have Bright's disease and he has mine.
And what about the classics? Jane Austen, anybody?
* How horrible it is to have so many people killed! And what a blessing that one cares for none of them!
* We have been exceedingly busy ever since you went away. In the first place we have had to rejoice two or three times everyday at your having such very delightful weather for the whole of your journey...
* It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.
* One cannot be always laughing at a man without now and then stumbling on something witty.
(I quoted that last one on sufferance, but it is bloody funny.)
And of course, there is always this quote by Jack Handey:
Maybe in order to understand mankind, we have to look at the word itself. Basically, it's made up of two separate words — "mank" and "ind." What do these words mean? It's a mystery, and that's why so is mankind.
(Post written by Tim in an attempt to get some infernally stupid melodies from 42nd Street out of his mind. What are your favourite one-liners, everyone?)