Robert Benchley, ‘Throwing Back the European Offensive’
The American humorist Robert Benchley (1889-1945) has been one of my favorite humorists since way back — since my high school days, as a matter of fact. His sort of humor appeals to me. I have never been a fan of satire, particularly bitter satire.
Benchley’s gentle irony appeals to me. It is rarely mean, and he is always poking fun at himself as well as the targets of his pieces (usually, idiocies or foolishness, not actual people). He has a taste for the absurd at times, but it is never wacky over the top humor of the S. J. Perelman or MAD Magazine variety.
Posted here (above) as a PDF file is a characteristic Benchley piece that is one of my favorites.
The stratagem Benchley recommends for ending boring conversations — asking questions feigning ignorance of what one’s interlocutor just said — rings true. I often think of this piece when I experience it being done to me, unintentionally. (It happens all the time.)
The worst offender seems to be my wife! I will be droning on and on, and she tunes out. I will tell her something earnestly and she will reply after a while with a question which shows that she hasn’t been listening. For example, I might be telling her about the trials and tribulations of my day in Manhattan, someplace in Midtown, say. At some point, she will ask, “did you get to Midtown?” Upon which, I will ask her, “have you seen Tuna?”
–Roger W. Smith
Took a while to read through this, but reminded me of reading of Benchley’s days at Harvard, where although he edited the Lampoon for two years he wasn’t awarded a degree. The professors apparently didn’t enjoy his highly evident humor, choosing for one course to write an essay on embalming and once, in a final exam where he was asked to explain the arguments between Britain, Canada, and the U.S. over fishing rights off the Grand Banks from the point of view of each country involved, opted instead to respond to the question “from the point of view of the fish.”
A lovely man. . . .