Kaieteur News – Lady Astor was known to have many run-ins with Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister of England. One time, she turned to him and said, “If I were your wife, I would put poison in your coffee.”
To which Churchill replied, “If I were your husband, I would drink it.”
Another time, a British Member of the Parliament said to Churchill, “Mr. Prime Minister, must you fall asleep while I’m speaking?”
To which Churchill answered, “No, it’s purely voluntary.”
Even when Churchill wanted to insult you, he did it with sophistication. One time, Labour Member of Parliament, Bessie Braddock, turned to Churchill and said, “Winston, you are drunk and what’s more, you are disgustingly drunk.”
Churchill retorted, “Bessie, my dear, you are ugly and what’s more, you are disgustingly ugly. But tomorrow, I shall be sober and you will still be disgustingly ugly.”
The art of the comeback is as old as mankind. One researcher dug up the story of a famous Greek citizen who was not being visited by his adult son. When he made inquiries, he was told that the lad was sick.
Being a concerned parent, he went to his son’s home, which was some distance away. As he was entering, he noticed a pretty young lady leaving through the front door. He went into the house and to his son’s bedroom, where he found his son in bed. He turned to him and asked, “How are you feeling my son?”
To which the son replied, “Much better. The fever has just left me.”
The father answered, “Yes, I passed it when I was coming in.”
Then there is the story of the man after whom it is said the Webster’s dictionary derived its name. One time, he was making out with one of his flings when his wife barged in on them. She turned to him and exclaimed, “Noah, I am surprised! “
To which Webster, known as a man of words, replied almost instantaneously, No my dear, I am the one who is surprised; you are astonished.”
Groucho Marx once told a man,” I never forget a face, but in your case, I will make an exception.”
When Mark Twain was once asked whether he attended the funeral of a late adversary he said, “I did not attend the funeral but I approved of it.”
Our politicians have lost the art of responding almost impulsively, sharply, cleverly and often with wit to the comments of others. Repartee is a refined art, which should be part of the verbal weaponry of our elected representatives.
The best repartee is often to be found when talking about politicians. After someone asked one man what he thought about Donald Trump, he replied, “A fool and his money are soon elected.”
Among Guyana’s parliamentarians, Boysie Ramkarran, was said to be the most gifted. One time, Burnham turned to him and said, “Boysie, I know more jokes than you!”
Boysie turned to him and said “Yes, I agree.” And pointing in the direction of Burnham’s Ministers in the front benches, he added, “Because it is you who appointed all of them!”
Burnham himself was a master of the comeback. V. S Naipaul wrote that he was present when Burnham was addressing a roadside public meeting. Jagan was then the Premier and Naipaul stole a drop to the meeting from Jagan’s chauffeur. He related that while Burnham was speaking, a young boy rode by on bicycle and shouted, Burnham!’
To which Burnham retorted, “Mister, for you!”
Next a man in a car drove by and shouted, “You lie! You lie!”
Burnham completed the sentence he was dealing with and then added, as the car disappeared up the street, “And that is something that jackass will never understand.”
Sadly, the art of repartee, of which Boysie and Burnham were among the best local practitioners, has descended into invective, personal attacks and slander, homophobic comments and utter vulgarity. What took place on the opening day of Guyana’s Budget debate is a sad testimony to the character and debating skills of some of the persons who now sit in our National Assembly, and the decline of the art of heckling and repartee.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.)
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