I think repartee is the toughest form of humor. The ability to come up with a witty retort is a prized skill and I am still grappling with this and I celebrate every small victory in this area and keep looking for inspiration.
Like the time Oscar Wilde was challenged by a member of the audience with ” Mr Wilde, do you know that SUGAR is the only word in the English language which is pronounced as “SHU”gar? “Are you SURE?” was the master’s immediate retort.
Again, at a meeting, the host introduced him as a speaker who could speak on any subject under the sun and someone got up and asked ” Mr Wilde, can you speak on “the queen ?” and his response was ‘the queen is not a subject !”
While at MIT Manipal,my friend Sampath had this pungent and brilliant wit.
I used to represent my college debating team and once, over a cup of coffee, was boasting about my recent trophy and said ” my debating talent…” and before I could complete, he cut me short with” which itself is debatable …” It took me a long time to recover from that acerbic rejoinder!
We were running a campus journal named UG(Underground !), in which we took irreverently humorous potshots at everyone. I was the editor and Sampath was on the committee and both of us were cracking our skulls to find a suitable logo for the rag. Sampath came up with the “UG COW”! Cows used to abound our campus being close to Udupi, the abode of Lord Krishna. I still wondered why the cow ? He said “With the kind of tripe that we dish out, I am sure all the issues will end up as fodder for the campus bovines ! So why not honor our chief reader… er .. consumer… and we put the UG Cow on the masthead and went on to win many fans and laurels !
Well, Sampath did graduate and settle down in Durham, North Carolina and I met up with him in Houston TX two years ago. He talked about how he had started eating beef and his mother couldn’t believe that her son, brought up in an orthodox Hindu brahmin family could commit this sin ! And Sampath casually reassured her ” don’t worry, there are no sacred cows here in the US !”
But my favourite “Sampath Sting”, is when a fully blown junior came to him and said ” I smoke grass, my brother is into cocaine and my sister does LSD”. Sampath’s response was “nice to meet someone from a joint family !” Those of you baby boomers and Midnight’s children will be able to appreciate this better ! I consider this as “hall of fame” material !
I’ve always envied him for his sharp tongue and tried my best to emulate him in my Toastmasters table topics session but haven’t been very quick on the uptake.
Last week, however, I had a minor consolation. Nikita Prasad,a bubbly, energetic student was the Toastmaster or MC in our club meeting and I was the General Evaluator.
She gave us a quiz and announced a delicious prize for the winner. One of the questions was ‘What is the female of a donkey called ?” I flunked the test and before inviting me to give my remarks as the GE, she was surprised I couldn’t get it right and said ” a student of third grade would have answered this question !” I went up and said ” I got a double promotion in my second grade and jumped to the fourth grade ! You see, I missed out attending third grade and that’s why i couldn’t answer your question !”- the audience loved this reply and I too was pleased with myself.
A long way to go but it was sweet success !
For those of you who skipped third grade like me, a female donkey is called jenny !