They made us laugh. Oh, how they made us laugh! But while they were honing their comedic craft on stage and screen, they were also accumulating a good amount of wisdom. Here are some very short bios of three of our greatest comedians, followed by some of their funniest and wisest quotes.
George Burns was born Nathan Birnbaum in New York City on January 20, 1896. He got his start as a vaudeville comedian, and it was during a performance in Newark that Burns met a fellow performer, Gracie Allen, who would become his lifelong partner. They developed an act in which Burns delivered the jokes, but after realizing his partner’s comedic gifts, Burns rewrote the material to become the straight man to Allen’s flighty, silly character. The pair was well known on the vaudeville circuit by the time they married in 1926. He out-lived her by decades, but his career had a major resurgence in later life. In 1975 he won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in the film adaptation of Neil Simon’s play The Sunshine Boys. He played God in the film Oh God! The cigar-puffing comedian died at the age of 100 in 1996.
“Acting is all about honesty. If you can fake that, you’ve got it made.”
“The secret of a good sermon is to have a good beginning and a good ending, then having the two as close together as possible.”
“Too bad all the people who know how to run the country are busy driving taxi cabs and cutting hair.”
“I honestly think it is better to be a failure at something you love than to be a success at something you hate.”
“Look to the future, because that’s where you’ll spend the rest of your life.”
Lesley Townes “Bob” Hope began his career in show business as a boy in Cleveland. From age 12, he earned pocket money by busking on streetcars, singing, dancing and performing comedy. He began appearing on the radio and in movies in 1934. He appeared in over 70 films and shorts, including a series of “Road” movies also starring Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour. Celebrated for his long career performing USO shows to entertain active service American military personnel—he made 57 tours between 1941 and 1991—Hope was declared an honorary veteran of the United States Armed Forces in 1997 by act of the U.S. Congress. He also appeared in numerous specials for NBC television, starting in 1950. In addition to hosting the Academy Awards 19 times (more than any other host), he appeared in many stage productions and television roles and was the author of fourteen books. The song “Thanks for the Memory” is widely regarded as Bob Hope’s signature tune.
“I grew up with six brothers. That’s how I learned to dance—waiting for the bathroom.”
“I love to go to Washington—if only to be near my money.”
“Don’t tempt me. I can resist anything but temptation.”
“You never get tired unless you stop and take time for it.”
“When we recall Christmas past, we usually find that the simplest things—not the great occasions—give off the greatest glow of happiness.”
“If you haven’t any charity in your heart, you have the worst kind of heart trouble.”
Born Joan Alexandra Molinsky in 1933, Joan Rivers came to prominence in 1965 as a guest on The Tonight Show. In 1986 she became the first woman to host a late night network television talk show, Late Night with Joan Rivers. She subsequently hosted The Joan Rivers Show (1989–1993), winning a Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Talk Show Host. New York Times television critic Jack Gould once called Rivers “quite possibly the most intuitively funny woman alive.” During her 55-year career as a comedian, her tough-talking style of satirical humor was both praised and criticized as truthful, yet too personal, too gossipy, and very often abrasive. Nonetheless, with her ability to “tell it like it is,” she became a pioneer of contemporary stand-up comedy.
“I’m no cook. When I want lemon on chicken, I spray it with Pledge.”
“I knew I was an unwanted baby when I saw that my bath toys were a toaster and a radio.”
“I hate housework! You make the beds, you do the dishes and six months later you have to start all over again.”
“I never dwell on what happened. You can’t change it. Move forward. Don’t waste your energy on being angry at something that somebody did six months ago or a year ago. It’s over. Done. Move forward.”
“Don’t follow any advice, no matter how good, until you feel as deeply in your spirit as you think in your mind that the counsel is wise.”