20 Nov 2012
Wit is an underrated virtue. Ingenuity in repartee has fallen far down the list of social assets (overtaken, I’m afraid, by things as bland as adorbs outfits and a lot of followers on Pinterest.) It’s not just a good sense of humor, oh no. Think Dowager Countess rather than Kristen Wiig. Stephen Colbert instead of Will Ferrell. Think, instead, that thing said is both funny and clever — a more cerebral humor. At the Oscars, rarely does a something roundly clever win Best Picture. “Witty” novels are viewed as light, frothy confections rather than something of weighty, literary value. The same thinking often applies to art, where the notions of cleverness and wittiness are often disparaged as uninteresting, gimmicky or trite.
But here’s the skinny: Wit often reveals a smidge of transgression, wrapped up in an amusing package. Think of the court jester — cast as the fool, but the only person at court who speaks truth to power. Shakespeare even embraces this notion in “Twelfth Night”: ”Better a witty fool, than a foolish wit.”
I’ve spent most of my adult life aspiring to witticisms of this sort. Often, I’m just merely funny, or worse, dorky and inappropriate. Those who are witty I find exceedingly compelling, the way that others are compelled by extraordinary good looks or artistic talent or gobs of money. And in an effort to rectify, in my own small way, the gross imbalance of appreciation between the serious and the witty, forthwith, some of my favorite examples of wit across film, literature and design.