Overview: The inventor of comedy. The plot of his most famous play had the wives of dueling Athens and Sparta withhold sex from the warmongers until, finally, peace fell over the land.
"These impossible women ... can't live with them, or without them!" Yeah - it's an old line.
Overview: Shakespearean humor generally falls under four categories: 1) horrible puns that rely on knowledge of 16th-century English; 2) veiled reference to sex; 3) satire concerning 16th-century politics that scholars don't even laugh at; and 4) wit that, sometimes, remains timeless.
"Though I am not naturally honest, I am so sometimes by chance."
"Sampson: ... I will be cruel with the maids, I will cut off their heads.
Overview: Mark Twain was the funniest writer in American history. We're going to stop the overview there to leave more room for his jokes.
"I didn't attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying that I approved of it."
"In a world without women," Twain was once asked, "what would men become?" "Scarce, sir," Twain replied. "Mighty scarce."
"Familiarity breeds contempt - and children."
"It could probably be shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctly American criminal class except Congress."
Overview: Comedy's first bad boy, Bruce created the current form of stand-up storytelling with its sarcasm, twists, and shocks. In the '50s and '60s Bruce discussed topics ranging from his Jewish heritage to explicit sex and was arrested several times for public profanity - which does make him challenging to quote in a family-friendly book, but ...
"A lot of people say to me, 'Why did you [the Jews] kill Christ?' I dunno ... it was one of those parties, got out of hand, you know? ... We killed him because he didn't want to become a doctor, that's why we killed him."
Overview: Born to a brothel's madam and one of her clients, Richard Pryor didn't get a head start in life. By making fun of himself, the state of the black race in America, and his own mistakes, Pryor became recognized as one of the finest comedians in American history. In the tradition of Lenny Bruce, not many of his best lines are suitable for publication. But we'll try.
"I went to Zimbabwe ... I know how white people feel in America now - relaxed! 'Cause when I heard the police car I knew they weren't coming after me!"
"I believe in the institution of marriage, and I intend to keep trying till I get it right."
Stricken with MS, Pryor stopped performing in the mid '90s, but he remained outspoken - but as an advocate for radical animal rights group - until his death in 2005.
From mental_floss' book Scatterbrained, published in Neatorama with permission.
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