Quintilian

Institutes of Oratory

 c. 93

In the first place, all ridicule has something in it that is buffoonish; that is, something that is low, and oftentimes purposely rendered mean. In the next place, it is never attended with dignity, and people are apt to construe it in different senses because it is not judged by any criterion of reason but by a certain unaccountable impression that it makes upon the hearer. I call it “unaccountable” because many have endeavored to account for it—but, I think, without success. Here it is that a laugh may arise, not only from an action or a saying, but even the very motion of the body may raise it; add to this that there are many different motives for laughter. For we laugh not only at actions and sayings that are witty and pleasant but such as are stupid, passionate, and cowardly. It is therefore of a motley composition, for very often we laugh with a man as well as laugh at him.

Our maxim is of use not only to the purpose of an orator but to the purposes of life, which is: never to attack a man whom it is dangerous to provoke, lest you be brought to maintain some disagreeable enmities or to make some scandalous submissions. It is likewise highly improper to throw out any invectives that numbers of people may take to themselves, or to arraign, by the lump, nations, degrees, and ranks of mankind, or those pursuits that are common to many. A man of sense and good breeding will say nothing that can hurt his own character or probity. A laugh is too dearly bought when purchased at the expense of virtue.

Joan Rivers

Interview with The Hollywood Reporter

 2013

I’ve learned: When you get older, who cares? I don’t mince words, I don’t hold back. What are you gonna do to me? Fire me? It’s been done. Threaten to commit suicide? Done. Take away my show? Done! Not invite to me to the Vanity Fair party? I’ve never been invited! If I ever saw the invitation, I’d use it as toilet paper. My gardener Jose is invited—he asks me to bring him his sombrero to clean it for him.

I’ve learned to have absolutely no regrets about any jokes I’ve ever done. I got a lot of flack for a joke I made about Heidi Klum and the Nazis (“The last time a German looked this hot was when they were pushing Jews into the ovens”), but I never apologized for it. I said Justin Bieber looked like a little lesbian—and I stand by it: he’s the daughter Cher wishes she’d had. You can tune me out, you can click me off, it’s okay. I am not going to bow to political correctness. But you do have to learn, if you want to be a satirist, you can’t be part of the party. Meaning, you can’t go horseback riding with Jackie O in Central Park if you’re going to make a joke about her that night.

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