A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from January 19, 2012
“If you’re going to tell people the truth, be funny or they’ll kill you” (theatre adage)

Playwright George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) is credited with saying, “If you are going to tell people the truth, you’d better make them laugh. Otherwise, they’ll kill you.” Shaw was credited in 1951 with “If you want to tell people the truth, you’d better make them laugh or they’ll kill you.”

The film director Billy Wilder (1906-2002) is often credited, since the 1980s, for borrowing from Shaw and saying, “If you’re going to tell people the truth, be funny or they’ll kill you.” The American playwright Charles Ludlam (1943-1987) wrote, “The Fool’s motto is this: If you tell people the truth you’d better make them laugh or they’ll kill you.”

The saying is popular with late night television comedians (such as The Daily Show) who tell political jokes, but also make political points.


Wikiquote: George Bernard Shaw
George Bernard Shaw (26 July 1856 – 2 November 1950) was an Irish playwright, who received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1925.
(...)
Disputed
If you’re going to tell people the truth, you better make them laugh; otherwise they’ll kill you.
. Credited to Shaw in the lead in to the mockumentary C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America (2004) and other recent works, but this or slight variants of it are also sometimes attributed to W. C. Fields, Charlie Chaplin, and Oscar Wilde. It might be possibly derive from Shaw’s statement in John Bull’s Other Island (1907): “My way of joking is to tell the truth. It’s the funniest joke in the world.”
. Variants:
. If you are going to tell people the truth, you’d better make them laugh. Otherwise, they’ll kill you.
. If you’re going to tell people the truth, you’d better make them laugh. Otherwise, they’ll kill you.

Wikipedia: Billy Wilder
Billy Wilder (22 June 1906 – 27 March 2002) was an Austro-Hungarian born American filmmaker, screenwriter, producer, artist, and journalist, whose career spanned more than 50 years and 60 films. He is regarded as one of the most brilliant and versatile filmmakers of Hollywood’s golden age. Wilder is one of only five people who have won Academy Awards as producer, director, and writer for the same film (The Apartment).

Google Books
Films in Review
Volume 2
1951
Pg. 3:
“If you want to tell people the truth, you’d better make them laugh or they’ll kill you.” — GEORGE BERNARD SHAW

Google Books
Saturday Review
Volume 34
1951
Pg. 60:
Secondly, insofar as he has introduced recognizable reality into his later films [SRL July 28], he has done so to the tune of Shaw’s lively aphorism, “If you want to tell people the truth, you’d better make them laugh or they’ll kill you” (see his films “The Adventures of Jimmie” and “Loony Tom").

Google Books
Opus 21:
Descriptive music for the Lower Kinsey epoch of the atomic age, a concerto for a one-man band, six arias for soap operas, fugues, anthems & barrelhouse

By Philip Wylie
New York, NY: Rinehart
1959
Pg. 134:
“You see,” I said, “it’s just the way Shaw put it. If you’re going to tell people the truth, you’ve got to make them laugh, or they’ll kill you.”

“Why will they?” Marcia asked.

“Because the truth doesn’t seem amusing to them at all.”

Google Books
The Media Game
By Dick MacDonald
Montreal: Content
1972
Pg. 37:
Bernard Shaw said “if you want to make people see themselves, you’d better make them laugh or they’ll kill you.”

26 April 1986, Philadelphia (PA) Inquirer, “Lauding Wilder’s Genius,” pg. C1:
Fortunately, the tribute to the caustic, Austrian-born director, 79, is as lively as his movies, recalling Wilder’s own credo, borrowed from George Bernard Shaw: “If you want to tell people the truth, better make them laugh or they’ll kill you.

Google Books
The Complete Plays of Charles Ludlam
By Charles Ludlam
New York, NY: Perennial Library
1989
Pg. 86:
THE FOOL: (Dancing a jig) The Fool’s motto is this: If you tell people the truth you’d better make them laugh or they’ll kill you.

2 November 1998, Huntingdon (PA) Daily News. pg. 13, col. 5:
If you’re going to tell people the truth, be funny or they’ll kill you.
-- Billy Wilder

Seattle (WA) Post-Intelligencer
Secrets lurk in the ‘Singing Forest’
By WINDA BENEDETTI, SPECIAL TO THE POST-INTELLIGENCER
Published 10:00 p.m., Thursday, July 22, 2004
Writer Craig Lucas describes his new play “Singing Forest” as a sort of theatrical free association
(...)
But Lucas points out that much of the story set in modern time finds its footing in humor. The characters’ problems are perhaps gut-wrenching but their situations are comical. “Charles Ludlum used to say that if you’re going to tell people the truth you better be funny or they’ll kill you,” Lucas says.

New York (NY) Sun
Wilder’s ‘Runt of the Litter’ May Be His Best
By BRUCE BENNETT | January 12, 2007
In 1991, 11 years before his death at 96, the director Billy Wilder sat for a series of interviews with the German filmmakers Gisela Grischow and Volker Schlöndorff.
(...)
Over the years, when “Ace in the Hole” came up in print interviews, Wilder was alternately defensive ("Among my pictures I think it was the runt of the litter."), philosophical ("It’s about the price of people’s souls."), and resigned ("If you’re going to tell people the truth, be funny or they’ll kill you.")

Salem-News.com (OR)
Apr-17-2011 18:13
Breathing a Word of Truth About 9/11 will Kill Your Career: Kevin Barrett
Interview by Kourosh Ziabari Salem-News.com
Dr. Barrett is internationally renowned for his well-substantiated researches on the 9/11 which he describes as a false-flag operation.
(TEHRAN ) - Kevin Barrett is a renowned American journalist, writer and former university lecturer. He has taught has taught English, French, Arabic, American Civilization, Humanities, African Literature, Folklore, and Islam at colleges and universities in the San Francisco Bay area, Paris, and Madison, Wisconsin. Being a Muslim convert, Dr. Barrett is a founding member of the Muslim-Jewish-Christian Alliance (MUJCA) and member of the Scientific Panel for the Investigation of 9/11 (SPINE).
(...)
The humor makes my uncompromisingly honest message palatable for Western audiences. As the saying goes, “If you tell the truth, make it funny or they’ll kill you.”

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityMusic/Dance/Theatre/Film • (0) Comments • Thursday, January 19, 2012 • Permalink