A classic drinking saying has one person ask for something to drink. “Would you like a glass of water?” replies the other. “I’m thirsty, not dirty!” the person explains.
The joke has been cited in print since at least January 1913, when the Cleveland (OH) Leader included it in the article “They Get Laughs on These in Burlesque.”
New York City-born comedian Joe E. Lewis (1902-1971) is frequently credited with the remark. Lewis did say it in 1954, but it was an old joke at that time.
5 January 1913, Cleveland (OH) Leader, “They Get Laughs on These in Burlesque,” Theatergoers, pg. 8, col. 1:
A collection of jokes to be heard at the Star Theater this week, and used as laugh producers of ‘The Monte Carlo Girls” company:
He—I’m so thirsty—
She—Shall I get you a glagg of water, dear?
He—I said I was thirsty—not dirty.
16 January 1915, Goodwin’s Weekly: A thinking paper for thinking people (Salt Lake City, UT), “Saunterings,” pg. 8, col. 2:
E. B. Pyper, editor of the Portland Oregonian, recently told the story of a man who rushed up to the manager of an Oregon hotel and said: “I am actually dying of thirst.” THe manager rushed around and procured a big bowl of water for his guest, who drew himself up haughtily and exclaimed: “I said I was thirsty, not dirty.” It must be great to live in dry territory.
21 October 1916, Kansas City (MO) Sun, pg. 7, col. 2:
Didn’t Want to Wish.
“Infernal hot day, and makes me infernally thirst,” growled the colonel, sinking into the club’s biggest armchair one afternoon. “Tell them to fetch you some water, colonel,” suggest a cold-hearted scoundrel who knew the old gentleman’s habits, but the ancient warrier was equal to the occasion. “Sir,” he said, fixing the suggestor with a fiery glare, “I said thirsty—not dirty.”
23 April 1954, The Independent (Long Beach, CA), “Once Over Lightly,” pg. 22, col. 5:
Someone up front handed him (Joe E. Lewis—ed.) a drink. After tasting it he made a face and said..."Take this water away. I’m thirsty, not dirty?”
Song and sketch transcripts of British music hall performers Elsie and Doris Waters
By Paul Matthew St. Pierre
lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press
GERT: I might be able to get a glass of water.
DAISY: Water? I said “thirsty”, not “dirty”!
A Double Scotch:
How Chivas Regal and The Glenlivet Became Global Icons
By F. Paul Pacult
New York, NY: John Wiley and Sons, Ltd.
Entertainer and famed Scotch admirer Joe E. Lewis quipped, “Whenever someone asks me if I want water with my Scotch, I say ‘I’m thirsty, not dirty.’”
101: Everything You Need To Know About Whiskey
By Bob Lipinski
“Whenever someone asks me if I want water with my Scotch, I say, I’m thirsty, not dirty.” (Joe E. Lewis, 1902–1971, American actor and comedian).