William Penn Adair Rogers—who was born on November 4, 1879—ranks among the finest performers, comedians, and social commentators in American history. So today, let’s all find an excuse to recite some of his best remarks.
1. On humor
“Everything is funny, as long as it’s happening to somebody else.”
2. On learning
“Why don’t they pass a constitutional amendment prohibiting anybody from learning anything? If it works as well as prohibition did, in five years we will have the smartest people on earth.”
3. On politics
"I was born on November 4, which is Election Day ... my birthday has made more men and sent more back to honest work than any other days in the year."
4. On spelling
“When I first started out to write and misspelled a few words, people said I was plain ignorant. But when I got all the words wrong, they declared I was a humorist.”
5. On shame
“Live in such a way that you wouldn’t be ashamed to sell the family parrot to the town gossip.”
6. On veterinarians
“Best doctor in the world is a veterinarian. He can’t ask his patients what’s the matter. He’s just got to know.”
7. On being human
“It’s great to be great, but it’s greater to be human.”
8. On Albert Einstein
"This Einstein has proven a great comfort to us that always knew we didn’t know much. He has shown us that the fellows that we thought was smart is just as dumb as we are."
9. On righting wrongs
“There is nothing as easy as denouncing ... It don’t take much to see that something is wrong but it does take some eyesight to see what will put it right again.”
10. On fanatics
“A fanatic is always the fellow that is on the opposite side.”
11. On age
"Eventually you reach a point when you stop lying about your age and start bragging about it."
12. On comedians versus politicians
"Everything is changing in America. People are taking the comedians seriously and the politicians as a joke."
13. On the state of the world
“This would be a great world to dance in if we didn’t have to pay the fiddler.”
14. On laughter
“[Get] a few laughs and do the best you can … Live your life so that whenever you lose, you’re ahead.”
15. On question marks
"I was born on election day but never was able to get elected to anything. I am going to jump out some day and be indefinite enough about everything that they will call me a politician, then run on a platform of question marks, and be elected unanimously."
16. On taxes
"Finding things to tax is becoming quite a problem. You see when taxes first started (who started 'em anyhow?), Noah must have taken into the ark two taxes, one male and one female, and did they multiply bountifully! Next to guinea pigs, taxes must have been the most prolific of animals."
17. On universal ignorance
"Everybody is ignorant only on different subjects."
18. On desire
"We don’t know what we want, but we’re ready to bite somebody to get it."
BONUS: ONE THING WILL ROGERS DIDN'T SAY
“I never met a man I didn’t like.”
Ironically, for somebody who came up with so much Grade A material, most people associate Rogers with a long-lived misquote. In actuality, the full, unaltered line was: “I joked about every prominent man in my lifetime, but I never met one I didn’t like.” A few years before his death in 1935, Rogers proposed it as an epitaph for his tombstone. However, the shortened version does appear chiseled upon his final resting place in Claremore, Oklahoma.