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The comedian, Linda Smith, died today aged 48. To be honest, this was the first time I heard that she had cancer. She was very funny, though I didn't usually agree with her politics:
Voted the “wittiest living person” by radio listeners in 2002, Smith became one of the small band of women who made it to the top of the male-dominated world of comedy.
Listeners delighted in her jaundiced or plain surreal observations on Radio 4’s Just A Minute and The News Quiz, where she became the first female team captain.
She also enjoyed a successful career on television with a string of appearances on panel programmes, including Have I Got News For You, QI and Mock The Week.
The "wittiest living person"? Now that is a lot to live up to. Wouldn't it make you somewhat tongue-tied if you knew that you had to say something wittier than anything said by any person currently alive? Wouldn't it make wit into something daunting, rather than something light and pleasurable?
Here's an example of Linda's humour, from The Times:
Of Christ, she said: “Despite all those blonde paintings, we know he wasn’t English, because he wore sandals —but never with socks.”
This is funny, certainly, but is it witty? Witty is different from funny. Wit must be spontaneous. Dorothy Parker was witty. Stephen Fry is witty. Linda Smith was funny.
Still, if we accept that she was the wittiest living person, this position is now vacant. Who should fill it? This is a matter of personal preference, of course, and readers could come up with any number of candidates. Some would be British, some American. However, it is a fair assumption that none would be German or Japanese. The German language does not lend itself to wit; it is too unwieldy. Perhaps I'm being unfair on the Japanese, as I know nothing of their language beyond a few hilarious neologisms, such as:
Toirebijutsukan Literally, toilet museum. The trend whereby young women moving into an apartment alone for the first time will go to extreme lengths to decorate their lavatory, scent it with perfume and stock it with interesting literature
Yes, perhaps I am wrong, or at least unduly anglo-centric. Perhaps there is a Japanese Stephen Fly, laughing at us laughing at them.