Each and every human being in the world has a kinda sense of humour. Yes, legends too had a great sense of humour 😀
1. Isaac Newton
Although widely regarded as one of the most influential scientists of all time, there is no record that
Isaac Newton ever made anything approaching a joke. There was a complete absence of humorous books in his library, and he once sharply reprimanded his friend
Edmond Halley for joking about what Newton considered a serious subject. Newton is reported to have laughed precisely once in his life – when a friend asked him what use he saw in Euclid’s Elements.
2. Oliver Cromwell
A hero to some, a villain to many,
Oliver Cromwell was known for his deep Puritanical streak rather than his sense of humour.
His regime ordered theatres to shut, including Shakespeare’s Globe, decreeing that they were: “ spectacles of pleasure, too commonly expressing lascivious Mirth and levitie .”
Cromwell even banned Christmas. In 1651 one of his ‘acts and ordinances’ posters announced to a glum nation: “No observation shall be had of the Five and twentieth day of December, commonly called Christmas-Day .”
Cromwell’s dour temperament was probably not helped by the bouts of depression believed to have afflicted him. Nevertheless, his parliamentarian colleague
Bulstrode Whitelocke wrote of him:
“ He would sometimes be very cheerful with us, and laying aside his greatness he would be exceeding familiar with us, and by way of diversion would make verses with us, and everyone must try his fancy. He commonly called for tobacco, pipes, and a candle, and would now and then take tobacco himself; then he would fall again to his serious and great business.”
3. Napoleon Bonaparte
Napoleon Bonaparte’s sense of humour was so limited that he demanded that all court painters refrain from putting a smile on any of his portraits. The original sufferer of the Napoleon complex (although the term may have been down to British propaganda), he was given to making statements such as, “You don’t reason with intellectuals; you shoot them ,” and, less forgivably, “Women are nothing but machines for producing children.”
One of my favourite quotes from Napoleon is perhaps unintentionally funny: “ Of all the peoples of Europe, Spaniards disgust me the least.”
If he kept his funny bone concealed in public, he did at least recognise the importance of humour in private, when he said: “ A woman laughing is a woman conquered.”
4. Adolf Hitler
There is evidence that Adolf Hitler did have a sense of humour, it’s just that it always required a victim. His favourite target was Hermann Göring, who was overly fond of awarding himself titles and decorations. According to a book by Rochus Misch, a telephonist in the Berlin Bunker in 1945, Hitler once told a joke about Mrs Göring finding her husband in the bedroom, waving a baton over his underwear. When she asked him what he was doing, he replied: “ I am promoting my underpants to OVERpants.”
August Kubizek, who was friends with the teenage Hitler, said:
“ I have often been asked . . . whether Adolf, when I knew him, had any sense of humour. . . . Certainly one’s impression of Hitler, especially after a short and superficial acquaintance, was that of a deeply serious man. This enormous seriousness seemed to overshadow everything else. It was the same when he was young. He approached the problems with which he was concerned with a deadly earnestness which ill suited his sixteen or seventeen years .”
Albert Speer, who probably knew the older Hitler better than anyone, said:
“ Hitler had no humour. He left joking to others, although he could laugh loudly, abandonedly, sometimes literally writhing with laughter. Often he would wipe tears from his eyes during such spasms. He liked laughing, but it was always at the expense of others.”
5. Joseph Stalin
Like Hitler, Joseph Stalin enjoyed a good laugh, but always at the expense of others. His bodyguard
Karl Pauker, was able to reduce Stalin to tears of laughter with his impressions of Grigory Zinoviev begging for his life in front of the firing squad. Stalin must have eventually tired of the joke because he later had Pauker executed too.
Stalin also loved the humiliating comedy that comes with drunkenness. He regularly subjected his inner circle to hard drinking sessions where he would throw food at them, or force them to dance for his amusement (his main target for this was his pet ‘Ukrainian bear’ Nikita Khrushchev who had to dance on the table).
Stalin’s decidedly weird sense of humour recently same to light in the form of his scrawled captions on reproduction sketches of male nudes by 19th-century Russian artists. One picture shows a man naked from the back, standing against a wall with one hand appearing to reach down to his genitals. In the bottom corner, in red pencil, Stalin has scrawled, “ You need to work, not wank. Time for re-education .”
6. George Washington
While American history has portrayed George Washington as a stone faced icon with the gravitas befitting a Father of the Nation, he did enjoy it when his sense of the absurd was tweaked.
During the Revolutionary War, Washington bought a very spirited horse and one of his junior officers, keen to impress, volunteered to break it in. The horse threw the young man head-over-heels to the ground. It was recorded that “ General Washington was so compulsed with laughter that it was declared, tears ran down his cheeks“.
Washington did at least have the ability to laugh at himself. When he attended the comedy play ‘Old Soldier’ in Philadelphia, one scene called on an actor to do an impression of Washington. According to a Philadelphia newspaper: “All eyes in the theatre turned toward the Presidential box to witness Washington’s hearty laugh .”
When King Charles III of Spain sent Washington the gift of a prized jackass, the animal became the butt of Washington’s humour. He named the jackass ‘Royal Gift’ and hoped it would sire a superior breed of draft animals for America. Royal Gift turned to be of absolutely no use, other than to consume feed. It also showed no interest in the brood mares brought in for his attention. Washington wrote that the jackass was “…too full of Royalty to have anything to do with a plebeian race.”
In 1782 Washington gave the following sage advice to Major Benjamin Tallmadge: “I commend you, however, for passing the time in as merry a manner as you possibly could; it is assuredly better to go laughing than crying thro’ the rough journey of life .”
7. Mahatma Gandhi
Once asked whether he thought a sense of humour was necessary in life, Mahatma Gandhi said: “If I had no sense of humour, I would long ago have committed suicide .”
His readiness to laugh endeared him to people. Fellow campaigner for Indian Independence, Chakravarti Rajagopalachari, said of Gandhi: “ he liked company very much. He was a man who liked to laugh, and he liked people who laughed, he liked children, he liked women, he liked good and cheerful company .”
Sarojini Naidu, said: “ To be greeted by his smile early in the morning is sufficient to set you right for the day. He is the most delightful companion, full of mirth – I think ‘mirth’ is the right word, a sort of infectious gaiety, too light for humour, too tolerant and genial for wit, perhaps ‘amused love’ would be a possible description. He has a charming trick of humorous self-deprecation, as when he calls himself a ‘crank’ or a ‘quack’ and chuckles at some recollections of outraged authority which he has ignored .”
This self-deprecation was evident when Gandhi visited England in 1931. Despite the climate, he toured the country wearing his traditional Indian peasant clothing of loincloth and sandals. While he was walking through the streets of the East End of London accompanied by a scrum of reporters and curious onlookers, a cheeky young urchin yelled out: “ Hey, Gandhi, where’s your trousers? ” Gandhi laughed heartily and later quipped: “ You people wear plus-fours, mine are minus-fours .”
8. Abraham Lincoln
The long exposure times required for 19th century photographs made sombre statues of virtually all public figures, except Abraham Lincoln who occasionally achieved a hint of a smile. In fact, his deep belly-laughs were his most important release valve: “ With the fearful strain that is on me night and day, if I did not laugh I should die .”
Lincoln’s generally sunny disposition did not appeal to everyone. A journalist reporting the 1858 Lincoln-Douglas debates said of him: “ I could not take a real personal liking to the man, owing to an inborn weakness for which he was even then notorious and so remained during his great public career, he was inordinately fond of jokes, anecdotes, and stories.”
It was during these debates that Lincoln famously poked fun at his own odd-looking features. When Stephen Douglas accused Lincoln of being two-faced, Lincoln replied: “ Honestly, if I were two-faced, would I be showing you this one? ”
Sense of humour rating: 9/10
9. Albert Einstein
At the height of his worldwide fame as the father of modern physics, Albert Einstein commented: “In the past it never occurred to me that every casual remark of mine would be snatched up and recorded. Otherwise I would have crept further into my shell.”
What his utterances did reveal, as well as his scientific genius, was a character free of stifling convention and a robust sense of humour.
In the early 1930s while teaching at Caltech, Einstein was the guest of honour at a puppet show which featured an Einstein marionette specially made for the occasion. After enjoying the show, Einstein’s only criticism was: “the puppet wasn’t fat enough! ” He took a letter out of his pocket, crumpled it up, and padded out the puppet’s belly.
On Einstein’s 72nd birthday in 1951, photographer Arthur Sasse was trying to persuade him to smile for the camera. Einstein stuck out his tongue instead. The now iconic photograph so amused Einstein he asked Sasse to give him 9 copies for his personal use. Einstein sent one copy to his friend, the journalist Howard K Smith, with the German inscription: “This gesture you will like, because it is aimed at all of humanity. A civilian can afford to do what no diplomat would dare. ”
Einstein also had the ability to simplify his greatest work in a way that would have been beyond Isaac Newton: “ Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute, and it seems like an hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute. That’s relativity.”
10. Winston Churchill
The wit and wisdom of Winston Churchill has filled volumes, but he was better known for his razor-sharp put downs than his self-deprecating humour. For example, he famously said of his political rival Clement Atlee: “a modest man, who has much to be modest about .”
But the difference between Churchill and other world leaders like Napoleon, Hitler and Stalin was self-awareness. He said: “Of course I am an egoist. Where do you get if you aren’t? ” He also said: “We are all worms, but I do believe I am a glow-worm .”
Like Abraham Lincoln, Churchill was also comfortable joking about his looks. When one lady remarked, “Winston! How wonderfully your new grandson resembles you! ” Churchill replied: “ Madam, all babies look like me .”
Churchill’s use of the French language reveals much about his brand of stubborn mischief. His French was probably intentionally bad, particularly when dealing with sniffy Gallic characters like
Charles de Gaulle. Churchill used ‘franglais’ to ensure he was never stuck for words. In one heated wartime argument with de Gaulle, he said “Si vous m’obstaclerez, je vous liquiderai! ” which needs no translation. He also made a point of using the English pronunciation of cities (particularly London and Paris), and spoke French in a purely English accent. Churchill’s bad French so bothered his Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden, who spoke perfect French with a beautifully polished accent, he felt constantly compelled to correct his boss. This greatly amused Churchill, who said: “ Will you please stop translating my French into French!