Tuesday, April 6, 2010


1884 - 1949

If you knew by the title alone to whom I was referring, HUZZAH! If not, today I offer a short tribute to one of my favorite humorists, the unjustly neglected Will Cuppy. At the mention of his name, I usually get one of two responses: either "Will Cuppy? He is HILARIOUS!" or "Who?" There seems to be little in between. I hope you fall into the first category. If not, I hope this brief introduction will quickly move you into it.

A columnist and book reviewer for the New York Herald-Tribune, Cuppy also contributed essays to the New Yorker and other magazines. Many of these were collected in his books including: How To Be A Hermit, How To Become Extinct, and, perhaps his best known work, The Decline And Fall Of Practically Everybody. If these titles alone have failed to spark an interest, please seek psychiatric help.

He researched all his subjects meticulously, collecting hundreds of notes on 3"x 5" index cards, before he would write a word. His true talent was finding the humor in the factual, and his essays always contain numerous footnotes, almost all of them true. I present here a small sample: The Goldfish, from How To Become Extinct, and let his work speak for itself.


The Goldfish

Goldfish come of a very old family, but it seems to do them no good. They have no place to go.1 Goldfish were invented by the Early Chinese, who had little to do.2 They have been cultivated so long that they are now useless. Goldfish have most uninteresting habits. Several times each year the males drive the females around the aquarium to teach them a lesson.3 Queen Victoria had a goldfish.4 The Common or Ten Cent Goldfish has xanthochromism and cares less. He is the only kind known to some people. These people are just as well off. The Fantail is more expensive because his tail is bifid or trifid. The male fringetail is a matter of taste. He has long floating draperies and is often petulant.5 When enraged, he flounces about, but nobody cares.6 He is also subject to twitters.7 He cannot help it, because he was always like that. The Japanese Lionhead or Buffalohead or Shishigashira looks very strange and probably is. Do not worry about your goldfish. The chances are eighty-two to eighty-one that whatever you do for them will be wrong.8

1 The Olivaceous Goldfish of the Potomac River has succeeded in escaping from ornamental fountains in Washington. The Bar-Tailed Flathead, the Large-mouthed Bass and the Common Perch do not try to escape.
2 Much the same thing could be said of printing, which broke out in the province of Kansu in 868 A.D. The Early Chinese simply could not let well enough alone.
3 These races provide the only clue to the sex of your goldfish, the females invariably being the ones in front. In a small bowl, however, it is difficult to tell which one is in front.
4 This statement is offered without documentation. It is based upon the self-evident truth that if Queen Victoria did not have a Goldfish, then history has no meaning and might as well stop.
5 Goldfish quickly take on the attributes of their owners. Show me a peevish, ill-natured goldfish and I’ll show you the usual family.
6 He particularly hates being bumped into by Tadpoles. If looks could kill there would be some dead Tadpoles in most aquaria.
7 Cutting down on his flake food sometimes brings him to reason. If not, better trade him for something else - almost anything else.
8 Goldfish are fond of nibbling at a bit of Anacharis, also called Waterweed or Ditchmoss or Babington’s curse. Mr. Babington really had a frightful time with it. There are nine kinds of Ludwigia in the United States. You don’t need all of them.


Well, there you have it, and I hope you enjoyed it. If you need additional convincing, you can read How To Be A Hermit online here. If that doesn't do it, there may not be much hope left. Well, I tried. As the man himself said:

Aristotle was famous for knowing everything. He taught that the brain exists merely to cool the blood and is not involved in the process of thinking. This is true only of certain persons.

Now get yourself to a library or bookstore and pick up a copy of The Decline And Fall Of Practically Everybody, willya?

Respectfully Yours,



25BAR said...


Thumbelina said...

Well Cricket I am sorry I hadn't heard of him, but I did enjoy that bit of wry humour you posted here and I will go look at the link now.

Thanks for that. I have to agree with him on everything he says about goldfish. Spot on.

Suldog said...

Good Lord! How did I ever live so long without hearing about this guy? Footnote number 4 almost killed me, literally. I was reading it while inhaling a drag on a cigarette, and the resultant expulsion of laughter choked me and made drool dribble out of my mouth. Shame on you for not including SOMETHING by him in your 15 books. I could have been enjoying him for six months now.

Buck said...

OK. I'm a convert. Because of this:

Coffee! With the first nip of the godlike brew I decide not to jump off the roof until things get worse—I'll give them another week or so. With the second I think I see a way of meeting my monthly insurance premium, and I simultaneously forgive the person I heard saying that I was not half as funny as I thought I was. From then on I get foolisher and foolisher, or wiser and wiser, according to the point of view. As I drain the last fragrant drop I am conquering the world single-handed by the invincible force of my own wits, building a palatial yacht to sail the Seven Seas with a large party of my dearest friends and leaving at home the ones who never appreciated me when I was poor and practically starving to death. Honest, I'm not nearly so unbearable when I am in my cups.

And that's just the FIRST cup. O! Do I relate...

Ananda girl said...

What fun! Thank you. I am sure that I have read him in the New Yorker but have not read one of his books. I will now. Big grin.

Dianne said...

I will admit to not knowing who he is but I will check him out now

your comment on my dancer post was lovely and I do understand, a bit from personal experience

Brian Miller said...

thanks for the fun comment...yeah we had eggs in our as well. lol.

had not heard of him but really enjoyed the write...smiles.

Land of shimp said...

I hadn't heard of him either, Cricket! I'll have to look at some of his other material, he seems fun :-)

Hilary said...

Well you might be disappointed to know that so many of us are not familiar with his work but just about as many of us probably will be now. :)

ds said...

Well, I fall into the category of those who had not heard of this wonderful writer. Thank you so much for the introduction! I will look for more of his work.

lime said...

i owe you a great debt of gratitude. i think i may have encountered him once before but my very porous brain allowed him to dribble out. i shall henceforth go to my goodreads profile and begin adding his books to my "to read" list so i shall not loose him again.

the man is brilliantly, hilariously insane. i am in love.

Carol said...

And I thought I was his only living fan. How refreshing to find another! The man was a genius. No one, and I mean NO ONE, can make me laugh like Will Cuppy. He was (and is) the BEST EVER. Hallelujah.