12 of Stephen Fry's Wise, Witty Quotations

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Stephen Fry is an actor, writer, poet, TV host, narrator, and for all I know a terrific cook -- the man is so prolific he has a Wikipedia page devoted simply to listing his works. Through all of his work he weaves threads of good humor, keen intellect, and a tremendously open attitude about his own life: the result is a tapestry of wit that is eminently quotable, and deserving of careful reading. Below, I've collected my favorite Fry quotations.

1. On Incuriosity

"The only reason people do not know much is because they do not care to know. They are incurious. Incuriosity is the oddest and most foolish failing there is."

From The Fry Chronicles (Kindle Locations 1265-1266).

2. On Kindles

"This is the point. One technology doesn't replace another, it complements. Books are no more threatened by Kindle than stairs by elevators."

From Fry's Twitter account.

3. On Cultural Diversity

"...[L]ook at the kind of people who most object to the childishness and cheapness of celebrity culture. Does one really want to side with such apoplectic and bombastic bores? I should know, I often catch myself being one, and it isn't pretty. I will defend the absolute value of Mozart over Miley Cyrus, of course I will, but we should be wary of false dichotomies. You do not have to choose between one or the other. You can have both. The human cultural jungle should be as varied and plural as the Amazonian rainforest. We are all richer for biodiversity. We may decide that a puma is worth more to us than a caterpillar, but surely we can agree that the habitat is all the better for being able to sustain each. Monocultures are uninhabitably dull and end as deserts."

From The Fry Chronicles (Kindle Locations 3852-3857).

4. On Libraries

"What's great about them is that anybody can go into them and find a book and borrow it free of charge and read it. They don't have to steal it from a bookshop. ... You know when you're young, you're growing up, they're almost sexually exciting places because books are powerhouses of knowledge, and therefore they're kind of slightly dark and dangerous. You see books that kind of make you go 'Oh!'"

From Fry's March 2001 appearance on Room 101.

5. On New Age Philosophy

When asked his opinion about a Dream Catcher:

"The key word for me (my spleen isn't really big enough to explode with all the splenetic juices of fury that drive me when I consider this), but the real key word that triggers my rage is the word 'energy', when people start talking about it in terms of negative or positive types. For instance, 'there's very negative energy in here.' What are you talking about? What do you mean? I mean, let's think about it. What does energy mean? Well, we know what it means: energy from petrol when it's burned, it moves the car. 'This room has positive energy' — well, where the f***'s it going then? It's not moving. It's covering up such woolly thinking, such pathetic nonsense.

"And astrology: most people will say of astrology, 'Well, it's harmless fun.' And I should say that for 80% of the cases it probably is harmless fun, but there's a strong way in which it isn't harmless. One, because it is so anti-science. You will hear things like, 'Science doesn't know everything.' Well, of course science doesn't know everything. But, because science doesn't know everything, it doesn't mean that science knows nothing. Science knows enough for us to be watched by a few million people now on television, for these lights to be working, for quite extraordinary miracles to have taken place in terms of the harnessing of the physical world and our dim approaches towards understanding it. And as Wittgenstein quite rightly said, 'When we understand every single secret of the universe, there will still be left the eternal mystery of the human heart.'"

From Fry's March 2001 appearance on Room 101.

Stephen Fry on a couch
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6. On Smoking

"I think I have always linked smoking and sex. Maybe this is where I have been going wrong all my life."

From The Fry Chronicles (Kindle Locations 439-440).

7. On Clichés

"It is a cliché that most clichés are true, but then like most clichés, that cliché is untrue. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will always hurt me."

From Moab Is My Washpot (p. 113).

8. On His Singing Voice

"I have to mime at parties when everyone sings 'Happy Birthday.' ... mime or mumble and rumble and growl and grunt so deep that only moles, manta rays and mushrooms can hear me.

"I'm not even tone deaf, that's the arse-mothering, f***-nosed, bugger-sucking wank of the thing."

(Note: this bit appears below the heading "I Can't F***ing Join In" and above the heading "I'm Not Even Tone F***ing Deaf.")

From Moab Is My Washpot (pp. 85-86).

9. On Poetry and Laziness

"You cannot work too hard at poetry. People are bad at it not because they have tin ears, but because they simply don't have the faintest idea how much work goes into it. It's not as if you're ordering a pizza or doing something that requires direct communication in a very banal way. But it seems these days the only people who spend time over things are retired people and prisoners. We bolt things, untasted.

"It's so easy to say, 'That'll do.' Everyone's in a hurry. People are intellectually lazy, morally lazy, ethically lazy...

"... When people get angry with a traffic warden they don't stop and think what it would be like to be a traffic warden or how annoying it would be if people could park wherever they liked. People talk lazily about how hypocritical politicians are. But everyone is. On the one hand we hate that petrol is expensive and on the other we go on about global warming. We abrogate the responsibility for thought and moral decisions onto others and then have the luxury of saying it's not good enough."

From Fry's interview with The Daily Telegraph promoting his book The Ode Less Travelled: Unlocking the Poet Within.

10. On Critics

Stephen Fry"It may be true that critics perform a service, that actors and writers and artists need their egos deflating, that the public needs to be advised about how, where and when to spend their money on artistic activities, that ‘standards’ must be maintained. All the foregoing may be fine and convincing reasons for the existence of critics. The point is that no one would volunteer for this dreadful trade but the kind of worthless and embittered offal that we, by and large, get. What decent person would want to spend a life picking and caviling? Picture this scene. A critic arrives at the gates of heaven. ‘And what did you do?’ asks Saint Peter. ‘Well’, says the dead soul. ‘I criticized things’. ‘I beg your pardon?’ ‘You know, other people wrote things, performed things, painted things and I said stuff like, “thin and unconvincing”, “turgid and uninspired”, “competent and serviceable,”...you know'."

Photo: Getty Images. Quotation from Paperweight, via wongaBlog.

11. On Drugs and Music

"LSD reveals the whatness of things, their quiddity, their essence. The wateriness of water is suddenly revealed to you, the carpetness of carpets, the woodness of wood, the yellowness of yellow, the fingernailness of fingernails, the allness of all, the nothingness of all, the allness of nothing. For me music gives access to every one of these essences of existence, but at a fraction of the social or financial cost of a drug and without the need to cry “Wow!” all the time, which is one of LSD's most distressing and least endearing side-effects."

From Moab Is My Washpot (pp. 83-84). Random House Inc Clients. Kindle Edition.

12. On Believing in Oneself

"I used many times to touch my own chest and feel, under its asthmatic quiver, the engine of the heart and lungs and blood and feel amazed at what I sensed was the enormity of the power I possessed. Not magical power, not all that Carrie teenage telekinetic wank, but real power. The power simply to go on, the power to endure, that is power enough, but I felt I had also the power to create, to add, to delight, to amaze and to transform. Yet I was unwanted, rejected and unthought of. My mother, yes, she believed in me, but everybody's mother believes in them. No one else believed in me.

"Principally of course—oh how one sees that now—myself. Principally, I did not believe in me. I believed in ghosts more than I believed in me, and take my word for it, I never believed in ghosts, I'm far too spiritual and emotional and passionate to believe in the supernatural."

From Moab Is My Washpot (p. 381).

Big exciting note: Next Wednesday is 12-12-12. To celebrate, we're planning 24 (!) 12-lists, which we'll post 12 minutes past every hour, starting at 12:12am. Consider this a little tease.

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