There are very few things in life that feel better than one-upping someone. Not too many of us will admit it, but it feels absolutely amazing when you prove someone wrong, show everyone you're right, and demolish others with well-placed witty comebacks. The best roasts end up on the 'Clever Comebacks' subreddit, a community of nearly 754k members, eagerly combing the corners of the internet for humorous, witty, and razor-sharp comebacks.
When it comes to being witty, there are two general approaches. The first one is firing off an instant quip, taking advantage of the perfect timing. It's a skill that you can develop over time. The second approach is taking a bit more time and carefully honing the perfect response for each situation. That's much easier done on the internet than in real life, but it's also something we can all do, no matter our current skill in cleverly taking others down a peg or two.
London-based British musical stand-up comedian, author, and comedy writer Ariane Sherine highlighted to Bored Panda in a follow-up interview what's most important when it comes to a clever comeback. "I think the most important thing with comebacks is speed. Even if the joke isn't a total zinger, people will be impressed by your quickfire response," she said. Read on for her other insights about how we can all up our comedy game.
You'll find Bored Panda's earlier post about r/clevercomebacks right over here. Be sure to give it a read once you're done enjoying this list and upvoting the comebacks and epic burns that you personally feel deserve calling the fire brigade over.
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Ariane told us that most stand-up comics have a "repertoire of comebacks" that they often share with others in their profession when it comes to tackling hecklers at shows. "We're not all as fast and talented as it seems! But if we're doing stand-up, our own routines will be original—it's just heckle putdowns that might not be," she said.
Comedian Ariane also opened up about an "awful stand-up show" that left her incredibly embarrassed. However humiliating the situation was, it was also an example of razor-like wit in action. "I started a joke by saying 'I'm single at the moment...' and a guy in the audience yelled, 'I'll shag you!' So I called his bluff and said, 'Come on up here then' and he shot back, 'Nah, I've taken a closer look and I don't fancy you!' Really humiliating and not much fun at all, but possibly quite amusing for the audience."
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Ariane added that you gain emotional resilience as a comedian by becoming more experienced and practised at the comebacks. "You don't want to give them the chance to reject you, as I did previously— you've got to get in there first with a funny insult!"
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For those of us who have some trouble firing off clever retors, Ariane said that we can always take inspiration from comedians if things don't come naturally to us. "As I say, heckle putdowns are generally shared among comics so there's no code of honour when it comes to using them (but you mustn't nick original stand-up material!)" she said.
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Earlier, I spoke to comedian Ariane about wit, comebacks, and comedic timing. The professional comedian explained to Bored Panda that when it comes to witty comebacks, they can be spontaneous as well as planned out.
A lot depends on the person thinking up the comeback as well as the particular situation they're in. After all, we've all had moments when we fire off a joke that's 10/10 without knowing how it came to us. We've also been in situations where we're in the shower washing our hair, and we suddenly come up with the ideal comeback to something someone said a week ago. Alas! Usually, it's too late to deploy that perfect comeback because it's far, far too late.
"I've definitely come up with comebacks that are spontaneous," Ariane shared. For instance, I told my daughter that if she didn't behave, I'd give her inheritance to a donkey sanctuary. She said, 'You wouldn't', and I came back, 'You bet your ass!' But though I hadn't used that comeback before, I clearly had knowledge of the pun and might have used something similar in the past."
As for finding the line between a regular comeback and one that makes you laugh out loud, according to comedian Ariane, it's clear for everyone to see when the comeback's good and when it falls flat on its face. "It needs to be very fast, well-timed, and take people by surprise as well as being clever, witty, and immediately understandable." When you break it down like that, the art of the comeback becomes even more daunting than it was before.
Fortunately, our subconscious mind kicks in and takes over from us when we least expect it. (It could do that more often because it's bloody brilliant when it takes charge.) "But that's relatively rare in my experience. I'm sure many other comics are more natural than I am!" Ariane shared that it doesn't happen nearly as often as we'd like.
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Founded back in 2018, the 'Clever Comebacks' subreddit celebrated its third birthday back in January. Since then, it's amassed a huge following that keeps on growing. Since our last post about the community in December 2020, the number of members has grown from 679k to almost 754k.
Not everyone has the nuanced point of view that witty comebacks can be either impulsive or planned out. According to Rhea Wessel writing for the BBC, witty comebacks can only be made in the moment and timing is vital. Without it, there's no wit and no comeback worth remembering.
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While we all secretly enjoy a spot of dark humor here and there, there's an advantage to choosing to go for more positive comebacks instead of negative ones. "Often the best retorts are comebacks that are witty, take the higher moral ground, are appropriate and most importantly, positive," Rhea writes on BBC Worklife.
Choosing positive comebacks over negative ones is especially important in a work setting which can affect the atmosphere and how employees feel about their jobs. "Positive comments are a far better tool for keeping projects on track while showing your love of linguistic acrobatics. Others will find the humor in them and you may see negative interactions quickly cease," Rhea explains.