Insults of the Theatre

Everyone enjoys a clever put-down now and then, but for insults that are truly biting, witty and devastating, you must turn to people of the theatre.

Playwrights, actors, and theater critics use words and language as their stock in trade, so their vocabularies tend to be pretty good, and they’ve been insulting each other for more than 2,000 years.

Actors on actors:

“Richard Burton is so discriminating that he won’t go to see a play with anybody in it but himself.” — Elizabeth Taylor

“Elizabeth Taylor has an incipient double chin, her legs are too short and she has a slight pot belly.” — Richard Burton

Elizabeth Taylor & Richard Burton

Elizabeth Taylor & Richard Burton

“An actor is a guy who, if you ain’t talking about him, ain’t listening,” — Marlon Brando

“Carol Channing never just enters a room. Even when she comes out of the bathroom, her husband applauds.” — George Burns

Advice to actors:

“You are too stupid to be much of an actress, but it will keep you out of mischief.” — The mother of the great actress Sarah Bernhardt

“If you really want to help the American theater, darling, be an audience.” — Tallulah Bankhead (to a young actress)

Tallulah Bankhead

Tallulah Bankhead

And the critics rave:

“Marion Davies has two expressions — joy and indigestion.” — Dorothy Parker

“I saw the play at a disadvantage — the curtain was up.” — George S. Kaufman

“The best play I ever slept through.” — Oscar Wilde

“I’ve seen more excitement at the opening of an umbrella.” — Earl Wilson

Critiquing the critics:

“Critics never worry me unless they are right — but that does not often occur.” — Noel Coward

“The critic is often an unsuccessful author, almost always an inferior one.” — Leigh Hunt

“A drama critic is a man who knows the way but can’t drive the car.” — Kenneth Tynan

Noel Coward

Noel Coward

On directors:

“In the theatre the director is God — but unfortunately the actors are atheists.” — Zero Petan

“The only time the director is of any use to me is if I’ve left my script in the car, and he volunteers to fetch it.” — actor Wilfred Hyde White

On playwrights:

“There are no dull subjects, only dull playwrights.” — Robert Anderson

“An actor without a playwright is like a hole without a doughnut.” — George Jean Nathan

“Darling, they’ve absolutely ruined your perfectly dreadful play.” — Tallulah Bankhead to Tennessee Williams (after seeing the film Orpheus Descending)

Shakespearean slurs

When it comes to vigorously venomous verbiage, you simply can’t touch “the Sweet Swan of Avon,” whose insults include:

 Eloquent abuse:

“How foul and loathsome is thine image!” — Taming of the Shrew

“Would thou wert clean enough to spit upon!” — Timon of Athens.

“(You are) duller than a great thaw.” — Much Ado About Nothing

Name calling:

“Thou drone, thou snail, thou slug, thou sot!” — Comedy of Errors

“Wretched, bloody and usurping boar!” — Richard III

“… you starveling, you eel-skin, you dried neat’s tongue, you bull’s puzzle, you stockfish …” — Henry IV, Part One

“You witch, you rag, you baggage, you polecat, you runion!” — Merry Wives of Windsor



“Thou art a boil, a plague-sore, or embossed carbuncle in my corrupted blood.” — King Lear

“You blocks, you stones, you worse than senseless things!” —Julius Caesar

“Sweep on, you fat and greasy citizens!” — As You Like It

“The son and heir of a mongrel bitch.” — King Lear

And one insult that sounds curiously modern:

“Eat my leek.” — Henry V


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2 Responses to “Insults of the Theatre”

  1. Says: tracking back – Insults of the Theatre… tracking back – Insults of the Theatre…

  2. Clifford Says:

    These are awesome, Adam. Thank you!

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