Forget the beluga whale the aphorism is becoming extinct faster than any rare creature. While every gay man this side of John Waters would like to think of himself as a master of the bon mot, the truth is that most of us are conversational try-hards. Who are the new Dorothy Parkers and Oscar Wildes, the up 'n' coming icons of fast talk and turns of phrase? Dan Savage? Honorary nellie Carrie Fisher? Bill La Bill, or whatever his name is?
Have we finally arrived at Wit's End?
Quentin Crisp is nearly 91. An ailment has left his writing hand disabled. His tongue, however, is very much intact. And so, to keep himself in henna and his one-room, New York apartment, Crisp has turned to the lecture circuit. An Evening With Quentin Crisp, which stops at Buddies In Bad Times as a fundraiser for the theatre, is the perfect showcase for Crisp as port-a-wag, as rent-a-mouth. Propped up in a winged-back chair, he offers his thoughts on everything from cable TV to the myth of romantic love.
In the second half of the show, he graciously opens the floor to questions, an invaluable chance to partake of some Crispy wisdom of our very own.
Speaking with a professional raconteur is an oddly calming experience. Over the phone, Crisp talks with such easy conviction that even his most inflammatory statements come across as soothing, homespun homilies.
This can partly be put down to practice; afterward, flipping through his press kit, I discover that Crisp recycles his quips over and over and over. Still, as the greatest living gay wit, most of what he says bears repeating.
GREG KEARNEY: What brings you to Canada?
QUENTIN CRISP: I've been sold into slavery by an English policeman. I must go to Canada. I must go to Buddies In Bad Times Theatre, which is painted purple. I must sit in a chair there. Then, I must return to my hotel and weep silently.
GK: How do you find Canadian audiences?
QC: Terribly appreciative. Last time I was here, I sneezed by mistake and received thunderous ovation.
GK: You're 91, now. Well done!
QC: Yes. I will die soon. I'm busy tearing up old papers so that my will won't be difficult to find.
GK: Do you have any pets?
QC: I hate pets. You have to look after them and they do nothing. Also, pets are the perfect alibi for reluctant visitors: "We'd love to stay with you, but there's Bo-Bo to consider."
GK: A day in the life . . . ?
QC: I do crossword puzzles. I watch television. I like my programs to be urban, nocturnal and threatening: Homicide, Law And Order. The only emotion we cannot mistake, we know we feel, is fear.
GK: Advice for the lovelorn?
QC: Don't expect anyone to love you. In fact, they will despise you. Unless you pay them in some way. No one simply volunteers their affection. And I've never loved anyone as much as I love money.
GK: Are you often recognized and fawned over by grateful gay men in New York?
QC: I am often sneered at by hateful gay men. I'm very unpopular. I get letters along the lines of: "Finish it up already! Drop dead!"
GK: Any last reflections on the twentieth century?
QC: America is obsessed with the passing of time, labeling decades and whatnot. Of course, nothing will change after 2000. It was, and is, the century of tyrants Mussolini, Hitler. And Princess Di, who was trash and got what she deserved. What was she doing swarming about with Arabs when she could have been Queen of England?
GK: Oh, dear. Okay. Final thoughts?
QC: As I said, after the show, I shall have a good cry alone in my hotel room. Then I shall return to New York and sit in my room, awaiting further instructions from the English policeman/slave trader.
As I said, the best wits repeat themselves, often within the same conversation. Apparently, they are also not averse to a little xenophobia. I hope you were writing this down, Carrie Fisher and Don La Don.
This interview was published by Pink Triangle Press and first appeared in May 1999 at Xtra! Quentin Crisp performed An Evening With Quentin Crisp at Buddies In Bad Times Theatre in Toronto, Canada, on May 11 and 12, 1996. Mr. Crisp enjoyed traveling to Canada and often said that should he be "kicked out of America" for being homosexual that Canada would be his next home of exile.