Will Cuppy: Factual fun sauteed with satire
"Aristotle taught that the brain exists merely to cool the blood and is not involved in the thinking. This is true only of certain persons."
"If an animal does something, we call it instinct; if we do the same thing for the same reason, we call it intelligence."
"Etiquette means behaving yourself a little better than is absolutely essential."
"We all make mistakes, but intelligence enables us to do it on purpose."
Will J. Cuppy is one of America's great humorists, but few today recall his name. Although he was born and raised in Auburn, Indiana, any Hoosier legacy was tied to South Whitley, Indiana, where young Cuppy's paternal grandmother, Sarah, had a farm. Because he often satirized human behavior under the guise of natural history, he later confessed that it was on his grandmother's farm where he "acquired my first knowledge of the birds and the flowers and all the other aspects of animate nature which I have treated none too kindly in some of my writing."
Yet, Cuppy's skewering of humanity was often the subtext of these flora and fauna "studies," and is best summarized by the title of his book, How to Tell Your Friends from the Apes (1931). Moreover, with the possible exception of Robert Benchley, no other American humorist was more gifted than Cuppy in the inspired comic christening of his books. His other principle titles include: How to Be a Hermit (1929), How to Become Extinct (1941), How to Attract the Wombat (1949), and The Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody (1950). Whether Cuppy derails man or lesser creatures on the evolutionary chain, there is often a generous helping of dark comedy. For example, here are two passages from his Apes text: "The Howling Monkey is confined to South America but seems to escape. His howl is caused by a large hyoid at the top of the trachea. It can be cured by a simple operation on the neck with an ax." Or, "The Spectral Tarsier [Lemur] of the West Indies ... has huge bug-eyes, elongated ankles and knobby toes. He is sometimes confused with Delirium Tremors."
The fact that even many Cuppy fans missed his veiled anthropomorphic use of animals merely underlined why he was a satirist--the human species definitely needed some remedial classes. Late in his life, Cuppy baldly addressed the subject in "Are Wombats People?," his biting preface to the Wombat book. With comic author angst, he revealed the question so often asked: "'Why don't you write about people, Will?' They always do [ask]. They have, through the years....To give you an idea, the first friend I met on the street after writing that book on Apes ... shouted from afar, 'Why don't you write about people, Will?' This surprised me the more since I had used that very lady as the model for my article on the chimp in that volume."
The title of Cuppy's first popular success as a humorist underlined his true feelings about...