“I’m very proud of my gold pocket watch. My grandfather, on his deathbed sold me this watch.” If Albert Einstein wrote gags, that’s the kind of thing he’d have come up with.

There is more intricate subtext, commentary and masterly wordplay going on in those two lines than most novelists achieve in a whole book. Since his early days writing jokes for Sid Caesar and Bob Hope, Woody Allen has taken the art of the one-liner as close to perfection as anyone in the history of comedy.

Furthermore, as a screenwriter and director, Allen has constantly sought out and tackled the Big Questions about life, the universe and everything with a passion equalled only by his hero, Ingmar Bergman. This combination of philosophical curiosity and masterful comic literacy makes him the ideal one-man instruction manual for one to consult as one manoeuvres one’s way through existence.

Here are just a selection of classic Allenisms from his movies. Anyone moved by Irrational Man to visit his back catalogue (a wise move) will find a whole lot more. In any case, as a guide to life, this is a lot funnier than The Little Book of Calm.

Diane Keaton and Woody Allen
Diane Keaton and Woody Allen

Woody Allen on mothers.

“I wrote this short story about my mother called ‘The Castrating Zionist.’”

(Manhattan. 1979)

“In my family, nobody ever committed suicide…my mother was too busy running the boiled chicken through the deflavourizing machine to think about shooting herself or anything.”

(Stardust Memories. 1980)

Woody Allen

On adolescent sexual curiosity.

“I once stole a pornographic book that was printed in braille – I used to rub the dirty parts.”

(Bananas. 1971)

On chat-up lines.

“You have the most eyes.”

(Love and Death. 1975)


Love and Death

On persistence.

“What are you doing Saturday night?”

“Committing suicide.”

“What about Friday night?”

(Play It Again. Sam. 1972)

Check out our look at Woody Allen’s Underrated Films.

On lousy first dates.

“I had a great evening. It was like the Nuremberg trials.”

(Hannah & Her Sisters. 1986)

Woody Allen fight

On getting out of a fight.

“Achilles only had an Achilles heel, I have an entire Achilles body!”

(Mighty Aphrodite. 1995)

“I’m not the heroic type. Really, I was beaten up by Quakers.”

(Sleeper 1973)


On failing to get out of a fight.

“I had to teach them a lesson… I snapped my chin down onto some guy’s fist and hit another one in the knee with my nose.”

(Play It Again, Sam. 1972)

Woody Allen manhataan

On political activism.

“Have you ever taken a serious political stand on anything?”

“Sure; for 24 hours once I refused to eat grapes.”

(Sleeper 1973)

Check out our picks of Allen’s films from the last five decades.

On rock music.

“Did you catch Dylan?”

“No, my raccoon had hepatitis.”

“(The Maharishi)’s got millions of followers who would crawl across the world just to touch the hem of his garment.”

“It must be a tremendous hem…I was at an Alice Cooper thing where six people were rushed to the hospital with bad vibes.”

(Annie Hall. 1977)

Everything you always wanted to know about sexOn Shakespeare.

“TB or not TB. That is the congestion. Consumption be done about it? Of cough, of cough.” (Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex* but were afraid to ask. 1972)


On religion.

“I can’t get with any religion that advertises in ‘Popular Mechanics.’”

(Annie Hall. 1977)

“I spoke often with Father Nikolai, who was always dressed in black with a black beard. For years, I thought he was an Italian widow.”

(Love & Death. 1975)


On marriage.

We fell in love. Well, I fell in love, she just stood there.

(Bananas. 1972)

“I think people should mate for life like pigeons, or Catholics.”

(Manhattan. 1979)

“A relationship, I think is like a shark. It has to constantly move forward or it dies, and I think that what we’ve got on our hands is a dead shark.”

(Annie Hall. 1977)


On divorce.

“Arlene and I have to get a divorce. She thinks I’m a pervert because I drank our water-bed.”

(Sleeper. 1973)

“I got a divorce because my ex-wife left me for another woman…I thought I took it rather well under the circumstances: I tried to run them both over with a car.”

(Manhattan. 1979)


Woody Allen and Mia Farrow.

On bad parking.

“That’s all right, we can walk to the kerb from here.”

(Annie Hall. 1977)


On the wisdom of old age.

“The most important words in the English language are not ‘I love you’ but ‘It’s benign.’”

(Deconstructing Harry. 1997)

“My life is passing before my eyes – the worst part about it is that I’m driving a used car.”

(Manhattan Murder Mystery. 1994)


On grandparents.

“My Grammy never gave gifts; she was too busy getting raped by Cossacks.”

(Annie Hall. 1977)


On death.

“What’s (death) like?”

“You know the chicken at Tresky’s restaurant? It’s worse.”

(Love & Death. 1975)


Diane Keaton & Woody Allen
Diane Keaton & Woody Allen

In conclusion…

“You don’t want your life to wind up as black & white newsreel footage scored by a cello in a minor key.”

(Anything Else. 2003)

“So what do you believe in?”

“Sex and death. Two things that happen once in my lifetime. But at least after death you’re not nauseous.”

(Sleeper. 1973)

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