Photo by Muffy Aldrich
The Modern Guide to The Thing Before Preppy

Sunday, September 3, 2023

The Dry Humor of WASPs

WASP humor is dry.  Perhaps the perfect line would elicit a small, appreciative chuckle about a week after delivered.

That may be a slight exaggeration, but only slight. 

My father would regularly deliver amusing verbal ripostes in such deadpan that only the slightest twinkle might give it away.  There would be a predictable pause as guests processed the comment.  Laughter would cascade out from his epicenter. Then, only after the reaction subsided, would my father flash a trace of acknowledgement.

In fact, I have been on enough shoots with my father that I can tell in nearly every photograph (where I wasn't there) when the subject is reacting to my father's humor. (Some examples below.)

Humor can be topical but not political; philosophical but not religious; delivered in lines not stories; intellectual even deconstructing but not ostentatious; self deprecating but never dour; tailored to the group but never pandering; risqué but only just; from a bit of a rascal, but never small or mean spirited.  

More than how one is dressed or lives, how much or little money one has, or job titles or degrees, or power, I think it is the shared sense of humor that makes people feel they are among kindred spirits.  

Paleoanthropologist and Archaeologist Louis Leakey.  Photos by My Father

Choate Headmaster Seymour St. John  

Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan

A Connecticut Shoreline Resident Who Shall Remain Nameless

New York City Mayor John Lindsay

Actor Kirk Douglas

Smithsonian Secretary S. Dillon Ripley

New Haven Symphony Orchestra

Composer Richard Rodgers


Alden Whitman, Obit Writer for the New York Times

Astronaut John Glenn


  1. Rye humor is very appreciated by Episcopalians even when on the rocks.

    1. Yes, we are an old fashioned lot.

    2. Indeed. This reminds me so much of my late mother, maternal grand parents, and extended family (southern Episcopalians with a smattering of Methodists and one New England Catholic). All terribly funny but in the most wry, quiet of ways. More so after a drink or two over the Bridge table. Never anything raucous or off color came out of their mouths, but very funny nonetheless.

      Kind Regards,


    3. Wry. Rye is a grain

  2. WASP = We always say please

  3. When I lived on the Horn of Africa (“God’s joke on man”) I was constantly reminded nomadic herdsmen enjoy a good laugh as much as anyone. Start with a smile, no matter who you are facing. It can inspire encounters you never imagine.

  4. So very true! And what wonderful photographs! Thank you! Cheers!

  5. What a gift to be able to nudge his sitters into their best demeanor.

  6. Thank you for a serving of food for the soul.


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