Repartee: "I'm writing a book." "Neither am I." (attrib Peter Cook 1984)

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Wed Jul 24 08:52:22 UTC 2013

Fred Shapiro asked about the following joke:
> Neither am I.
> Peter Cook ... on being told that the person sitting next to him at a dinner party was "writing a book"

There is evidence that the joke appeared in a cartoon that was created
via collaboration between Peter Cook and Barry Fantoni. There are
multiple claims that the cartoon was published in the UK periodical
"Private Eye", but currently I do not know the time frame.

After Peter Cook died The Guardian UK published "Satire's brightest
star Peter Cook" on January 10, 1995. Friends of Cook shared memories
of his life. The cartoonist Barry Fantoni wrote an article that
mentioned the joke. Fantoni claimed that the caption of a cartoon that
he drew was given to him during a conversation with Peter Cook.

The text of the Guardian article is apparently available at the
following link. The term "he" refers to Peter Cook:

Title: Satire's brightest star - part 4
Author: Barry Fantoni

[Begin excerpt]
During a big fight or cup match on TV, he would ring me, or I him and
we'd watch the contest in our own homes, while at the same time
amusing each other with personal observations. This would have a
particular poignancy, and more jokes if Spurs were playing - Peter was
an avid Spurs fan.

It was during such TV phone-ins that more general jokes would come
about. The only time I drew a cartoon with a caption by Peter, arose
from such a bout of casual banter. Two men are talking in a pub. One
says: "I'm writing a book." The other says: "Neither am I."
[End excerpt]

Here is a blog article that references the cartoon, but no date is given:

Title: Neither am I.
Date: January 5, 2011

[Begin excerpt]
In a famous Cook and Fantoni cartoon (from Private Eye ages ago) two
badly drawn men are standing together at a party. One says, “I’m
writing a book”, the other replies, “Neither am I”. It was funny
because it seemed everyone claimed they were at the time. Writing a
book was the pre-internet dream ticket to money and fame, but few got
around to it.
[End excerpt]

Here is another reference to the cartoon. In this instance the caption
is different. The word "book" is replaced by "novel".

Title: Q&A: Peter Florence Answers Your Questions
Publication: Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date: May 24, 2003
Database: Questia

[Begin excerpt]
......any books? If not, why not? A: There's a cartoon that the great
Peter Cook wrote with Barry Fantoni. Two guys are standing in a bar
and one of them says, 'I'm writing a novel'. The other says, `Neither
am I'.
[End excerpt]

I have seen several comments of the type presented above; however, the
cites do not  identify the time period of the cartoon. Barry Fantoni
is alive, and he may know the date of publication.

The other main piece of evidence for the quotation is from Nigel Rees.
Who states the joke was attributed to Peter Cook during the Quote
Unquote BBC Radio program in 1984.  Here is what Nigel wrote in

[ref] 2001, Cassell's Humorous Quotations, Compiled by Nigel Rees,
Section: Conversational gambits, Page 94, [Cassell, London], Sterling
Pub. Co., New York. (Verified on paper) [/ref]

[Begin excerpt]
On being told that the person sitting next to him at a dinner party
was 'writing a book':

6  Neither am I.

Peter Cook, English humorist (1937-95). Quoted by Richard Ingrams on
BBC Radio  Quote ... Unquote (25 August 1984), though Cook declined to
claim it as original.
[End excerpt]


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