“Bunk Banquets” (E65)

  • Originally printed:  Liberty Magazine – issue not identified/year not known
  • First reprinted in: The Best of Robert Benchley (1983)
  • Original Byline: Unknown



Benchley anatomizes and anathematizes the machinations behind the plague of banquets afflicting the American social scene. As in “Accustomed As I Am–” (E3), our hero knows he is a voice crying unheard beneath the din of clinking glasses and cleared throats, but he can’t resist getting up to say a few words. Our intrepid reporter takes us step by step through an exposé outlining the hypothetical conception, promotion, and successful realization of a sham event hosted by the American Academy of Natural and Applied Arts, an organization invented for the sole purpose of giving this very banquet.

Not a single attendee suspects there is anything amiss with the proceedings; and, in fact, Benchley concludes, perhaps there isn’t. As with so much else that transpires at the executive level of American business culture, sheer spuriousness spurs the whole corrupt enterprise along. We can hardly condemn good ol’ H. G. Wamsley for skimming a little profit off the top hats when his marks are so eager to co-sign the grift.

RB is past caring about the ethical implications of such consensual chicanery. In fact, he is far more concerned about the thousands of “good faith” banquets clogging halls across the country. “Cui bono?” our detective asks himself. And comes up with: “no one.” Not the organizers. Not the guests. And certainly not Benchley, who must live with this knowledge. Ultimately, he leaves us with the chilling suggestion that most of these abominations occur for no reason whatsoever.

Favorite Moment:

There are certain banquets which it is probably hopeless to try to forestall. Trade conventions, associated college clubs, visiting conventions, all more or less demand a culminating celebration of some sort, and a banquet is the only thing that our national imagination seems capable of devising. But there are banquets which have not even the justification of camaraderie or the brotherhood of selling the same line of goods.

Reprint Notes:

  • Unable to compare text with original Liberty piece.

“Accustomed As I Am–” (E3)

  • Originally printed: Liberty Magazine, October 18, 1930
  • First reprinted in: Benchley Lost and Found
  • Unable to compare reprint with original text – Liberty Historical Archives not available at Toronto Public Library
  • Original Byline: unknown


Here we find RB in the grip of a signature frustration – his inability to get the last word in a confrontation with an appreciative, uncomprehending audience. The piece begins and ends with our narrator exulting in his near escape from the toastmaster racket. Incorporating bits of Benchleyan biographical detail, the speaker chronicles his first taste of after dinner agony as a society reporter forced to witness the witless in their business class habitat. Seeking to put a stake in this appalling rite, RB prepares his own bourgeois burlesques – and finds himself a stakeholder instead. As the nightmare deepens, the author discovers that every hurtful word he hurls only pulls him more inexorably to the next podium on the circuit. Anyone who would attend such a gathering must obviously hate themselves – and to hate them is to be one of them. You can’t mock mock-civility in a banquet hall.

Favourite moment:
“I worked up some after-dinner speeches of my own, built along conventional lines, and wormed my way into banquet programs, where I would deliver them in hopes of offending some of the old boys who had tortured me for so long.”