Prince Philip, who died last week at the age of 99, was many things: Navy man, father to four, The Crown lookalike act and, in his role as husband to Queen Elizabeth II, a noted wife guy. His life was a remarkable one because, while the historical record is thin on what exactly his job entailed, he did it while handsomely paid and in great comfort.
Whatever Philip did, it was often in public and in service of the British monarchy. He and his wife crisscrossed the world together looking mildly interested and never annoyed, which is a type of achievement considering how many politicians they had to spend time with. You could say that he achieved work-life balance.
But by far, his defining work is the effort he put into being an insult comic. For each of the seven decades that he was in public life, Philip cherished a lightly hurled invective. His best recurring bit was calling himself “the world’s most experienced plaque unveiler,” which he’d say before, well, unveiling a plaque. Local reporters and area dignitaries would chuckle warmly. It would break up the solemnity and shock of seeing a new plaque. His willingness to joke about himself and the uselessness of his job showed a sense of reflection and wit.
Long before and well after comedians started complaining about public censure in comedy, Prince Philip kept up the banter, unapologetically committed to the bit. The euphemism industry mourns his death. In their eyes, he was “gaffe-prone,” “outspoken,” making a “joke,” making “off-kilter remarks,” “cringe-inducing” and “plain speaking.” When the prince retired from public life in 2017, only the finest and most rare euphemisms (“national treasure”) honoured his long history of saying really messed up things. Here are some of his “politically incorrect” alleged jokes, rated and ranked.
- “You want to know why children go to school? They go to school because their parents don’t want them at home:” On its own, a decent dad-like joke that could use some workshopping. However, he said it in 2013 to Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teen who was shot by the Taliban for going to school. According to Sky News, “Malala said afterwards, “He said parents are tired of children, and that’s why they send them to school, and I laughed.” Malala gets it. 4.20/10.
- “If you stay here much longer you’ll all be slitty-eyed:” He said this to a group of British students while visiting China in 1986. Highkey racist. 0/10.
- “Oh no, I might catch some ghastly disease:” A response to a 2015 offer to stroke a koala in Australia. Initially, this seems anti-koala and anti-Australian, until you learn that koalas have chlamydia (though humans can only catch one strain of it). Unclear if it was funny to the koala but it’ll do. 6.9/10
- “The Philippines must be half empty as you’re all here running the NHS:” Said to a Filipina nurse while visiting a U.K. hospital in 2013. Many Filipino people risk their families and their wellbeing to support other people’s families and well-being. He might have meant it as a compliment but people who don’t do their own laundry should tread carefully. This one has bad vibes. 1/10
- “There’s a lot of your family in tonight:” A remark to businessman Atul Patel at a palace reception for British Indians in 2009. Overly familiar and racist. Joan Rivers would never. 0/10.
- “I declare this thing open, whatever it is:” A classic from a trip to Canada in 1969. Whatever the thing was has been lost to time, which makes the joke actually quite good. Instead of free-associating racist and sexist stereotypes, he should have just kept roasting Canada and his extremely trivial job. Stayed in his lane, rude to Canada. 9.5/10.
All this and yet, he was never fired (or “cancelled”) because his boss is his wife. In the end, perhaps Philip’s lasting legacy will be as a #CareerGoals role model. Despite his “impressive pedigree” (read: born rich to rich people), he doggedly pursued his dream job, becoming the greatest international insult comic, Colonizer Edition.
Correction: This post has been edited. Malala Yousafzai is Pakistani, not Afghan.