Excerpts from Art Buchwald's speech yesterday at his 80th birthday party at the French Embassy, benefiting the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

Becoming 80 is a matter of life and death.

I chose life. It is a much better position to be in, and it is easier on your back.

Averell Harriman gave me the best advice on becoming 80. When you arrive at that age, you can do anything you want and you don't have to do anything you don't want to -- and if someone starts bugging you, you can always turn off your hearing aid.

Mr. Ambassador, it is fitting that the best years of my life, from 1948 to 1962, were spent in Paris writing for the European edition of the New York Herald Tribune. I started life as food and wine critic, and then became a columnist, hanging my hat wherever I wanted to.

People have asked me why my French is so bad, and I can only reply, "Je ne sais pas."

My finest moment in using the language is when I got into a shouting match with a Paris taxicab driver. He called me every curse word in the book. When he was finished I said, "Oh, je suis, suis je?"

My adventures in Paris could not be topped.

Once I stood on the Champs-Elysees and watched a communist demonstration from the Arc de Triomphe. Leading the parade was Pablo Picasso.

I yelled, "Pablo, Pablo!" as he marched by. He looked the other way, but it didn't matter.

When people ask if I knew Picasso, I say, "Knew him? I used to see him on the Champs-Elysees all the time."

My finest moment in Paris was when Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev came to France and President Charles de Gaulle offered to entertain him at the opera.

It was a white-tie affair, and I was invited as a member of the foreign press.

I rented tails and was seated in the balcony.

The opera bored me, so in the middle of it I walked out to the second-floor lobby. There were velvet drapes covering the windows. I drew them open and there were 20,000 communists in the square waiting to see Khrushchev.

I went out on the balcony and 20,000 people cheered. I raised my arms and 20,000 people raised their arms. They were so happy to see anyone on the balcony, Mussolini could not have had a better crowd.

The next day I called the U.S. Embassy and told them, "I can make the communists do anything I want them to."

You carry grudges all during your lifetime. They make you feel warm inside. The ones I have never gotten over are the hurts of my childhood.

Then, when I grew up, I held a grudge against Eddie Murphy and Paramount Pictures for lifting my idea for "Coming to America."

And the big one -- after 50 years, the New York Times dropped my column from the European edition of the Herald Tribune.

At a certain time in life -- actually, right now -- you ask two questions. "What was I doing here?" and "Where I am going?"

The first answer is a narcissistic one. I believe I was put on Earth to make people laugh.

The second one is much harder. I have no idea where I'm going, and no one else knows, and if they claim they do, they don't know what they're talking about.

And so the curtain almost falls on Act 3.

I thank all of you for being here tonight. I defy anyone to have a better 80th birthday.

Au revoir, dear friends. I hope you will see me around for a long time.

(c) 2005, Tribune Media Services