"Swimming isn’t a sport. Swimming is a way to keep from drowning” is a joke that has been credited—correctly—to both American comedian George Carlin (1937-2008) and American film director and actor Woody Allen. Allen acted in (but did not write or direct) the film The Front (1996), where his character said:
“Swimming’s not a sport, swimming’s what you do so that you shouldn’t drown.”
George Carlin used the joke in his comedy routine by at least 1986. Carlin wrote in his book, Napalm & Silly Putty (2001):
“Swimming isn’t a sport. Swimming is a way to keep from drowning.”
The Internet Movie Database
The Front (1976)
Howard Prince: Swimming’s not a sport, swimming’s what you do so that you shouldn’t drown.
(Screenplay by Walter Bernstein.—ed.)
Kathleen, Please Come Home
By Scott O’Dell
Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin
Woody Allen said that swimming isn’t a sport. It’s something you do to keep from drowning.
Google News Archive
2 June 1986, The Deseret News (Salt Lake City, UT), “George Carlin: funny, but obnoxiously long” by Jerry Spangler, pg. 6C, col. 2:
perhaps the best moment of the show was his explanation of why baseball, basketball and football are the only true sports. Swimming is only a way to keep from drowning, ...
20 September 1988, Aberdeen (SD) American News, “Mermaid wears a smile of gold” by Mike Downey, pg. 1B, col. 1:
SEOUL—In a movie once, Woody Allen asked his date if she ever played any sports in school.
“Swimming,” she said. “I swam.”
Woody made a face.
“Swimming is not a sport,” he said. “Swimming is what you do to keep from drowning.”
By John Baxter
Florence says she enjoys swimming, but Prince snorts, ‘Swimming isn’t a sport. It’s what you do to keep from drowning.’
Napalm & Silly Putty
By George Carlin
New York, NY: Hyperion
Swimming. Swimming isn’t a sport. Swimming is a way to keep from drowning. That’s just common sense.
The Mammoth Book of Comic Quotes
By Geoff Tibballs
London: Constable & Robinson Ltd.
Swimming isn’t a sport. It’s just a way to keep from drowning.