Thursday, July 19, 2007

To Curse or Not to Curse?

Keep your humor clean for long-term success -John Kinde of

That is the question.

I've realized that I want to curb the use of any bad words in my set and officially stamp myself as a completely clean standup comic. I have two reasons for this:

1) Marketability

"Keep your humor clean for long-term success."

I think Mr. John Kinde of has it right. I've already noticed that comedians (who aren't even that successful yet) have to start changing their material to fit specific audiences. Comedians will have to do that anyway, because of ancillary gigs. There might be corporate events, or events with kids in the audience, or just plain censoring. As a beginner comedian, it's really easy to start getting paid on the college circuit. And when that starts happening, those very same beginner comedians are receiving lists of what not to say while on stage--sometimes minutes before going on. Who wants to deal with that type of added pressure?

Now some comedians say, "Yeah, yeah, sure, sure.." and completely toss the list. And as a comedian you risk alienating your audience or even worse your bookers/GMs/managers/agents and any one else you have to deal with in to book a show--especially if you're not that widely known or established. Sure. Dave Attell can shirk admonishment and fair warning, perform a set complete with cussin', and walk offstage with another job in tow, reputation unscathed. But can Joe Nobody from Wichita afford to lose the publicity and gain bad press?

If your material is already clean, then you won't have any of the headaches. And you can bet when you get a set on any of the late night shows (Conan O'Brien, David Letterman, Jay Leno) you're getting ramrodded into doing a clean set--Middle America can't handle anything risqué or off-color.

2) The Challenge

When I first entered the scene, in fact even at my first open mic, all I heard were people swearing left and right. All the jokes were blue.1 along with a wave of general misogyny, which didn't help motivate me to get on stage, being a woman. To be honest, I almost turned around and left right there and then. At the time, after witnessing that, I thought, "If this is comedy, then this isn't for me."

Is this what comedy really is like?

But I then remembered thinking, this is the side of comedy you won't see on TV. You'll never see the dingy dirty basement humor unless you attend an open mic yourself. There's a reason this kind of comedy will never leave that basement. Not only is it not funny enough to make the real set, but it also alienates the audience.

Audience members want to relate to you, the comedian. They want to be with you, right there next you in the story/joke. If you humor is about killing, raping, maiming anyone, you may be lucky to get one or two laughs. I remember one comedienne friend of mine telling me, "I don't laugh at rape jokes." Rape jokes? Like rape jokes are common category! Geez! (By that time, I was only a month into the scene.)

Seinfeld mentions both of the above reasons as to why he kept his comedy clean. Those and one more reason: Mr. Bill Cosby, who was a huge influence on Seinfeld, along with many others.

So I rest my case. I'm keeping it clean, like in a boxing match--above the belt. My goal is reach everyone, so that everyone can get the message. Isn't that the only way to go?

1 The term blue comedy or blue humor is comedy that is profane or obscene. You would often hear it uttered in a sentence like, "His comedy is very blue." "She's doing her blue set tonight." [Return]


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RAFFI said...

sometimes i enjoy blue comedy (eddie murphy, martin lawrence, andy clay, etc.), but since i'm not in the business i never thought about marketability and job offers. oh well, i'm off to be my blue self tonight.. have a great weekend.

Fever Dog said...

I think it's admirable you'd want to do it for the challenge, and not solely the marketability

Lucy said...

raffi - I do enjoy blue comedy. But you can only go so far with it. Notice with all whom you referenced have either gone completely PG-13 or they're off the market completely.

fever dog - thanks. but perhaps you should be thanking Seinfeld--for I believe he is MY influence

Bone said...

Very interesting thoughts, Lucy. I think you're right on the mark. I've always thought most anyone could just go off on a profanity-laced rant or do crude jokes for a few laughs.

Oh, thanks for visiting my blog :)

Indeterminacy said...

The type of language used in sketches is a big issue for me, not that I don't mind expletives, cleverly used. Richard Pryor was a master of this. So hilarious and obscene at the same time. But I've heard so many contemporary sketches filled with f***, etc where the language doesn't add anything. It's completely superfluous in my ears, and if anything, serves only to show that the comic is "cool". Having to use that language seems to me admitting defeat - it shows the comic couldn't think of any cleverer way to express his/her point.

Some of the most sublime humor I know has been from radio programs like The Jack Benny Show, Fred Allen, or Burns and Allen - where such language is unknown.

That's my opinion as an audience member.

JohnB said...

hi Lucy! I wanted to thank you for that righteous comment over at my place...and I must say I have rarely been in a position to glimpse into this world of stand-up other than attending 'comedy night' here at this chai tea house called "Mr Spot's" here in Seattle...always have a great time doing so...

Moose-Tipping said...

Before I read the complete entry, I was skimming, and was going to comment that Bill Cosby has the cleanest-- and best-- stand-up act ever...

...and then you mentioned him.

So yeah... go Bill.

jameil1922 said...

sinbad is one of my fave comics. he cracks me up. i need him to come out of whereever he's hiding. i saw sommore and her whole act was blue. some was funny but it was a bit much after a while. i mean geez.

Lucy said...

bone - thanks bone. glad you agree.

indeterminacy - yeah, I think expletives used in comedy is an "easy-out" and doesn't challenge the comedian. Plus, it limits your audience. HBO or NBC?

johnB - I have a college buddy who lives in Seattle. I have always wanted to venture there. I know I'll make it there one day. Clearly, Seattle has the infrastructure for music rather than comedy. (Although, there would be an easy switch if it was ever needed--- a lot less to set-up.)

moose-tipping - Bill Cosby is a legend. Hands down.

jameil1922 - I'm not such a big fan a Sinbad, unfortunately. He seems to be the type of comic that always heads back to the older standard of black/white comedy. They even reference it in this Simpsons clip. I guess I was never a fan. It was funny in the late 80s and early 90s, but if he were to bring that back, I don't think it would hit quite as well. I believe that this specific kind of comedy is dated and obsolete and needs to change perhaps pushing society into a more varied and deeper realm.

Anonymous said...

You are right!! Most black comics, and white comics trying to appeal to black audiences, do almost nothing in their jokes but show the difference between what white people and black people do. It is tiring (So the Simpsons family is white! Didn't know that until Homer's admission in the clip you posted!).

As far as cleaning up the act goes: yes, it definitely will gain you more marketability and larger audiences. But it will allow you to express things the way you want to express them? And will it feel natural?