Keep your humor clean for long-term success -John Kinde of HumorPower.com
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:
"Keep your humor clean for long-term success."
I think Mr. John Kinde of Humorpower.com 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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