Scott Comedy Tip Number 43: Use Your Profanity Wisely

Forget You and Forget you too.

I greatly admire the Brian Regan’s of the world, but my favorite comedy has an adult edge to it. Since I like the money of a corporate event, I have a PG show which works well at corporates, but my favorite jokes are generally more R-rated.  I never offer up any restrictions to an opening act besides do your own material and do your time.  Especially at one-nighters, I think a comedian will need to use some language because you are at a bar.  Do you think a Scorcese mafia film would be good without profanity? Nope. It would be less than authentic.  I think the same generally goes for standup comedy in a bar/nightclub.

Here is where the advice comes in. Don’t use adult language gratuitously.  Specifically–Don’t waste your fucks. Fuck is a magical word. Even though it is used so much more than in the past, it still manages to cut through the air like few other words.  Now I am not prude, but even at my most difficult gig, I might use it 5 0r 6 times during an hour. When you use it too much you take the risk of doing 1 of 3 things.

1. You take the power away from the word Fuck.

Used in the right place, fuck is a great punch-up for a joke.  My favorite place to use it is with the accompaniment of another F word, as I love the alliteration of it.  I’ve heard too many young comics drop numerous F-bombs in just describing the elements that gets them to the punchline. (Example: So I was going to the fucking post office and the fucking person behind the desk had no fucking stamps.)  I think it is a waste.  Save it for special occasions.  I also think the word works well when you are expressing anger at something non-sexual.  Now when you are discussing sex, I think Fucking can be a little scary to some women in the audience, unless you are have playing some type of Andrew Dice Clay character.

2. Certain people in the audiences will start to tune you out.

As much as you might have become really comfortable with the word in your life there are still plenty of other people who don’t hear it much in their own.  Remember that it was only 45 years ago that Lenny Bruce was getting arrested for saying a word like this.  I think almost everyone has come to the realization that there will be some adult content at a comedy show, but if the word is constantly used, it becomes difficult to deal with for some.

3. You are going to get less work.

Some comedy clubs to have a fuck meter for opening and feature acts.  You can say it only a couple of times or none at all.  The biggest reason they do this is because headliners don’t like a comic who says it too much before them.  Of course, clean comics don’t want to follow someone dropping a bunch of F-bombs, but you might be surprised to know that edgier comics don’t like it much more.  When you follow someone who has been really profane before you, it take the edge off of your material and I’ve found that most of the audience will tire of a certain style if they watch it all night.  There is a fine art to booking comedy shows, so if you have one dirty act following another it can be overkill, unless the audience specifically came for it.

Now there are exceptions to this rule.  I think Black or Italian comics who really play up their heritage seem to own the word better. So do comics who have a strong East coast accent.  I mean if Nick DiPaolo or Martin Lawrence drops a F-bomb, it seems completely natural.  Wouldn’t work quite the same coming out of Jim Gaffigan’s face.  I also think the older you get the more the audience is willing to accept it coming out of your mouth because it is almost like the audience thinks you have earned it.  Older people who watch young comics curse a lot I think are more apt to think that comic is juvenile and not intelligent.  Might not be fair, but I think this is generally the case.

As I said before, I embrace edgy comedy. Maybe you are the next Doug Stanhope. He got plenty of advice from people telling him to tone it down and he ignored it.  It has been my experience, though, that for every comic with Stanhope’s brain there are a 1000’s who use the language without the context that makes it all work.  I just would advise young comics to use your profanity wisely.  I’m sure some of you are reading this thinking Fuck this guy. Fine. Go Fuck yourself.


2 thoughts on “Scott Comedy Tip Number 43: Use Your Profanity Wisely

  1. Thanks for the great post! I am still very new to the standup world, but this is the kind of advice I have been looking for on the “F word”. Very well put.

    1. I’m glad it was helpful. This is part of why I’m writing this blog. Comedians can be like magicians afraid to give away the inner sanctum behind the real tricks of the trade.

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