I believe pretty much any word or subject can be made funny to almost anyone with an open mind. Having said that, saying stuff to be shocking for shock sake rarely works and is generally lazy writing. I did a show recently, where the venue let an open-mike comic who had won a contest recently, get up in front of me. He tried to do a lot of shocking material and even used the word Nigger in a bit, which did nothing for the comic except make the audience uneasy.
I discussed the topic with him afterwards. It first should be mentioned that this young comic was very liberal politically and meant nothing racist about the bit he was trying to do. The problem was that he wasn’t good enough to make the joke he was trying to do funny. I explained that when you start out as a standup it’s important for your future stage time opportunities to not do any stuff that is really offensive in tone. As someone whose favorite comics were Carlin, Hicks, etc. this was hard for me to follow at the beginning, but I had enough sense to realize that I needed to dance the edge between edgy and offensive, if I wanted a chance to keep getting onstage.. Remember that Carlin started off doing standup as a comedy team and then progressed over into doing silly characters with some edge, like the hippy dippy weather man. Hicks didn’t start off discussing his hatred of the first gulf war. Not even Doug Stanhope began as standup trying to walk the average crowd member right from the start.
Even when you reach the point of feature act, you have a hard time being very edgy and getting work because as I have outlined before, headliners don’t want to generally follow someone with an act like that. Even when you reach the headliner spot, if you are not a big draw act, you need to watch what you say. I have been told by clubs that certain words are not to be said, with Cunt top of the list. I have always agreed with that one, because I have never seen a comic in my career say that word and not set themselves back. I heard jokes about rape, incest, religion, murder, etc. which have gotten big laughs, but the word Cunt has always been the exception. Until now!
So I’ve been working on a bit about how I hate when people tell a parent like myself who has a child with special needs that “God only gives you what you can handle.” Watch the clip below and see how I have found a way to make this work in the most unlikely way.
- So I take an idea that already makes people feel uncomfortable…calling bullshit on the idea that God only gives you what you can handle. Then I mention how God’s results are far from infallible on this subject.
- Next I bring up the most hated person in America…Casey Anthony.
- From there I discuss how I go up to women and use the word cunt.
30 seconds into this bit the audience is feeling really uncomfortable and some are angry because of my discussing of the worst person in their world. Within in 20 seconds, they have went from this place to laughter and applause. And most of both of those reactions were done by women. It was a visceral reaction created from having to deal with stuff they didn’t want to have to deal with at a comedy show. 1) God’s infallibility. 2) Casey Anthony. 3) The word cunt. What brought a bigger laugh was I hit a total release valve of this tension. This is my favorite type of standup.
I know this piece is totally self-congratulatory. It should be. I worked hard to make something work on a level that I didn’t think could be done, but through some strange cosmic math equation, the only way it could work was to combine these extremely difficult elements.
Now could have I gotten the timing and exact wording right to make it work earlier in my career. Doubtful. This was something that worked because I know how to deliver stuff in a way that will work.
Oh I should mention I have only done this joke a handful of times since I wrote it 2 months ago. The problem I have with it is that the word Cunt is such a red flag in most comedy clubs that I’m concerned to say it, even though I have had no one say they were offended by its use after the show. I need to work every week to meet my family’s bills and I don’t want to give any venue any excuse to not book me, just because I said a word that is on their no-fly list. It’s just the facts. Look, very few big-time headliners read this blog because they are busy buying Bentleys and getting blown by Charlie Sheen-level escorts. What I write here should be good advice for almost everyone who reads this piece. I know it seems a little contradictory as I mentioning how you shouldn’t be too edgy, but then I’m celebrating how I use the biggest no-no onstage for positive results. Ok, let me be as clear as I can be.
If you are early on in your career, feel free to write on any subject, but be really careful about how far you push things. You probably aren’t good enough to get away with being too edgy, plus even if you are, until you prove you can do a funny PG-13 type act as a MC and then feature act, you are going to be seriously limiting your opportunities to get to the stage where you can be freer in your material. Oh and whatever you do, don’t use the word cunt unless you can do it in a way that gets women laughing. As the first explorer to scale Cunt Mountain, I will mention that there were lots of comedians I passed who had bombed out on my way to its top. It’s thin-air up here, but I feel like I accomplished something way harder than reaching the top of the Everest. Good luck with your efforts on the climb and if you need a good sherpa to help you reach these heights, drop me a line.
Sir Scott Long 2012