Saturday Tips: Should You Work Clean?
Should You Work Clean?
Tip #1 2018
One of the most common questions that young comics have is, is it okay to curse?
If the joke is really original and funny then you don't need any curse words. As long as the joke doesn't depend on curse words, I think it's fine to pepper some in if that's what comes naturally to your voice. Many young comics curse too much to make up for a lack of good writing. Nothing says amateur louder than excessive profanity without strong punchlines. Even some pro comics curse so much that it distracts from the joke itself.
My first piece of advice is don't be lazy and sloppy. Don't substitute bad words for smart, well-crafted bits. I've seen many young comics make the mistake of trying to be the next Dave Attell or Anthony Jeselnik without putting in the time to hone their writing and their voice. It comes across as insincere when a beginner is imitating the likes of Sam Kinison or Lisa Lampanelli. The audience can see it as a bit pompous or obnoxious if you're unknown or haven't won them over yet. If you're going to be a dirty comic, really put in the time working on your writing and do what comes naturally to you on stage, then build your way up. Diving into the dirty stuff your second time on stage is rarely well received. Cursing conveys a certain attitude that's hard for an audience to accept from a green comic.
If cursing truly comes naturally in your comedic voice, then you should ease into it. I think most comics could benefit by using cursing more sparingly. There should be no other easy substitute for a particular curse word.
However if your going to curse do it smartly and aim high.
The Lewis Black bit below is a perfect example of a bit that is both smart and extremely funny.
This is a bit where cursing is used perfectly and there is no substitute for it:
An experienced comic is able to work both clean and dirty. Obviously this has multiple advantages. The clean set can be used for late night TV auditions as well as certain jobs that require clean comedy (corporate, warm-up, etc). The dirty set is better suited for late night gigs at clubs where cursing and dirtier bits are almost expected. It's hard to follow a really dirty comic if you don't already have it in your comedy arsenal. If you're not a dirty comic, find a creative way to joke about the dirty material or joke about how the other comics were dirty.
The Takeaway: Don't allow cursing to be a substitute for smart writing. Cursing too much is lazy! If cursing comes naturally to you, take time to learn how to use it in a way that's true to you.