Day 300. The Case for Clean Comedy. The Case for Dirty Comedy

Sunday, December 18, 2011

I don’t like the term, “clean comedy.” It has such a connotation to it. I feel like the connotative definition of it is, “not funny comedy.” If I hear of a show that is clean, I think, Disney Channel, fit for a ten year old, but not for me. However, I don’t think the connotative definition is the real thing. I think there is negativity because it implies that there is a ceiling, and in a certain sense, there is, there are places that cleaner comedy won’t go.

However, if the alternative is dirty, or blue, comedy, where the point is to be dirty for the sake of dirty, or dirty for the sake of shock, I don’t think it’s much better. I think our overall framework is wrong. The options are not on a linear cleanliness line, it is the wrong way to approach it. I don’t really believe in constrictive linear comparisons, but if there was one in comedy, I think it should be good on one end, and bad on the other. Dirty comedy can exist on the bad end and the good end, same for clean.

The case for clean

The truth is, I do mostly clean stuff, so I lean that way. It’s what I prefer to write, and what I tend to laugh at. I think that often, the most creative humor exists in the clean realm. You can say, “shit biscuit” and get some laughs, but anyone can say that, there is no creativity there, it’s right there, people will laugh because you’re saying something you’re not supposed to say and the laugh comes out of an awkward place. I think people will laugh, but respect it more when it doesn’t come from that place, because they recognize that dirty can be easy, they can see that their inappropriate uncle could make the same joke. Also, I’ve seen a lot of stand up, most of it really good, but I’ve also seen comic after comic after comic doing variations of the same masturbation, sex, cancer, or pot jokes, with nothing original. I think the ceiling on dirty stuff has to do with frequency, you can’t keep doing it and getting the same laughs, if your jokes lack creativity. There is a law of diminishing returns when it comes to shock comedy, the same shock won’t be there after the first few times.

I think that sometimes the ceilings and restrictions on comedy can actually help. Creativity exists when there are walls. You can put applesauce on a mousetrap, put it in an art museum and call it art, that’s fine, but the most appreciated art is the art that exists within the same restrictions as others. A lot of people work in oil paints, but there is only one Monet. The most creative comedy I have seen has almost all been in the cleanish realm. Dirty can be easy, clean is almost always harder.

The case for dirty

I spent a lot of time in LA in comedy clubs and the dirtiness kind of washed over me so I became numb to it, basically, the shock factor was gone. I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately, and I’ve grown to really appreciate the stuff. First, as I’ve mentioned, comedy being clean doesn’t preclude it from being funny, and for people used to clean comedy, I would say the same thing about dirty. The fact that something is dirty does not mean it can’t also be hilarious, and it doesn’t mean that you’re a bad person if you laugh at it. If dirty stuff isn’t creative, I don’t care for it, but if it’s creative, man, it can also be great. Mostly, though, I’ve developed an appreciation for stand up clubs. I like the role stand up clubs play in our society. I actually think they’re important. I think it is important for there to be a place where anything can be said. I think people laugh in shock because taboo topics are talked about and I think taboo things in our society should be poked, irritated, and examined. I think it’s important to have a place where the truth of life is talked about, no matter how wrong. I don’t know of a place that does that outside of comedy clubs. We spend so much time worrying about doing and saying the right things, I like that there is a place void of that, even if I occasionally get offended. Who talks about race better than Chris Rock? It wouldn’t be safe for him to do it outside of comedy. If he was a pundit on CNN, he’d be fired by now, people in media are too sensitive. Comedy makes hard truths palatable.

Again, creative stuff is creative stuff, and tired, unoriginal, uncreative stuff is tired, unoriginal, uncreative stuff. It’s okay to have preferences, but I don’t think it means that the other side is wholly bad. I’m going to stick to doing cleaner stuff, and I’ll still probably find the cleaner stuff funny, but I appreciate that there is a pale, skinny, blonde guy making really creative shit biscuit jokes in a stand up club out there somewhere.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Day 300. The Case for Clean Comedy. The Case for Dirty Comedy

  1. Leah

    I agree with this. I remember I was told once when I first started doing professional improv: “there is no substitute for a well placed ‘shit’.” I have remembered that for years and I think it summarizes nicely. Dirty can be fun, but it must be well placed.

  2. You have distinctly changed my mind on this topic after watching you have years. You have the ability to come up with new clean stuff daily. And as you stated, when I heard “Let’s go check this out, and you can bring the kids, it is clean.” I thought, “ugh, if the kids like it, I won’t”. I was wrong. You were right. BUT, Louis CK is still my favorite mix of unclean and creative. I do still listen to the classic Eddie Murphy stuff. Classic.

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