Blue Humor—A Comedy Cop Out
Keep your humor clean for long-term success.
I've been studying and using humor from the platform for 30 years. As each year passes, I believe more strongly that keeping your humor clean is the way to go. I've made the mistake in the past, more than once, that I can take more liberties with "this audience"... and have normally been wrong.
Why do people use off-color humor?
First, it's easy. It's much simpler to say a four letter word or tell a sex joke than to use your creative muscle to actually create something that's funny on its own. It's easier to get people to laugh at shock value or by making them uncomfortable than by creating a clever and original humor bit that hits the funnybone. I call it a comedy cop out. The lazy path to humor.
Second, monkey see monkey do. They see comics use off-color material almost all the time, and get laughs. Translation, if you want to get laughs, be blue.
Third, when I'm blue the audience laughs. The myth is that laughter is the stamp of approval. I know the opposite to be true. Laughter is sometimes just an involuntary response to tension. I've seen excellent comics play to small crowds on a regular basis. Many in the audience come only once. They do not return and bring their friends. Some off color comics make it big, but their numbers are very small in comparison to those who really hit the big time with clean, truly witty material.
Fourth, thinking that "this audience is different..." I've made the mistake in the past, more than once, that I can take more liberties with "this audience"...and have normally been wrong. Some audiences are different. Drinking audiences are different...their judgment is impaired. And often with a drinking audience, especially a younger college-aged crowd, off color material may be what works best. I personally try to avoid such an audience. They are not a fit for me. And almost never do I meet a mainstream audience where a touch of blue is called for.
Although we realize that blue humor is normally not a good thing to use, are there times when it's ok to use a touch of blue humor for one audience and not another?
As the years pass, I've become more conservative. There were times when I'd slip a little "comedy club" material into a corporate program. And more often than not, I'd wish I hadn't done it. After nearly 30 years in the speaking and entertaining business I keep my programs squeaky clean 99.9 percent of the time. And if I do cross that fine line, it's on the very tame side with material that is customized from inputs from the client. And I always try to follow the sage advice, "When in doubt, leave it out!"
I direct an improv troupe in Las Vegas. We have a policy in our shows that everything be totally clean. Our motto is Clean-Burning Comedy. People can bring their ten-year-olds and not be uncomfortable. And I like to think that our humor is more sophisticated because of that. I've seen other comedy groups with great talent but off-color material struggle with a small audience size, 10, 20, 30 people. While my troupes in California and Las Vegas have consistently drawn over 100 people per show. Although blue humor has shock value, I've found that clean humor "shocks" people that you are clean AND funny. What a refreshing change.
Copyright 2006 by John Kinde
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