Doing It Clean
This has been kicking around in my mind for a couple of weeks so I thought I’d put some words out there on this.
Recently I did a couple of what was described to me as “needing to be squeaky clean corporate comedy” shows. Suddenly I pictured a room full of my grandmother, her friends, and members of the Sunday School Teachers Union Local #79. Not the case. One was at a full-on theatre with balcony in a small town. The other was under a tent at a blueberry farm.
Steve Levine, the fantastic comic that I was working with on these shows, and I were talking about the things at corporate shows that you try to remove from the equation in order to make the show good. Typically corporate shows have a ton of obstacles thrown at you that interfere with your ability to make laughs:
– You’re caught behind a podium with no ability to move from it with the mic feeling like a dog in an SPCA commercial
– Everyone is around tables so widespread it looks like the wedding from “The Godfather”
– The audience is any of “sunburned from a day of drunken golf”, “full of roast beef”, “old”
– They have a moment of silence to mourn the death of several who passed just before bringing you on as “the entertainment”
– Performing in a tent on a blueberry farm
And of course, you need to be “clean”. As if comedy itself wasn’t subjected t to opinion enough but now we throw “clean” into the mix. People more poignant than I have debated the “which is easier, dirty or clean” issue and both are hard. Comedy is hard. Crap comedy, now that is easy. Comedy is subjective. So are the aspects of good clean or good dirty comedy. “Who is the better comic: Brian Regan or Bobby Slayton?”
Both are awesome and different.
Going beyond the “not just dropping ‘f-bombs'” but picking material that’s not going to offend is wonderful. I find myself in this position of constantly auditing what I’m saying, what I’m about to say, reading the audience for reaction to make sure everything is okay and no one’s offended. I feel like a chef with ADD and a coke addiction lifting the lids of all the pits on the stove making sure nothing’s burning. When the show itself is labeled as “No Foul Language”, you have to deliver. But i still knew deep down I was not performing for myself, allowing for freedom of thought and language, but doing it for them, the set-up-to-not-be-offended audience.
Yes, having the daemon running in my head scanning each word I was about to utter for filth was somewhat exhausting, but it was a fun exercise. It’s nice to know I could react and in a tethered manner still spritz and converse with the audience, and still deliver the comedic goods. It’s a pivot from the usual course of language and theme that allows you to find confined creativity.
And it was no less of a show. Not unlike any other “themed” show out there. “Dirty”. “Clean”. “Urban”. “Blue Collar”. “Asian”. “Female”. “Four Guys Who All Kind of Look Like Susan Boyle”. The one thing they have in common, they have to be funny to succeed.
After the show, we were approached by a couple probably my parents’ age. “Thank you so much for the show. It was so nice to have a show without so much foul language.” Cute. I expected to get milk and cookies to follow. But that comment still showed that there was a market for this style of show. Like the “Dark Shows” that set up the audience to be ready for any content whatsoever, there are shows that can tailor to the opposite. Neither is strictly right. It’s a matter of taste. That show was the taste for that mom&dad couple and they went and enjoyed it. Yelling at someone for not liking foul language is like yelling at them for not liking cheese.
Actually screw the non-cheese lovers, it’s delicious. I used to hate cheese and eventually saw the error of my ways. If you’re complaining that you can’t have it because you’re lactose intolerant, that’s God’s way of punishing you for some evil thing in your past. And only you know what that is. Shame on you.
Special thanks to Denis Grignon for helping make this article possible.