Everyone's talking about "edgy" humor today. The Onion got into trouble when one of its writers, in an online attempt at wit, referred to a nine-year old actress as a "cunt." A friend of mine said that one should never apply such a word to a child. My response: Why use that word to describe any
As noted below, I stopped watching Seth MacFalane's dirty cartoons when they degenerated into nothing but jokes about rape, sex with animals, vomit, shit and similar topics. The writers seem desperate to come up with "high-disgusto-factor" material; they seem to fear that the audience will drift if a single non-gross joke sullies the screen. My problem isn't with shit-blood-and-vomit per se
; I just don't care for unfunny
jokes about such things.
In the second Austin Powers movie, there's a notorious bit in which Austen accidentally sips from a stool sample because he believes that he's drinking coffee. Nobody laughed at that scene. The "gag" was not just disgusting -- it was pure lead.
Here, as best as I can recall, is the dialogue:
AUSTEN: This coffee tastes like shit.
AUSTEN'S BOSS: It IS shit.
Austen makes a sour face, and that's it. End of scene.
But suppose the bit had gone differently. Austen picks up the stool sample, swirls it around, sniffs it like a connoisseur...
AUSTEN: Ah yes. Jamaica Blue. Unless I miss my guess, the beans were grown on the hills north of Kingston...(sips) Ah. Make that south of Kingston.
That, I think, would have worked better. The ick factor is still there, but it comes to you wrapped in an actual joke, derived from character. (If you disagree, come up with your own variant.) Of course, the producers probably would have nixed my rewrite on the grounds that much of the audience might not know that "Jamaica Blue" is an expensive type of coffee.
Longtime readers of this blog know that my language can be rough. And lord knows I've made many failed attempts at humor. One thing I've discovered: All humor carries a risk, but the risks increase when the jokes get edgy. If a normal joke bombs, you may annoy your audience -- but if a high-disgusto-factor joke bombs, then everyone will want you dead
. They'll radiate the kind of hate we reserve for child molesters, puppy-kickers and unpopular presidents.
Peter Farelly found that out the hard way a short while ago.
Seth MacFarlane found out last night.
I remain a big fan of Jon Stewart and Bill Maher, neither of whom are known for their dainty language. But the time has come for everyone to confess that jokes about misplaced cum and poop aren't automatic laugh-inducers -- in fact, they've gotten old. If that means telling our comics to err on the side of cleanliness, then so be it.
Unless, of course, the joke is truly