Dirty vs. clean material

Got a new bit that's been working well lately. And it's depressing me slightly. Because it's sorta dirty. And I've noticed that a lot of my bits that get the most laughs are ones that are about sex in some way or have a "motherfucker" or some other curse thrown in on the punch.

I don't think that means these jokes are stupid or anything. But still, getting a laugh off a sex topic or salty language feels like cheating a little bit. How much are the laughs because you're funny and how much are they because people feel naughty listening to ya? You can get 8-year olds to laugh if you say naughty words too, ya know?

Tough choice though: Do you abandon an X-rated joke that's working well for a PG one that doesn't get as many laughs? I've heard people say they do this because they want to have "a network-ready set." Or they want to do colleges (or already do them) where you have to perform clean. But is that a silly thing to think about when you're not really doing either of those and there's nothing on the horizon?

Plus, a lot of the comics I enjoy most (CK, Rock, etc.) manage to be both filthy and smart. I guess that's what the key is...if you're giving a smart take on it, it's ok to be dirty. But I still feel like a clean joke that gets huge laughs is the ideal goal to shoot for.

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8 Comment(s)

Anonymous Dan Fontaine said...

agree totally with this post. although i think a little bit of everything in good to have in your back pocket.

do you think a "network-ready set" is as important today as it was 10 or 15 years ago? so many different ways to get noticed and advance a career. could i argue that success at festivals is more important now than late night spots? thought?

1/9/09, 11:04 AM  
Blogger Matt Ruby said...

do you think a "network-ready set" is as important today as it was 10 or 15 years ago?

No, not as important as it was. But it's still nice to have open as an opportunity. Let's say you wanna get a "Live at Gotham" or Kimmel spot. If all you've got on your submission tape are dick jokes, I think it would hurt your chances.

1/9/09, 11:14 AM  
Blogger Danny Solomon said...

Are "dick jokes" just jokes about the dick, or is that a blanket term for all jokes that involve boning or yanking?

1/9/09, 12:12 PM  
Blogger Matt Ruby said...

Are "dick jokes" just jokes about the dick, or is that a blanket term for all jokes that involve boning or yanking?

Blanket term. Ya don't hear a lot of jokes about fucking on Comedy Central, ya know?

1/9/09, 12:21 PM  
Anonymous Jay Welch said...

"Dirty vs Clean" came up at the Gotham seminar last night, and the way Jessica Kirson put it was that she'll use swear words in her regular act, and then, if she needs to do the act on TV, she'll replace the swear words with less funny that are milder and thus TV acceptable. But both Kirson and Mazzili said that if your jokes are dirty, then that's fine, so long as they're original and represent a viewpoint. As Mazzili put it, lots of comics are doing very well for themselves telling jokes they can't say on TV.

1/9/09, 12:31 PM  
Blogger Mike Lawrence said...

I think it depends on the joke, especially with quotations. You want people to sound as real as possible. I couldn't imagine my dad saying "There are many reasons to let a man freak your mouth".

1/9/09, 4:01 PM  
Anonymous dustin d'addato said...

I think you hit it. If it's smart and dirty then awesome. If it's just dirty, that's fine. It's just probably not the best that one could do.

But I've learned more and more that it helps to have both. Some crowds will only respond to dirty or not network appropriate stuff. The louder and drunker a crowd, the less that want to hear about the funny thing that happened on the way to the show tonight. If you don't have some raunch ready to go you may be in for a long painful set.

But if you do stand up long enough, you eventually have to start just telling the jokes that are important and reflective of you and more truthful and meaningful jokes will come out. Often people write dirty jokes when they don't have anything else to talk about. I think that's what every comic has to ask themselves. Did I write this because it's funny and needed to be said or because i needed to go on stage tonight.

1/9/09, 4:34 PM  
Blogger Abbi Crutchfield said...

I work clean and plan to work clean for the rest of my career. I don't worry about which audiences I can't please because I don't go blue, or I'm not edgy enough. I'd expect someone who writes dirty material well to keep doing it. Stay true to yourself.

1/11/09, 1:31 AM