The cycle goes something like this “I don’t get it, but I’m going to laugh so people think I do,” to “I kind of get it, but I don’t get the full breadth of why it’s funny” to the final reward “I get it. I finally get it” and all the laughter and joy that follows. The reward for finally getting the joke, any joke, but particularly mature, adult humor is a rite of passage that some of us enjoy throughout their lives. “We get it now. We’re in the club.” We get just about every dirty, naughty joke we hear now, but the rewards are not endless for all of us. Some of us clawed our way through the mental maze, swinging from vine to vine therein, to try to understand the naughty jokes people tell. Then we reached a point of saturation where we get almost every dirty joke we hear now, but we don’t understand their universal and evergreen appeal.
The “I get it” reward is strong among the young. Especially the “You don’t get it? I do!” reward. This reward probably dates back to young cave dwellers trying to find something awful in cave paintings. The “I get it” smile is broad and wide, and we try to hide it from the adults around us when we’re young. The reward for getting naughty humor is especially precious when their peers “Don’t get it”. How long does this sometimes subtle, sometimes overt reward last? Is it universal and evergreen?
We all have biological functions, and the need to explore others’ bodily functions on a perpetual basis, and some of them are quite funny when creatively framed, but how many body function jokes do we have to hear before they no longer stimulate our naughty neurons? I concede that I’ve probably watched so many movies that my naughty stimulators are all dried up, but I’ve “been there, done that” for so long that it takes a pretty ingenious presentation for me to laugh at naughty humor now.
Yet, anytime I introduce comedic material to a friend of mine, he asks, “Is it safe humor?” I originally thought he was referring to the politically correct dividing line. He wasn’t, and he clarified his position. He’s forty something, and he still wants/needs innuendo and the worst swear words we can imagine for the comedic material to achieve some sort of mental stimulation. He won’t watch material he deems “too safe”. He alludes to the idea that “safe” material is condescending. He prefers the risqué, the provocative, and he defines those adjectives in swear words and innuendo.
“Why is that still so important to you?” I asked him. “I honestly don’t get it.” To clarify my position in this discussion, he and I passed middle age some years ago, and he and I have watched many of the same comedy shows, standup comedians, and movies. Whereas my well is dry, his is still seeking greater fertilization of his arena. He has no idea why, but he still wants a whole lot of naughty.
I cherished the naughty, back when it was a limited resource. I, like all my relatively sheltered grade school era friends, worshipped at the altar of George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy, and Cheech and Chong. Some of us could quote large chunks of dialog from the movie Porky’s verbatim. Porky’s was the ultimate taboo movie for those of a certain age, because it had naughty dialog, exposed female breasts, and a risqué scene with a wolf-howling woman. We talked about the unedited scene in Grease where Danny gets racked, and we talked about the unedited swear words in the song Greased Lightning the next day. If you didn’t “get it”, you were consigned to an inescapable outsider status among the cool kids.
The cool kids could tell anyone interested how many swear words a movie contained, and how many exposed female breasts there were. The coolest kid had a mental spreadsheet count on (‘F’) words, (‘S’) words, and exposed female breasts in whatever movie you mentioned. You name the actress, and he could tell you the movie(s) that contained her revelations. I met another who could do that in high school. He compiled a VHS tape of moments when famous females exposed their breast. He was so obsessed with compiling the tape that he could tell you the moment of exposure down to the second of the movie. He knew them so well, because he would watch the movie once on HBO, and he would then memorize the time of the exposure down to the second. There were times when his memory would fail him, however, so he began writing them down, but he said that writing them down helped crystallize the moment in his memory so well that he rarely had to consult his log when the movie repeated, usually hours later on HBO. He would watch the movie again with his thumb on the record button, as that scene neared. He did this so often that we could rarely stump him on such scenes. “[That actress] exposes her breasts at the 32:22 mark of [that movie],” he said listing the specifics.
If you were one of the few unfortunates who only saw the made for television version of Stripes and Airplane, you knew the FOMO (fear of missing out) acronym at a very young age, before anyone coined it. “You missed the best parts,” our friends would tell us, or, “You have to see the unedited version, it has seven (‘F’) words, two (‘S’) words, and it actually has an ‘MF’ in it. Seriously, it occurs after the barista in the movie says, (“Fill in the blank”) and before the scene where they show the topless astronaut hanging her laundry.”
I didn’t remember how focused we were on that mental clicker of swear words in our youth, until my nephew began this accounting process in his younger years. You name the movie, and my nephew can recite for you how many (‘F’s) and (‘S’s) the movie contains. When Dr. Johnny Fever, on WKRP in Cincinnati, mocked a priest for attempting to censor his playlist, as a disk jockey, we thought that was so cool. “Uh, oh! There’s a naughty word!” Fever said, mocking the priest. When George Carlin was asked why he swears so much in his otherwise intelligent, observational humor, he said, “It’s excellent punctuation.” Comedians suggest they’ve tried it out on the road. They say they tried the same joke with and without any swear words, at different locations, and they determined that Carlin was correct. A punchline just doesn’t land the same without the proper punctuation a swear word provides. Carlin’s statement asks the rhetorical question is it his fault or ours for the necessity of swear word punctuation in comedic presentations?
My Uncle Clark’s good friend Jim introduced us to this world without borders when we were pre-teens. Our parents had no idea we were watching naughty movies at Jim’s house, and that made it extra naughty. Naughty is an ever changing and relative term, of course, as what we deemed naughty in our era is relatively tame now, but some of the movies we watched at his house were the peak of naughty for us. “I don’t see anything wrong with the kids hearing swear words,” Jim said. “They’re going to hear them anyway. They’re eventually going to see a woman’s breasts. They’ll see people smoke pot, and everything else in these movies. I don’t see the harm.” He would swear around us so often that we learned how to swear. We learned how to inflect, how to time swear words, and how to properly punctuate a joke with a strategically placed swear word from him. He taught us how to avoid sounding like a little kid, when learning how to cuss for the first time. He also taught us how to talk about carnal relations with women. He wasn’t afraid to provide explicit detail. This guy was so cool and so funny, and not just adult funny. This guy was genuinely (‘F’)ing hilarious to us. He treated us like adults, and we worshiped him for it. He wasn’t a stick in the mud, like my dad.
I am that stick in the mud now. I am that dad. I’ve stopped cussing, and I require that my friends and family watch their language when they’re around my child. I do these things, because one of my other friends said that the (‘F’) word was one of his kid’s first five words. He wasn’t proud or ashamed of this. He treated this as an unfortunate fact of life, but he also found it “(‘F’)ing hilarious”. I wouldn’t enjoy that, and on one plane, it is about morality, but it also has something to do with class. “If your child is dropping swear words, like a horse dropping road apples in a parade, that’s kind of on you,” I say.
“You cussed a lot in your teens and 20’s,” my friends say. “In Europe, kids drink and swear like a sailor, and it doesn’t affect them in the least. In fact, I’d say most of them are more sophisticated and worldly than most puritanical American children.”
“I don’t care if I’m a hypocrite,” I say in response, “and, unless I can use their example and advice, I’m not particularly concerned with how other parents raise their children, as I’m no authority on the matter, but what you sway doesn’t sway me one iota.”
My “been there, done that” reactions are so strong that even after the kid goes to bed, I don’t enjoy the excessive need for swear word punctuation, and I often see it as just that in others’ attempts to be humorous. It has nothing to do with morality for me, personally, once the kid goes to bed. It’s more a “been there, done that” reaction I have to it now. I no longer have the clicker that counts those words. I hear (‘F’) words now, and they go in one ear and out the other. This cycle started soon after I was able to rent any movie I wanted. I was on my own, and I able to choose every naughty, dirty movie I could find. Back then, I avoided humor that was too safe, but the supply eventually reached my demand, until I saturated the market and I “been there done that”. I demanded naughty, risqué material, and it was in short supply for much of my life. Then it wasn’t, and it wasn’t for my forty-something friend either. If I put this supply vs. demand qualifier to our discussion, I’m sure he would concede that the supply met his demand a long time ago, yet he still needs material he deems relatively “unsafe”.
In this long-since passed era, the supply was so low that we met our demand by standing close enough to a drive-in theater to see, but not hear, the scene everyone was talking about. That era has passed for many of us, as we now have more than enough supply at the tips of our fingers, yet the demand for such demand obviously remains strong among my peers?
Can a joke be funny without the pre-pubescent and pubescent need for punctuation? Yes, if it’s creative. Yet, even incredibly ingenious jokes need punctuation. To my mind, the most ingenious learn how to punctuate without vulgar, or blue, punctuation, and that’s not about morality. It’s about ingenuity and creativity. Music has the same “been there done that” quality for me. I’m not going to join the pack and slam the heavy metal era for its lack of soul, and for all of its hedonistic plays for fame, but it had its place in my life. Some of those bands produced some quality music, but that time has passed for me. When I’m feeling nostalgic, I might click on an old heavy metal song here and there, but I’ve “been there done that”. I can’t make it all the way through any of those songs now. The need for nostalgia is not that great for me, as that music provides little-to-no value to me anymore. The elements in swearing, innuendo, and nudity in humor provide little-to-no value to comedy anymore to me either.