Must Comedians Use the “F” Word to Get a Laugh?

Aziz Ansari.
Louis C.K.
Daniel Tosh.
Demetri Martin.
Mitch Hedberg.
Anthony Jeselnik.
Robin Williams.
Amy Schumer.
John Mulaney.
Bill Burr.
Wyatt Cenac.
Dane Cook.

What do all of these world-class stand-up comics have in common?

Besides all of them being on the play list in Spotify’s Comedy Top Tracks (which our family has been listening to for the past couple of days), they all make ample use of the f-word.

I’ll admit that sometimes it seems like it’s the perfect word to use to get a laugh, but I also wonder if it must be a mandatory part of a comedian’s routine.

If they have a joke they are not sure will get a laugh, do they just throw the f-word in there to make it seem funny?

There are comedians who are known for having successful family friendly stand-up routines:

Jerry Sendfeld
Ellen Degeneres
Jim Gaffigan
Brian Regan
Bill Engvall

So it doesn’t seem like the f-word is a necessity in the world of comedy, but it did get me thinking about my own attitude about the use of such language.

I cursed as much as anyone in college, but then I remember reading an article shortly after graduation that claimed that cursing is just a crutch for lazy people who don’t have good control of their native language; they don’t know what a more “proper” word or phrase might be for certain situations.

I think it was in response to that article (as well as getting married and starting a family) that I decided to remove all “curse” words from my public communications. I can’t remember the last time I’ve used a curse word when talking with someone. (I will admit that when I’m alone, and the situation calls for it, I will sometimes resort to the occasional f-bomb.)

But I was curious about how prevalent cursing is today, and so in my research I came across an article about Melissa Mohr, a medieval literature expert, who recently published a book Holy Sh*t: A Brief History of Swearing, that traces humans’ use of naughty language back to Roman times. Here are some of Melissa’s findings:

  • About 0.7% of the words a person uses in the course of a day are swear words, which may not sound significant except that we use first-person plural pronouns — words like we, our and ourselves — at about the same rate.
  • By the age of two most children know at least one swear word.
  • People in the “rising middle class” use less profanity; The upper classes, she says, have been shown to swear more.

Mohr also disputes the claim that people use cuss words just because they have lazy minds. She notes the many social purposes swearing can serve, some nasty and some nice. “They definitely are the best words that you can use to insult people, because they are much better than other words at getting at people’s emotions,” she says. Swear words are also the best words to use if you hit your finger with a hammer, because they are cathartic, helping people deal with emotion as well as pain. And studies have shown that they help people bond — like blue-collar workers who use taboo terms to build in-group solidarity against management types.

When asked if the world would be better off if everyone quit their cussing, Mohr answers with a four-letter word of her own: “Nope.”

So I guess comedians are no different than the general population in terms of their use of curse words, but I must admit that some of the ones initially listed above do make me uncomfortable in mixed company. In such situations, having a playlist of the five family-friendly comedians noted above may come in handy.

But don’t go by me, what the “f” do I know?

Published by

Jim Borden

Accounting Prof. at Villanova; happily married for 30+ years; father of 3 outstanding young men; vegan; interests: fitness, creativity, education, blogging, social media.

4 thoughts on “Must Comedians Use the “F” Word to Get a Laugh?”

  1. I prefer to have conversations with people who don’t swear. I don’t like to listen to it in movies or music. I never walked out of a movie thinking, “Man, I wish they’d used the F word a few times!” But I have walked out wishing they hadn’t used profanity.

    I don’t think it adds anything positive to our culture. I’ve always thought that swearing is a sign of a small imagination; I don’t care what Melissa Mohr thinks. And the thing about blue-collar bonding? Maybe workers need to bond over something more positive.




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