The Freeman

Be Funny With­out Be­ing Raunchy

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By Uma Thakar, ACB/CL (Toast­mas­ter Mag­a­zine) My first gig as a stand-up co­me­dian was at a com­edy club in Melbourne, Australia — my home­town. I was dif­fer­ent in ev­ery way from all the other per­form­ers. I was fe­male, I was brown­skinned (I’m orig­i­nally from In­dia), I had a for­eign ac­cent and, to top it all, my hu­mor was clean.

In other words, I didn’t use any pro­fan­ity or sex­ual ma­te­rial to spice up my act. I re­lied on phys­i­cal com­edy, cul­tural riffs and cre­at­ing char­ac­ters on­stage. Af­ter a few more stand-up shows where my fam­ily-friendly hu­mor was again the ex­cep­tion rather than the norm, I be­gan to won­der if I was the only co­me­dian to es­chew off-color ma­te­rial. But then, per­form­ing this year at the 2011 Melbourne In­ter­na­tional Com­edy Fes­ti­val, I dis­cov­ered a troupe of suc­cess­ful co­me­di­ans in a pro­duc­tion called Squeaky Clean Com­edy.

“Most clean com­edy is aimed at kids, but we specif­i­cally wanted to pro­duce a show with so­phis­ti­cated hu­mor that would ap­peal to adults, with­out re­ly­ing on cheap shock tac­tics or cru­dity to do it,” said Eu­gene Wong, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Can­dle­light Pro­duc­tions, which pre­sented the show.

In the pro­duc­tion I at­tended, em­cee and co­me­dian Michael Con­nell (pic­tured, left) was the high­light of the evening. Con­nell has reg­u­lar gigs at com­edy clubs across Australia and has also per­formed in the United King­dom, Ire­land and New Zealand. He says he found that “work­ing blue” (us­ing lib­eral doses of pro­fan­ity and sex­ual ref­er­ences in his act) re­stricted his au­di­ences to pubs and clubs.

That point was made clear by the broad range of the au­di­ence mem­bers at this show. The ages spanned

from a 9-year-old girl to a man in his 80s. In be­tween were teenagers and fam­i­lies –– and the laughs were plen­ti­ful among all age groups.

“By go­ing clean, I opened up a whole world of gig op­por­tu­ni­ties,” says Con­nell. “I per­formed at ev­ery­thing from the kinder­garten pic­nic to the Ro­tary club din­ner.”

When he started per­form­ing his new style of hu­mor, Con­nell says he wasn’t get­ting many laughs, but

be­cause his hu­mor was clean, peo­ple didn’t mind giv­ing him a go. “Once I was good enough,” says the co­me­dian, “I just kept work­ing clean so I could get cor­po­rate gigs, TV and ra­dio spots, and work in other ar­eas where only clean com­edy will do.”

Toast­mas­ters and Hu­mor

For Toast­mas­ters who want to ex­cel in speech com­pe­ti­tions, the ex­am­ples of Con­nell and his Squeaky Clean col­leagues are heart­en­ing. The Toast­mas­ters Speech Con­test Rule­book states that speak­ers in all Hu­mor­ous Speech Con­tests shall “avoid po­ten­tially ob­jec­tion­able lan­guage, anec­dotes and ma­te­rial.”

As far as speeches given in club meet­ings, Toast­mas­ters In­ter­na­tional does not place re­stric­tions on top­ics, con­tent or lan­guage. But be­cause clubs typ­i­cally re­flect a di­verse mem­ber­ship, the or­ga­ni­za­tion rec­om­mends that mem­bers be sen­si­tive to re­li­gious and cul­tural di­ver­sity in their group when mak­ing choices re­gard­ing top­ics, the na­ture of speech ma­te­rial and the lan­guage they use.

In ad­di­tion, in­di­vid­ual clubs do have the right to limit speech sub­jects, con­tent and/or lan­guage with the

con­sen­sus of its mem­bers. Club lead­ers should guide mem­bers on how to ob­serve good taste and sen­si­tiv­ity in the con­text of their club.

Steve Jans, a mem­ber of the Wes­tend club in Billings, Mon­tana, is a com­edy buff. He says Toast­mas­ters gave him the con­fi­dence to do standup. “Just the thought of get­ting up and speak­ing in front of peo­ple ter­ri­fied me be­fore I joined Toast­mas­ters,” says Jans, who re­cently per­formed at a lo­cal event called Re­lay for Life, which raises funds for can­cer re­search.

When he per­forms, he doesn’t use pro­fan­ity or raunchy ma­te­rial. “As a Chris­tian, I don’t be­lieve in talk­ing like that,” says Jans. “I’m keep­ing it clean, and I’ve been pretty suc­cess­ful that way.”

At the urg­ing of his late friend and men­tor Josie Sk­ib­stad, DTM, he started an ad­vanced Toast­mas­ters

club in Billings last year spe­cial­iz­ing in hu­mor. In the Jolly Jesters Hu­mor club, mem­bers fo­cus on hu­mor­ous speeches; they prac­tice stand-up com­edy and im­pro­vi­sa­tional hu­mor in the Ta­ble Top­ics por­tion of the club meet­ings.

Funny Days Down Un­der

Like Michael Con­nell, oth­ers in the Squeaky Clean group are veteran comics. All ex­cept one are Aus­tralian. Typ­i­cally, they em­ploy ob­ser­va­tional hu­mor about day-to-day oc­cur­rences that we can all re­late to. In the show I saw, Beau Stegmann brought the house down with a rou­tine that de­scribed his love of read­ing junk mail. Mike Klim­czak en­ter­tained the au­di­ence with his rapid-fire de­liv­ery and used au­di­ence par­tic­i­pa­tion to great ef­fect.

Klim­czak de­scribes his com­edy as “wicked, not rude.” Dave Wig­gins, a New Zealan­der who is orig­i­nally from the United States, per­forms at fundrais­ers, in­ter­na­tional fes­ti­vals and cor­po­rate events.

As a co­me­dian my­self, I was in­ter­ested in how other standup per­form­ers sur­vive the pres­sure to work blue. Ac­cord­ing to Wong, “There are al­ways peo­ple who are con­vinced that clean com­edy can’t be funny, but most of our [troupe’s] co­me­di­ans don’t make a big deal out of be­ing clean.

They just are. Au­di­ences see their shows and then walk out com­ment­ing how funny the show was and only later re­al­ize that it was clean.”

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