Not Telling Dirty Jokes

Above all, my brothers and sisters, do not swear—not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. All you need to say is a simple “Yes” or “No.” Otherwise you will be condemned.

  • James 5:12

“It is frustrating to have discovered a new author and not to be able to tell anyone how good he is; to come suddenly, at the turn of the road, upon some mountain valley of unexpected grandeur and then to have to keep silent because the people with you care for it no more than for a tin can in the ditch; to hear a good joke and find no one to share it with. …”

  • C. S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms

“You’ve no idea how good an old joke sounds when you take it out again after a rest of five or six hundred years.”

  • C. S. Lewis, The Last Battle

First, James, in the Scripture above, is referring to swearing oaths as opposed to cussing, ever farther removed from a dirty joke, but we need to measure the impact of the humor.

Now, thinking of ‘dirty jokes,’ Roger Miller told a good one.  It was about what he and his friends did for fun when he was young.  He said, “We’d sit around after a rain and watch the cracks dry up.”  You cannot get more ‘dirty’ than a joke about mud.  He’d follow with “Or we’d go down to the diner and wait for the bleu cheese dip to turn black.”  My only fun when I was growing up was watching the grass grow.  I guess I wasn’t that imaginative.

Now, you were thinking something totally different when I mentioned a dirty joke.  Weren’t you?  Now there’s the rub – to borrow a phrase from Shakespeare’s Hamlet.  One type of dirty joke isn’t dirty at all, but the punchline or the lead up to the punchline takes our dirty brains down a trail that it should not go down.

The double entendre is a common method of telling a dirty joke with an absolutely innocent punchline.  When you are shocked by the innocent punchline instead of what you were thinking, you burst out laughing that much harder.  If the comedian, or comedienne, were bold enough – and I have heard it said – they could say, “Shame on you for what you were thinking!”

But why tempt someone to think of such things?

These days, there is no double entendre.  Most of the big funny people of today use four-letter language and their subject matter would make you cringe or even get physically sick.  At best, they are crude, with a few glorious exceptions.  The coarse language and subject matter have moved from the stand-up routines to mainstream television, especially mature cartoons (something the children are tempted to see).  There is no longer a filter.

I am putting on a comedy act at our church in October.  I am confident that I can keep people entertained without bawdy, crude humor.  I can do so without using four-letter language.  Okay, foul language, I am sure there will be words of four letters.  If you said fowl language, I will mention chickens and turkeys and hunting duck.  “Duck,” found a four-letter word already!  I can even do the routine without triggering unwanted side effects.  I have been in prayer about these situations and considered the ramifications while putting the program together.

As for the unwanted side effects, I once did a comedy act for a church retreat.  I impersonated Justin Wilson, the Cajun cook on PBS back in the 1980s and early 90s.  One of his short jokes was about a suicide, but with a twist – in that the suicide failed.  I had used the joke in other groups.  I could tell it without using foul language, but then I thought that someone might hear the joke who is on the brink of suicide.  Or someone might hear the joke who had a loved one who ended their own life.  Wilson’s joke about a failed suicide would be a dirty joke to those people.  So, I have never used it after thinking of using it at a church function.

I mentioned foul language.  Justin Wilson was known for a couple of salty words, commonly used these days.  I think people who knew his humor watched his PBS cooking show, thinking that he would slip and say one.  He’d told those old jokes so many times before and habits are hard to break.  But in his stand-up routine, before he became a noted chef, Wilson added an apology at the end of his act.  I heard it on a live album that I found when in Germany in the 1970s.  You see, Justin Wilson only used two bad words, ever.  Both are commonly used in church, “Hell” and “Damn.”  Since someone might be offended, I’ll just write them as H-$!! And D-@!! In the following mini-post.  A post within a post, a two-fer!  As for the Scripture for this mini-post, you can search Scriptures for being honest, making things right with your neighbor, etc.

Heartfelt, Honest Insincerity

Have you ever watched the news or a sports news program where a celebrity (actor or athlete) has done something really bad, and to rehabilitate their image, the naughty person’s PR person has written a wonderful apology that is recorded and repeated on national news networks?

The apology goes something like this:  “I am sorry that I got caught.  I will work hard to not get caught in the future.  I am sorry for the harm that getting caught has done on the general public and I hope that in the future I can be a role model to teach the youth of this land how to not get caught.”

My apology, above, was quite honest, yet insincere.  The naughty person did not say it quite that way, but you could still read between the lines.  The naughty person was dishonest, regardless of sincerity.  Charles Barkley, years after his playing days, tried to explain his infamous “I am not a role model” commercial by stating that he felt the kid’s teachers, parents, youth leaders, and church leaders should be the kid’s role model.  At least he tried to honestly redeem himself.

But I have heard one beautiful heartfelt, honest insincere apology, at the end of a Justin Wilson stand-up comedy routine.  I use quotes, but I am paraphrasing, since I cannot find the vinyl recording right now to get the words right.  This is the way he ended his routine.  Note, he has been using H-$!! And D-@!! For the past hour, right up to this apology.  Not a lot of cussing, but at least one or the other word in nearly every story, kind of punctuating.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, it has come to my attention that some people have complained that I use what we call along the bayou ‘mild explicatives.’  Using mild explicatives is just the way the people along the bayou talk, and I try to keep my stories as accurate as I can.  But there are some people among us that are of a more cultured, genteel set that don’t use those words and are offended when those words have been used.  I feel that I have overstepped in the zeal of being culturally accurate, and I have truly offended the sensitive, prim, proper, genteel among the audience tonight.  It hurts me that I have done so.  I have never meant, by telling my stories, to offend anyone, but the thought that I might have offended someone has pierced me to the core.  As a result, I am truly sorry, and I offer my most humble apology.
“Now don’t dat sound nice.  I didn’t meant a D-@!! word of it. …  H-$!! No!”

  • paraphrased from Justin Wilson’s Live Performance album

Yes, he was insincere, but until the last line, you could hear a pin drop in the audience.  You might have even heard a tear trickle down a cheek.  He wasn’t laughing at the end, but you could tell the mirth in his voice.  There was no animosity.

That concludes the mini-post, now back to ‘dirty jokes.’

In my comedy routine that is about an hour long with some Christian reflections at the end to stretch it another thirty minutes, I am impersonating four comedians:  Justin Wilson, Ken Davis, Jerry Clower, and Mark Lowry.  I hope to get some mannerisms close.  I hope to get various word usages.  I plan on some rudimentary costume changes, on stage, right in front of everyone.  (Hey, no double entendre meant here!  I take off my jacket so that they can see suspenders and add a ribbon tie for Justin Wilson.  I take the tie off and put the jacket back on for Ken Davis.  I slip an untied bow tie around my neck and pin an orange “coon” (raccoon) on the lapel for Jerry Clower, and then remove the jacket and slide an official Mark Lowry “Dogs Go to Heaven” T-Shirt over my dress shirt for Mark Lowry.  If I don’t say, “If I’m lyin’, I’m dyin’” during the Jerry Clower routine, at least once, I didn’t do it right.  Of course, with Justin Wilson, I must throw in “I gua-ran-tee” a few times.  Frankly, I hope to simply get some laughs. But I hope the “Christian reflections” hit home.

The thing is that it has taken me six months to get the routine the way that it is.  It took God a couple of months to get me convinced in doing it and then selling it to the church leadership, before I ever started putting things together.  God has been my guide.  I know He has.  All the stories have one thing in common, a rough – sometimes comical – connection to Biblical stories, without preaching – just a connection, if you know the stories.

But after practicing a lot, God has revealed a different connection with at least one story from each funny man in the show, totally unintentional on my part – a connection to the Christian reflections at the end.  It took me a couple of months of editing and practicing to see it.

If Jerry Clower were still with us, he might say, “Ain’t God good!”

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.

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