Zounds! (The Curse of Cursing)

Just a few days ago, I met with a media professional to discuss how to get the word out about The Kingfisher Theater’s inaugural production. We were chatting for a moment, when said professional asked me a question, “Do you mind if I swear?” She then glanced at The Kingfisher Theater’s most recent blog post, “Oh, yeah. I guess it’s fine.”

Swearing has a particular quality these days. Having lived in New York City for the last 10 years or so and doing stand-up comedy, saying words that would get you detention on the playground became more or less an afterthought. In fact, I would say that many start-up stand-ups consider using otherwise insulting, disgusting, and just plane stupid words a kind of right of passage. Especially in this time of cultural watchdogs and the so-called ‘PC police,’ the use of swear words feels, to many in comedy (not to mention Twitter), a sacred right.

But in the much more ‘family friendly’ environment of (much of) Rochester, I’ve noticed a kind of reticence. Maybe it’s just the places I’ve found myself in lately–high end restaurants, schools, my parents’ house–but there seems to be a much more persuasive sense of politeness up here.

That is all well and good, but the theater is not a high-end restaurant or school. In fact, the theater is a place for an expressive, inventive, and sometimes offensive exploration of humanity through one of its most ubiquitous and enduring inventions: language.

“Well behaved theater rarely sells tickets.”
-not Mae West

Theatre is not polite. Polite theater is god-awful. Polite theater is also more widely known as ‘Musical Theater.’ (Kidding, kidding!)

To paraphrase Laurel Thatcher Ulrich (not Mae West, as I had previously thought),

“Well behaved theater rarely sells tickets.”

Zounds!” you say! What kind of bloody vulgarity is this?

As I said in a previous post, the goal here is to entertain, not to educate, not to lecture, and not to present a neat diarama of times past. We’re here to create some kick-ass showbiz.

Swearing is a part of language, and should be used accordingly. It adds levels to language. It adds perspective and attitude, and it’s just the way language works. Language without swear words is like a bicycle without pedals.

People have been peppering their speech and writing with ‘colorful metaphors’ since well before Billy Shakes used that shorthand of ‘God’s Wounds’. The Wikipedia page for “excrement, feces” is quite extensive, and who doesn’t know the apocryphal story about ‘Fornication Under Consent of the King?”

These words are part of our language and cannot, if you’re serious about living in reality, be ignored.

Now, of course there’s a fine line between tasteful vulgarity and unrepentant middle-school bus dialogue.

As I sit here, in my old high school’s computer lab, writing this post, I am acutely aware of the role of swearing in our great learning institutions: don’t do it.

I’ve never really been a big swearer myself, especially growing up. But adulthood has a way of hardening even the most stubbornly suburban Pollyanna. I admit that The Big Apple sometimes lends itself to cathartic expressions of… ingratitude, so I’ve become a bit more comfortable with it. Occasionally too comfortable, I guess, depending on present company.

So all of this is fun to think about. It’s interesting to consider, but it’s not, in and of itself, a big deal.

The art of theatre is the art of the use of the language for entertaining and enlightening means. To quote Henry Drummond, a character from Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee’s Inherit the Wind:

“I don’t swear just for the hell of it. Language is poor enough means of communication. I think we should use all the words we’ve got.”

No sugar.

Swearing is useful, cursing adds color, and blaspheming is just plain fun. Of course, like anything, if it’s overused, then it becomes tired, self-aggrandizing scenery-chewing.

So, yes, swear wisely, but for fucksake*, we’re all grown-ups here.








*my fav. Also: only one this post!