Great comedians often push the boundaries of language and ask their audience to reexamine taboos. It’s a rare skill to have the ability to take unutterable words, and somehow make these words funny. George Carlin’s famous routine, “Seven words you can’t say on television,” is a classic example of this skill; while on the other hand, Michael Richards effectively ruined his career as Kramer for repeating a racial slur over and over again on stage.
So that got me thinking: When is it cool to use such emotional and sensitive curse words in comedy? When is it not?
In a recent video shared under the YouTube channel, Jash, Sarah Silverman posted “Diva,” which forces their audience to question what is the difference between a diva and a, well, I’ll just let Silverman sing it for you (NSFW):
Of course, Silverman’s use of the c-word is pointing out something larger and pushing the boundaries of language while trying to be funny. She is commenting on reality television stars and how they have become role models for young girls. She is telling kids to be authentic, to not change who you are because social networks and reality television have turned us into a culture of histrionics, where fame and drama are valued over authenticity.
But while she is making all these larger points about women, language, and modeling behavior, she breaks into a chorus line and Broadway-like production where the only lyric is the c-word. So we want to know: Is it cool for Sarah Silverman to use the c-word this way? Or are her obscenities blocking her message?
For reference, here are some other famous uses of the word.
The fourth of the seven words. This legendary routine forever changed language in media and FCC regulations. From the 1972 album Class Clown.
In the questionnaire of Bernard Pivot, Robin named the word as his least favorite, “Just cause it’s so negative. It’s the one word that’ll get me kicked out of the house.”
When Larry is tasked to write an obituary, an unfortunate typo causes much tension.
Mila Kunis’ character offends Mark Wahlberg’s in Seth MacFarlane’s film.
Joseph Lapin is a freelance writer, author, and member of the History of Cool team. He lives in Los Angeles, and his writing has appeared at the Los Angeles Times, Slate, Salon, LA Weekly, OC Weekly, and others.
Two weeks ago, I left Los Angeles to hike into the Grand Canyon and camp next to the Colorado River. It was my first time in Northern Arizona, and I wanted to discover what was so cool about hiking 26 miles, staring up at a bunch of rocks and devouring food that only people lost in space would resort to eating. But in the end, after lugging a 30-pound backpack around, I finally understood. So here is the breakdown: “10 Cool Things About Hiking the Grand Canyon.”
Our group rented a car and drove from Los Angeles to the Grand Canyon. Other people wanted to fly, citing convenience and duration. But we would have missed out on so many experiences. We drove through a town that was all about Rt. 66, and it felt like a place built on the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll: neon signs, lively taverns and the sound of music in the background. Plus, right before we arrived at the Grand Canyon, we started paying attention to all the signs for “Elk” crossing, and sure enough, a gigantic elk walked out of the pine trees and stood like a mountain watching as our car went by.