Understanding What Constitutes Blue Humor

From Dirty Jokes to Toilet Humor and Everything In-between

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"Blue" humor involves material that's typically considered more "adult" and can include swearing or foul language and sexual or scatological (toilet) humor. To "work blue" means to use vulgar language or to touch on topics considered by some to be "dirty" or "taboo" in your act as a comedian.

Outside of the comedy clubs, most blue humor can only be heard on cable TV or satellite radio as comics rarely "work blue" on network talk shows like "The Tonight Show,mostly because of network standards.

Many comics choose never to work blue, keeping their acts clean and more appropriate for all ages.

Origins

As long as the art of telling jokes publically has been around, so, too, has dirty humor. Even the ancient Greeks used blue humor to parody other famous works such as Aristophanes' retelling of Euripides' work with more scatological references and sexual situations, much to the enjoyment of his contemporaries.

Throughout history, satire writers especially tended toward the risqué nature of blue humor to emphasize their point. Jonathan Swift's "A Modest Proposal," for instance, uses the concept of eating poor children to offset the growing famine problem of 17th century Europe to scold the aristocracy of the time.

Truly, many great writers and public figures used this type of humor to shock audiences into understanding the severity of political situations. It wasn't until the turn of the 20th century that people began to shy away from and shun blue humor as indecent.

From Underground to Mainstream

In mid-1900s America, comedians that were still using blue humor in their stand-up acts were considered to be obscene and indecent for public consumption. In fact, comedian Lenny Bruce was famously arrested in New York City for obscenity after he performed an off-color set at a Manhattan comedy club in 1964.

Even through the 1970s, acts like Redd Foxx had to tone it down when they went on mainstream television.

It wasn't until the commercial success of comedians like Peter Cook and Andrew Dice Clay in the late 1970s and early '80s that off-colored humor began to make a mainstream resurgence. Clay, for instance, was a comedian famous for using "blue" humor — that is, much of his material was about sex and included adult language to reference the severity of social issues affecting the nation. 

By the turn of the 21st century, much of the stigma around blue humor had dissipated, perhaps because of increasing use of profanity and course dialogue in popular culture, thanks in part to the advent and subsequent spread of the Internet as a means of entertainment and communication. 

Modern Vulgarity

After the wave of political correctness that swept the 1990s, the colloquial language in America bounced back toward the vulgar. Many comedians especially turned to blue humor as a normality. Still, acts like Dave Chappell, Sarah Silverman and Amy Schumer blended vulgarity effortlessly into their comedy routines, part of their standard rhetoric, using shock and toilet humor to emphasize social disparities like the economic divide in America and its treatment of people of color.

Others, though, used blue humor heavily to escape a former image. Such is the case with actor-turned-comedian Bob Saget whose long stint co-starring in the family sitcom "Full House" painted him as "America's Favorite TV Dad." Shortly after the show ended, Saget began a comedy tour filled with risqué humor, including sexual jokes about now-adult but former child co-stars the Olsen twins.

Television shows like "Ren & Stimpy" and "Beavis and Butthead" that appeared in the late 1980s and early '90s heavily featured gross-out humor to make kids and adults alike laugh. Since then, television has only gotten more vulgar and crude in its adult animated comedies (like "South Park") and even mainstream primetime network cartoons like "Family Guy" — which only gets a TV-14 rating.