The Bawdy Bard: Why Inappropriate Humor Matters

Last night, while watching the Aiken County Playhouse’s rendition of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, I realized something important about fiction, more specifically comedy: dirty humor is a must.

Many people shake their heads at sexual humor, seemingly meant only to stimulate the minds of sick teenage boys (me). I mean, American Reunion has been released, a beg-play at making more money off the original franchise. Of course, there have been umpteen direct-to-DVD sequels, but apparently the series is successful enough to continue producing movies. Why?

I will say it out right- dirty humor is hilarious. Sure, it is immature and pointless and plebeian and sometimes sickening, but always funny.  Butter, a cow Halloween costume, and a game of truth-or-dare add up to nothing less than hilarious in my mind. Oh, why cannot directors and even writers use adult humor. The Woody Allen kind, the cold, ironic humor. Sure, I think that is quite funny too, but not always laugh-out-loud funny. Refer to a sex organ through a balloon animal and yes, I will howl like a hyena.

Shakespeare is likely one of my favorite bawdy comics. When he begins making jokes about sex, he gets down and dirty, and he’s not

afraid to refer to some of the most taboo subjects of his time. What Shakespeare does really well which some contemporary dirty movies is use subtlety to tell these dirty jokes. He’ll will refer to sex via hilarious puns and innuendos. Have we lost the art of subtlety? It’s not funny to simple call oral sex oral sex. But if you refer to a “the winds that Mother Nature even could blow,” that is dead funny in a Victorian England sort of way.

What fails at these references: see any American Pie spin0ff, horror movie featuring killer fish and topless girls, or National Lampoon straight-to-DVD film.

Compare the following.

Shakespeare Sonnet 125:

The sea, all water, yet receives rain still,
And in abundance addeth to his store;
So thou, being rich in ‘Will,’ add to thy ‘Will’
One will of mine, to make thy large will more.

 

In this passage, the word “Will” takes on the double meaning of ambition as well as “phallus.”

Now, consider the movie American Pie where the entire joke IS sex. You cannot allow sex itself to be funny. Look viewers, there is sex happening on the screen between two teenagers! And look, a naked midget!

It just does not work. I appreciate those movies for their raunchiness, but dirty does not ultimately equate funny. Dirty and smartly stylized equates to funny.

The question we must consider… is WHY we appreciate dirty humor. Shakespeare included it in his plays for the lower class. In one play (say, Hamlet), the bard explores the woes of love, life, and revenge and also makes jokes about virginity, whore-dom, and Ophelia’s breasts. This is why I love Shakespeare. He can be both hilarious and serious within the span of a single monologue. So, when I see a very serious movie that applies very dirty humor, I think “Yes. This great.”

Humor must be had in any great work of literature or film, I believe. It is what allows us to connect at a more visceral level to what’s going on. Laughing makes our bellies shake, our voices boom out. Which offers a nice balance to contemplating the movie’s more intellectual themes.

So, remember, next time you pop open a cold one and get ready to watch a dirty movie dealing primarily with sex, that this experience was made possible and popular by the dirty mind of William Shakespeare. He’s a dude’s dude.

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About Derek Berry

Derek Berry is a novelist and spoken word poet. Derek is the author of Heathens and Liars of Lickskillet County (PRA Publishing, 2016). He co-founded and organizes The Unspoken Word, a literary non-profit based out of Charleston, SC, which provides an intendent home for the poetic arts through regular readings, workshops, and community fundraisers. He is on the Executive Board of the Charleston Poetry Festival, the inaugural production of which will be Fall 2017. His work has appeared in The Southern Tablet, Cattywampus, Charleston Currents, Illuminations, RiverSedge, and other journals.He has performed in venues across the United States and Germany. He has worked as a photographer’s assistant, busboy, and bookseller. He currently works at a curation facility for Cold War History.

Posted on April 14, 2012, in classics, Controversy, Humor, Past, Sex, Writing, writing advice and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. I think there is definitely a place for it. I love intelligent dramas but from time to time I just need something that is more basic, or just funny. In a way it provides a balance, because you can enjoy each thing for what it is.

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