The Problem with Vulgarity

I mentioned in my recent essay on comedy that many authors resort to vulgarity in order to get a laugh. They do this because it is a tried and true method–exploit that which is taboo. It takes little skill and creativity to resort to swearing, graphic sexual humor and toilet humor, which is why it happens so often. Just like with all jobs, it is often tempting to take the easy way as opposed to doing it right the first time.

I think resorting to vulgarity is bad for art as a whole because it cheapens comedy. It turns comedy, itself, into vulgarity, which it doesn’t need to be. It cheapens our language by offering only a handful of adjectives which are constantly repeated over and over again, instead of finding new ways to craft a sentence.

One of the reasons I started making my Inventing Swear Words series is because I was so tired of talking with people whose vocabulary included only the words f*** and sh***, repeated over and over again and tagged with -ing, -ed, -er, -head and -tard. Have you seen Webster’s Dictionary recently? The thing is huge! There are far more words out there besides sh** and f***, and I think we should use them more often.

An audience wants to be entertained by something witty. Sure, swearing and sex-jokes will make them laugh, but they can get that any time they want by heading down to the local bar or going off with friends. It takes a talented fellow to make someone laugh without resorting to vulgarity, and I think that audiences really like this type of witty, contextual humor better than fart jokes. I therefore put this challenge out to all my machinimator peers–try making a funny comedy without resorting to vulgarity. The audience will respect you more and, I believe, enjoy your movie more.


is best known as his alter-ego Oxhorn, author of popular machinima movies. When he's not wearing suspenders with a certain sort of finesse, he's reading, writing, blogging, doing web design, making movies and more often than not enjoying a classy drink with an even classier cigar. Watch his movies at and feel free to stalk him on Twitter and Facebook.

Posted in Essays, General
4 comments on “The Problem with Vulgarity
  1. by: Aries says:

    yes…me again, i have noticed the severe decline in the linguistic skill level desplayed by the MMORPG community this is doubly apparent when it comes to vocal communication networks ( like Ventrillo & Teamspeak) where the level of profanity is to be frank…awe inspiring. As a writer i happen to think of words as my tools and to hear them abused day and daily is not only desterbing but frankly depressing.
    Fortunitly since voicing my distaste to my guild master (after all its his Vent server) and directing those who believed that defacing the english language is the hight of maturity to your machima the linguistic level has not only be brough to a reasonably adult level but the confusion brought about by trying to rember the correct term that coralated to the correct profanity has been a source of ammusment throught the guild…but if you ask me there all a bunch of chaking noobs so bloit them all ROFL!

  2. amanda77kr says:

    Agreed that far too many folks have the vocabulary of an X-rated Dick & Jane primer. And the spelling skills of a, of a, well, they should be embarrassed. Vulgar humor is highly overrated, IMO, seriously, see blog’s statement about size of dictionary. Your stuff, hilarious! Banal, boring, bafoonary? Bleh.

  3. Olibith says:

    I sometimes use vulgarity, toilet jokes and fart method to get a laugh.
    I never feel bad about it even if I know you’re right, that’s the easyest way.
    I’m not all about vulgarity but I guess taboos are one of my favorite topic since most of them are looking like nonsenses to me.
    And I love nonsenses.
    I just try my best not to hurt anyones feelings but I want to avoid self censorship.
    And, (I’ve just found find what looks like a pretty excuse to me) , you’re an american writer, talking to the entire world in your native tong, that’s a chance you know ?


  4. Annie says:

    I have to agree with Oli on this one. Although, I do enjoy Oxhorn’s machinima immensely, I also enjoy “off colored” humor as well. This, in and of itself, as an American female, is opening myself up to criticism. Do I believe it needs to be the sole means , end all be all to humor? No, I don’t. It can be entertaining and in a convoluted way, a stress reliever for me to hear and be able to laugh at something that isn’t stifled or “politically correct”. I work in the financial industry where everything is scrutinized, censored and professional. To go home, put on sweats, let my hair down and laugh at a fart joke/taboo subject on Family Guy, Futurama, or the many comedians on my local cable network/internet, that’s just priceless, in moderation.

    I do agree vulgarity is a highly abused means of expression, particularly in the MMO environment, where players are want to use it because they believe it makes them “kewl” or “1337”. On the other hand, I don’t think it should be frowned upon, if an adult would like to occasionally enjoy taboo humor or conversation that is not rated PG 13.

    That being said, if it isn’t “your thing”, I fully support that 100%. I don’t think any humor, subject matter, etc. should be forced upon someone, regardless what side of the fence you happen to be sitting on.

    Thank you, Brandon, for the blog. It is very thought provoking and refreshing to be able to read so many interesting view points.

    Congrats on the apartment !


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