Clean comedy thrives with the likes of Jim Gaffigan, Brian Regan

Published: Wednesday, March 20 2013 6:05 p.m. MDT

Jim Gaffigan

Photo by: Patrick Ecclesine, Turner

A recent Wall Street Journal headline hailed comedian Jim Gaffigan as “the king of (clean) comedy.”

“Jim Gaffigan works clean,” Don Steinberg wrote in the March 15 edition. “He resists profanity. He doesn't rip celebrities with crude insults. He won't reveal everything you didn't want to know about his sexual urges and private parts. At a time when comedy is as filthy as it's ever been — the industry euphemism is ‘edgy’ — Mr. Gaffigan, working clean, has become one of the hottest comedians in the country. He was one of the top 10 touring comedians in North America last year, according to Pollstar.”

(Steinberg’s article covers too much ground to summarize here, but suffice it to say the article is full of nuggets like this observation from Jerry Seinfeld: “If you have a bit, and it's got swear words in it, and it gets a huge laugh, it may or may not be funny. But if you have a bit that has no swear words, and it gets a huge laugh, it's definitely funny.”)

Gaffigan isn’t the only performer finding success within the niche of “clean comedy.” Already this month print outlets across the country have promoted the profanity-free feats of comedians Brian Regan, Bill Engvall and Sinbad.

In a Q-and-A the St. Louis Post-Dispatch published March 1, Regan fielded a question about his decision to “perform clean.”

“It happened to be how I think as a comedian,” Regan responded. “I think about everyday things that don’t go in a certain direction. … Every once in a while I’ll think of something blue and wonder what it would be like to throw it into my show. But I have to be considerate. There might be a boy in the audience holding a red balloon. I don’t want to tell a joke that would make the balloon pop.”

Last week OC Weekly’s Ali Lerman described how Engvall (“Blue Collar Comedy”) thrives without profane words punctuating his routine: “Though he has plenty of jokes about the stupid things people do, the most powerful phrase in his arsenal — the catch phrase ‘Here's your sign’ — is all his fans need to hear to start cracking up. The power that phrase holds during his set doesn't quite make sense at first, but after a few minutes, you realize its power to tear a person down in hilarious fashion without a single curse word.”

Also last week, Bakersfield Californian columnist Matt Muñoz praised the clean comedy of Sinbad — who still takes his standup routine on the road even though he’s no longer in the national spotlight.

“Few comedians hit career strides like Sinbad did in the '80s,” Muñoz wrote. “After being cast in ‘The Cosby Show’ spin-off ‘A Different World,’ the actor's good-natured, profanity-free comedy style became a calling card for mainstream success. … Love him or hate him, it's tough to be a clean comedian in these dirty times, and you'll be hard pressed to find someone over the past three decades who's left their comedy crossover mark like Sinbad.”

Jamshid Ghazi Askar is a graduate of BYU's J. Reuben Clark Law School and member of the Utah State Bar. Contact him at jaskar@desnews.com or 801-236-6051.

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