When a comedian is known for a particular comedy style, it is called going blue. The comedy itself is called blue comedy which crass humour filled with sexual innuendos. Why is it called blue comedy anyways?
The comedy to be expected would be profane, crass, risque talks usually about sex or toilet humour. It’s often offensive, dirty and pushing boundaries. Comedians usually say some of seemingly offensive things without the usual barriers of normal society to tell a story and make people laugh. Sexual frustration and dating anxiety is usually what is overly described by stand up comics. They are usually taboo subject matters that most people don’t discuss.
“Working blue” refers to the act of using curse words and discussing things that people would not discuss in “polite society”. A “blue comedian” or “blue comic” is a comedian who usually performs risqué routines layered with curse words and sexual innuendos.
Blue tends to mean “that” in media when advertising risque content. A quick example of this would be old late night advertising about lewd content coming up.
Old Comedy History
Blue comedy is also called ribaldry meaning erotic humour in Old English. It often ranges from bordering on indelicacy to gross morality and indecency. It is also referred to as “bawdiness” or “bawdy”. Sex is made fun of in foibles and weaknesses that manifest themselves in human sexuality, rather than to present sexual stimulation either excitingly or artistically. Ribaldry can use sex as a metaphor to illustrate something non-sexual which makes it closer to satire in that regard.
The close “cousin” to ribaldry would be fabliau which was a comical tale, often anonymously written by medieval minstrels in northeast France between the 1150 and 1400. Fabliau was often about a comic or bawdy incident from middle-class life. It also jokes about sex but poop humour, too. They rose to popularity in English around the 14 century. Richeut might be the first fabliau tale of a prostitute using men for her advance. This story was seen as the prototype of fabliau writing.
Martin Luther had poems based on poop, ass and fart jokes. Early blue humour parodied Eurtipides works with toilet humour. Notably, the most well-known writer during this time to use ribaldry in his work was Geoffrey Chaucer. For example, his writings of The Miller’s Tale in The Canterbury Tales is laced with sexual humour, profanity, blasphemy and fart/poop humour.
|The Canterbury Tales Excerpt |
from The Miller’s Tale (Line 621-632)
|“This Absolon gan wype his mouth ful drie./ Dirk was the nyght as pich or as the cole,/ And at the wyndow out she pitte hir hole./ And Absolon hym fil no bet ne wers,/ But with his mouth he kiste hir naked ers/ Ful savourly er he was war of this./ Abak he stirte and thoughte it was amys,/ For wel he wiste a woman hath no berd./ He felte a thyng al rough and longe yherd/ And seyde, “Fy! Allas! What have I do?”/ “Tehee,” quod she and clapte the wyndow to.”|
|Translation to Modern English||And Absalom no better felt nor worse,/But with his mouth he kissed her naked arse/Right greedily, before he knew of this./A back he leapt- it seemed somehow amiss,/ For well he knew a woman has no beard;/He’d felt a thing all rough and longish haired,/And said, “Oh fie, alas! What did I do?”/”Teehee!” she laughed, and closed the window too;|
Lord Chamberlain Office and the Theatre
In England during the 1700s, bureaucracy changed to public events and how they were managed. The Lord Chamberlain’s Office is like an event management office for the Queen’s Royal Household. They organize events like weddings, garden parties, State visits and for 230 years in power theatrical performances. They were also known as the office of Examiner of Plays between 1738 – 1837. The Office was acting under the Stage Licensing Act of 1737 and the Theatre Act of 1843.
The Stage Licensing Act of 1737 was the law to control and censor what was being said about the British government on stage. Before the act, people had the freedom to say what they felt about life like poverty, homosexuality, abuse, liberation or opinions about the British government. This law enacted to control any revolutionary ideas the people might get inspiration from. Political dramas were the main driving force of why the act was passed in parliament.
The Theatre Act of 1843 dealt with the Chamberlain power over new plays and existing ones that he disagreed with where he was the opinion of “it is fitting for the preservation of good manners, decorum or of the public peace so to do”. This help break some of the monopolies of licenses in patent theatres and encourage new and smaller ventures.
The Examiner of Plays would audit a play submitted to them to see if the theatrical license can be granted. If the play didn’t meet up to code they weren’t granted a license or placed in the “waiting box” between 1867 – 1968. The office would highlight in blue pencil unacceptable routines and jokes. Comedians would have to A.) revise their act by cutting it out or B.) face strict fines and/or penalties under the code. A blue comedian after this point was considered to have bawdy or smutty material for their act. They also visited the theatres where it was going to be performed to ensure safety and law compliance according to the Lord of Chamberlain. Any play could have been banned and any time especially if it was a public performance.
On September 26th, 1968, theatre censorship was finally abolished ending the rein of the blue pencil pushers from the Lord Chamberlain’s Office. This was the Theatre Act of 1968 abolishing censorship of the United Kingdom stage.
20th Century Blue Humour Myth
Some believe that some comedians are called blue comics because of Max Miller. He was an English stand-up comedian sometimes called Cheeky Chappie. He was very popular between the 1930s to 1950s performing in theatres, revues and music halls. He had some blue material that got him in trouble with the censors at the time but never cursed or told a dirty joke on stage. Miller had two props with him when he performed on stage: One white book with jokes and one blue book with another set of jokes. He would ask the audience, “Which book should I read from?”, and the response was always from the blue book. The jokes in the blue book were the naughty ones. He left out the last word of the joke blaming them if they laughed. The last work of the joke was usually the word banned from being uttered.
Mary had a little lamb
Who acted very silly.
She plucked the wool from off its back
And smacked its Piccadilly.
Like the rumours of him being banned from the BBC in the 1930’s and 1950’s, the rumours of him being responsible for creating blue humour is just a rumour that helped his career’s mystique.