This week’s question is pegged to the upcoming Deadwood movie:
What’s your favorite expression of profanity from pop culture?
I am actually trying to get further away from profanity. I was always pretty fluent in swears, but working here, where everyone swears so much it’s like a second language, I really have forgotten that not everyone talks like this (just ask the flabbergasted moms at my neighborhood playground). The only other job I could work after here without getting fired is as a sailor or some sort of dockworker, although sadly, I lack the necessary upper-body strength. So this is just yet another reason I greatly admire Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and Kimmy’s ability to get her message across without actually cursing. For Lent this year, the only thing I’m giving up is swears, trying to adapt to Kimmy-isms like “what in the ham sandwich” and “fudge that sugar! fudge it to heck!” Unsurprisingly, so far I’m failing miserably, as my kids recently rolled their eyes at my efforts: “Mom, you’ve already used the F-word three times. This morning.”
There are few actors on the planet who’ve put more time in at the “fuck you” mines than Peter Capaldi, who, before becoming The Doctor, used to hang with guys like “The Fucker” on Armando Iannucci’s political satire The Thick Of It and its film follow-up, In The Loop. As political fixer/dead-eyed lizard man Malcolm Tucker, Capaldi deployed a verbal threat like few other folks on the planet, culminating in the moment in In The Loop where he dubs David Rasche’s equally soulless—but more ostensibly wholesome—fellow warmonger as a “boring fuck,” then, in deference to his host’s distaste for swearing, spells it out instead: “F-star-star-cunt.” Not a word I’m a fan of personally, but damn if Capaldi doesn’t deliver it with charismatic relish and an instinct for laser-guided offense.
As with Gwen’s choice, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, my favorite pop-culture profanity isn’t profane at all. Unlike Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt or The Good Place’s fake swears, though, these are only partially intentional. One of my favorite things in the whole world is the TV edit of Jackie Brown, and specifically, the pretzel-like knots the film’s editors had to tie themselves into in order to make that movie’s dialogue ready for network TV. “Mighty fine” as a substitute for the adjective form of “motherfucker” is a classic, of course. But there are so many utterances of that particular word in the film that the actors had to get creative. As Jackson told me in an interview I did with him last year, overdubbing a profanity-laden Quentin Tarantino movie gets so tedious that “you end up making up a lot of stupid shit, like ‘monkey-fighters’ and ‘motor scooter.’” Stupid shit, or hilarious shit? Moron-feeder, they’re the same thing!
At the risk of selecting another example that playfully sidesteps any use of actual profanity, I have to go with the “Sailor Mouth” episode of SpongeBob SquarePants. The basic plot is that SpongeBob and Patrick find some “sentence-enhancing” words written on a dumpster and decide they’re a harmless way to spice up their normal conversations. Unfortunately, as Mr. Krabs informs them later, they are actually “bad words” that you’re not supposed to ever say or else you’ll get in trouble. Part of the joke is that the words are essentially bleeped out, replaced with dolphin noises or other funny sound effects, and though there’s a twist ending of sorts that implies the wacky noises are actually the bad words themselves (meaning they’re not really being bleeped out), it makes no difference in practice. SpongeBob has done a lot of clever humor for a kids show, but very little of it is as funny as hearing him say “Hey Patrick, how the **** are ya?” as he cheerfully arrives for work at the Krusty Krab.
I love swears. I just love them so much. Properly deployed, they add so much richness to the fabric of language. Lately, I’ve been thinking that Marvelous Mrs. Maisel may be second only to Deadwood in the poetic application of swears, but as far as one specific example of cussing goes, no recent use of profanity has delighted me as much as Cadet Sylvia Tilly’s earnest proclamation of “this is so fucking cool!” on Star Trek: Discovery. It’s the first instance of the F-bomb in Star Trek history, and naturally, its deployment had a lot of detractors—from people who thought it was an unnecessary provocation by CBS All Access to get attention, or from those who philosophically believed humanity’s evolution into peaceful socialist egalitarians of the future included giving up swears. But I thought it was a perfect encapsulation of the show’s ethos. Tilly’s outburst came in response to learning of a scientific breakthrough that significantly advanced their understanding of the universe. What’s more Star Trek than an enthusiastic proclamation of how amazing progress is? Or as Lt. Stamets replied, “It is fucking cool.”
Nobody swears like Norm Macdonald, especially when he’s bound by only the loosest of corporate dictates. I’ve long contended that the first six episodes of Norm’s podcast, The Norm Macdonald Show (now known as Netflix’s Norm Macdonald Has A Show), are some of the best comedy I’ve ever experienced, if only for the absolute lack of oversight over the shit coming out of his mouth. Yes, Norm’s mouth has gotten him into heaps of trouble, but it’s also punctured otherwise leisurely strains of conversation with a dizzying utterance of “fuck” or “cock” that can’t help but shock you into laughter. So unhinged was Norm in those early episodes that he lost the few sponsors he did have for discussing how TV host Larry King was “up my fucking asshole for four fucking days” in the middle of reading ad copy. Or take his viral co-hosting gig at the YouTube Comedy Awards, when he made co-hosts Jenny Slate and Kassem Gharaibeh scramble to keep interviews and ads on track. “Enough with the fuckin’ jokes,” he says to them during one interview. Later, as Gharaibeh shows Norm a picture of himself as part of a Google ad, Norm replies, “Oh, yeah, it’s me with a huge, fat fucking face.” And this is to say nothing of the guest magician he calls a “fucking sorcerer.” There’s no poetry, no linguistic elegance to Norm’s swearing—it’s more about the timing of it all, and the blunt force with which his four-letter cudgels land.
If you’re going to work blue, work blue. Blue as the veins of an aristocratic Smurf. Blue as a peck of blueberries that are actually sapphires, and each of those sapphires is also a tiny wireless speaker playing Muddy Waters. Blue as “Monster Fuck.” For six Halloweens and one holiday special (and counting), Doughboys co-host Nick Wiger has pulled the same trick and/or treat on Comedy Bang! Bang! listeners, promising a never-before-heard graveyard smash from original “Monster Mash” songwriter Leo Carpazzi, then singing a variation on the same lyrics about the famous monsters of filmland smashing in the graveyard. It’s never anything less than aggressively filthy—the emphasis Wiger puts on the “fuck” in the chorus steps right up to the line of off-putting—and its combination of novelty-song cheer and bathroom-graffiti obscenity never fails to crack me up. That blend got literalized in a cheeky Funny Or Die video from 2011, but for the full impact of Wiger’s profane silliness (and the all-important counterbalance of host Scott Aukerman’s disgust), there’s this 46-minute-plus cut of Carpazzi promising that he’s changed his ways, then promptly steering his tricked-out hearse straight into the gutter.
Of all the profanities uttered on Veep, one has stuck with me for years: “jolly green jizz face.” It’s one of the many insults slung Jonah’s way, with Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) turfing it casually and quickly when Jonah (Timothy Simons) chuckles as Selina and her team deal with a viral meme casting Selina in a bad light. “What are you laughing about, jolly green jizz face?” “Jolly green jizz face”: it’s just a perfect insult—crass, cutting, specific to Jonah, who’s very tall, and surprising in the way you hear it, expecting “jolly green” to be followed with “giant,” but instead hearing the delightfully juvenile “jizz face.” There’s also a kind-of alliteration and an emphatic patter that rolls satisfyingly off the tongue.