Where do you push the limits? And where do you watch each step, being careful not to offend?
As a comedy ventriloquist, specializing in corporate events, I am constantly challenged to determine where the line is that I should not cross with any given audience. One of the greatest skills of a corporate entertainer is to discern where that line is, and push against it without going too far. Where that line is can vary significantly from one group to the next.
My clients appreciate that my material is clean. Being somewhat of a Boy Scout by nature, what I consider to be edgy is still pretty tame. After all, I’m the guy who once ordered milk to drink at the Playboy Club (a story for another time…) While they appreciate that people don’t get offended, there have been times when the only complaint was that it was maybe too clean. So, lately, I have been pushing that line harder.
Recently, I performed for a large group that I knew would have a much broader definition of “acceptable” than my usual highly sensitive corporate audience. The event included an open bar – always a clue to a group expecting material farther away from a purely G rating – and it was being well utilized.
I came prepared with my most edgy material, specifically from my Gus character. Gus’ material runs the gamut from workplace acceptable office curmudgeon humor to his roots as a rough around the edges country boy at heart. He loves his beer. He’s far from blue humor, but even in the most politically correct versions of his routine, he rarely comes out to play if there are kids in the audience. So, it was a bit disconcerting when I saw a number of families with kids arriving for this particular event.
As the group continued to gather, I decided I’d better check the sensitivity meter with the client. He gave me the green light, telling me my understanding of the group was spot on, and that included the kids.
The show was a great success – including Gus. I received comments and notes from people afterward telling me how much their whole family enjoyed the show.
We can’t always check ahead of time. Sometimes we just need to put it out there and go for it. As a friend of mine likes to say, “It’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission.” I also have friends in the comedy business who say, “If at least one person wasn’t offended, you’re not trying hard enough.”
How does this relate to your work? How hard are you trying to find the line? Are you always holding back out of fear of possibly offending someone? Or are you willing to push harder, to probe, to find the line?
What I am discovering in pushing harder on the line with my comedy material is that the 98% of people who laugh appreciate that someone finally had the nerve to cross the line set in place by the 2% of people who were offended, because those same 2% have been blocking their progress.
I am not suggesting dropping more F-bombs, literally or figuratively. But, there is a case to be made for pushing the self-imposed limits that are holding us back. Be willing to be the one who crosses the line. You might be surprised how many people will cheer you on and follow your lead.