Edinburgh — Let’s talk about the c-word. The c-bomb. The country without a tree. She-who-must-not-be-named. When “bitch” isn’t doing the trick. We know the word. A word I once vowed to never utter – until I met one. It’s strong, it’s vulgar, it’s a game-changer in America. And yet, I have heard the word used more times by Brits, Scots, Irish, and Aussie’s alike in the past week than most hear in their American lifetime. I wouldn’t say the word is innocuous here at the Fringe, but wherein an elderly woman might huff her way out of a club in Oklahoma City for hearing it once during a comedy show, her European counter-part would shout out “here, here!” After the thirtieth time. For Americans, the c-word is our last defense – in the UK, it’s front of the line.
Glenn Wool (pictured above) has taken notice: “In Edinburgh, its perfectly acceptable to just say c— on the street. In America, if you say c— on a bus, they are stopping the bus and point a sniper rifle at your forehead. Because to Americans, gun are okay but words are spooky.” That’s an early piece of his buzzed-about show “No Land Man” where he has a unique grasp of culture from Indonesian to the beavers of his Canadian home. Here in Scotland, he is not exaggerating the casual use of the c-word. In queue (line) for his show, I heard the following phrases: “we were looking all over for you, you c—,” “you drink your lager like a c—-,” and “Margeret Cho is a funny c—.”
Playing the circus-like collection of venues known as the Assembly, Wool commands over an hour of fully-engaged comedy inside a lecture hall of the University of Edinburgh. During the Fringe, every corner of this city becomes a venue – bars, libraries, alley-ways, bus-stops, student unions, public parks, hallways, storage closets, and yes, lecture halls. It is a joy to place your pint atop collegiate desktops where plenty of students have failed themselves while you listen to smart, dirty jokes from Wool.
From his accounts on-stage, it appears that Glenn is like a 5th year senior of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. “I toiled away here for 12 straight years until Hollywood came around two years ago and said ‘we want to make you a big star.’ I said ‘bye, Edinburgh.’ Two years later, I’m back.” Fortunately, he is not returning a failure or disappointment – the crowd only laughed at that bit because we all know Wool is still solidly on the rise. Perhaps he will even be the recipient of the coveted Fosters Comedy Award that one Fringe staffer told me they have “put money on it.”
But back to the c-word. Not the Laura Linney show. The actual c-word that changes the energy of an American comedy club if it happens to slip out of your mouth when a relentless, entitled, middle-aged lady won’t shut her face. Now you’re mean and unlikable. When UK comedians drop it, its charming, cheeky, light-hearted and merely meaning “rude.” Damn them and their refined accent! I guess on the same front, they certainly have different intentions when the call something a “fag” as well.
“There’s a faction of comics over here who would like to act like using c— is more common and acceptable than it really is,” explained a well-known London producer that shall remain nameless. “Since I’m always around comedy and it doesn’t bother me, I have to remind myself that it is not proper speech in public.”
A more proper analysis of this word would fit quite well in Gareth Morinan’s show “The Truth (explained in doodles)” where he projects a perfectly low-budget presentation to explain where truth lies. All ideas have to be tested against their Context, Judgment, and Offence. Using his intellectual albeit silly stand-up, Gareth presents hypothetical situations to understand that nothing is universally true. For instance, a baby duck is good until that baby duck says “god hates fags” and then he is bad until you realize he is anti-smoking and he is then good again. We know that “fags” is slang for cigarettes over here, right? Okay, now we’re good again.
Using any dirty word in comedy is not indicative of anything. Uptight critics tend to note that vulgarity is usually placed in the gaps where intelligence should be. Rather than saying dirty words are bad or dumb, it should be said that it depends where you use dirty words that matter. On a joke level, an f-bomb is more effective when used for emphasis (or not at all) rather than as a placeholder for “um.” On a crowd level, the c-word and its many friends get a range of reactions when you drop them in different cities, countries, neighborhoods, circles of friends, co-workers, and sides of the family.
Robin Ince and Michael Legge (pictured the right), two highly-intelligent comedians from London, took on the use of the phrase “c-bomb” in their show “Pointless Anger, Righteous Ire” – a show that Robin invited me to as “a chance to watch two crabby buggers yelling for an hour.” Robin is not angry at the word “c—“ (as shown through his incessant use of it), but of people referencing it as “a c-bomb.” “As if Al-Qaeda is just training a bunch of suicide-bombers to come over and call everyone “c—s” to death. Just say the word!” Even just writing this dispatch as an American, I don’t feel that I can. But I did quite enjoy when Robin and Michael both called me a “narcissistic American c—“ during their show. That might be a joy you can only appreciate over here.
UPDATE ON THE FREE FRINGE/FESTIVAL DEBATE: Veteran Irish comedian Ian Coppinger feels “any audience that won’t reach into their pockets to see a show is no audience at all. Audiences that can simply walk out because they don’t like the act never had incentive to invest attention in the first place. It’s not big-business at all that’s ruining the Fringe. It might just be the opposite. All these artists who don’t want to commit to putting up a show with everything that comes with it are making the ticketed shows lose value.”