One of the funniest pieces of stand-up comedy I’ve ever come across is by a guy named Ron White. Mr. White’s comedy routine revolves in large part around a southern redneck persona that, while clearly rooted in his real life experiences, I suspect he left behind when he started making millions of dollars and wearing expensive suits.
Ron White is not a “clean” comedian. His routines include swearing—lots of swearing. And while I no longer find four-letter words funny any more than I do fart and poop humor, Ron White’s comedy would be a lot less funny if he edited those words out.
In the routine I’m referring to, Mr. White tells a story about getting a tire changed at a Sears Automotive Center only to have the wheel that tire was mounted on fall off his truck immediately upon driving away. Ron’s exact words are … well, I don’t think I’ll print them here, because I don’t need to. Here’s a snippet of Ron White’s “Tire College” Routine.
As I write this, that YouTube clip has been played over 118,000 times. 150 people have “liked” it, and 5 have given it a thumbs-down. Should I be surprised that thirty times more people liked Ron White dropping F-Bombs in a southern drawl than disliked it? Of course not; most of the people who got to that page were either Ron White fans or referred there by other Ron White fans. Is .13% a normal percentage of people who listened to Ron White’s Tire College on YouTube bothering to rate the piece? It seems to be for Ron White; this piece has almost two million listens, and that same .13% figure applies. And it has forty times as many approvers as disapprovers.
Throw the numbers together any way you like; as we know, statistics lie. Ask whatever questions you think are right about the audience for blue humor in general or Ron White in particular. Draw conclusions about whether those statistics would apply outside the realm of Ron White, Tire Colleges, and F-Bombs.
Now ask about the business change implications.
Specifically, ask whether it’s time to stop caring what people around you think. When Brian Clark, the very successful Copyblogger, tweeted last week about having had a Ron White moment, and quoted the Tire College bit, some of his 90,000 followers got upset with Brian’s use of the F-Bomb. I suppose Brian could have taken the time to format his tweet carefully instead of telling a joke about a joke quickly and off-the-cuff (in the way that Twitter all but demands), but it was Brian’s followers who saw the tweet; you’d think they’d understand the context, the medium, and Brian well enough not to threaten him with an un-follow.
For many years Howard Stern has said it clearly: don’t threaten, and don’t complain; if you don’t like what I’m saying, JUST STOP LISTENING. It’s what’s happened to business now, anyway; tried to cold-call someone lately? You can’t get through; people like text better than phone calls.
I’ve picked on Gary Vaynerchuk for swearing in public. I’ve given Julien Smith a hard time for swearing on his blog. And I’ve managed to avoid stringing the four objectionable-when-used-in-a-certain-order letters together even in this piece, where the context would have made doing so acceptable.
As anyone who knows me will attest, I swear plenty. Yes, that includes liberal use of the F-Bomb.
And while I still believe that you should avoid saying “offensive” things in public if you can, I think it’s also time we start recognizing, as Brian Clark has, that in a world where the relationship between your numbers and who’s listening are almost the only thing that matters, authenticity is more important than being politically correct.
The F-Bomb, in public, is business change. And we have George Carlin, Ron White, and Brian Clark to thank for that.