Lyrical Laughs

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Brenner, Bombeck, and why blue is not my color

In 1977 when I was 17, my sister and I got tickets to the Oakdale for a performance that to this day is one of the best shows I've ever seen.

The amazingly versatile and talented actor, singer and dancer Ben Vereen came on like gangbusters and captured his audience immediately. From the moment he appeared we were mesmerized by his voice, his moves, and his incredibly engaging presence. I wish I could have seen him as the Wizard in Wicked on Broadway in 2005 - even almost 30 years later I have no doubt he would have held my attention the same way he did back then. He has always been a class act.

On a completely different note and with no singing, dancing, or acting ability that we knew of, a comedian by the name of David Brenner took to the stage. I can't tell you one thing he said that day but I can tell you that we laughed so hard our bodies ached. I was so sad to hear that he died this past week. Even though I had not seen him perform in a long time, I think he was one of the best in the business.

Like Ben Vereen, David Brenner was someone I admired as a performer for so many reasons, not the least of which was that he didn't have to be obscene in any way to keep you coming back for more. I remember seeing him on television a lot in the 70s (as Paul Reiser mentions, the funny man seemed to constantly be making an appearance somewhere, thankfully, since it preceded the VCR days) and my parents thought he was a riot. Considering that I was a teenager, it's hard to believe I had anything in common with my parents back then, but finding David Brenner hysterical was definitely something we agreed on.

Granted, when he was at the height of his career there was minimal if any swearing on television. In fact, even movies that had a lot of profanity were actually R movies, instead of being passed off as PG - you didn't have to fret about whether your kid was going to learn a new word at a PG movie then (before they slipped in PG13 to give cursing a little more leeway). What is accepted on television these days boggles the mind and makes many parents want to keep a lock not only on their kid's laptop, but on the remote control.

Here's the thing. I don't tend to use curse words as a way to make a point. I wasn't brought up to take swearing lightly, and neither were my kids. Do I drop a blue word now and then? Oh yes. Did my girls learn to never go anywhere near their father when he was working on the car? As if there was a black cloud above his head ready to burst into flames from the sheer force of his language.

But generally, it's not how I communicate. If you really want to make me sound prudish, consider this: I did not allow my daughters to use the word "crap" in general growing up. It was just a word that sounded distasteful (come on, think about it) and I tried to instill in them that they are intelligent enough come up with something better. On occasion I will use that word but I still find it just a disgusting reference... the phrase makes me think of dog poop. It's just a thing with me, as my college student would say.

Now, before someone reading this starts tapping away to tell me off because they think I'm saying you're an idiot or unintelligent if you swear - Hold The Phone (and keyboard). That's not it at all, and I'm really not going to hang my head for instilling in my children the idea that I wanted them to have some self respect when they speak, which gives others a chance to respect them. All I'm saying is that my heroes are people who express themselves in a way that I can relate to. I can't relate to profanity.

We have actually been given free tickets to comedy shows that my whole family was disappointed in - not because they weren't funny - because they used swearing as a crutch to be funny. You're probably thinking I found that stuff hysterical when I was younger. Well, no. George Carlin's seven bad words you can't say on television didn't make me laugh. I haven't changed with the times either, no matter how much more accepting swearing is. The opening acts to Gabriel Iglesias were.... eh. But I loved Gabriel Iglesias. Ironically, I watched a clip on him after seeing him perform at our daughter's college last year, and he talked about how another comic told him that to really make it in the business, he might want to consider being a little less 'blue'. Straight up great advice.

For the same reason, I have always hoped to emulate Erma Bombeck's writing when I have had the opportunity to share something I've penned. Again, knowing her era was not one that readily accepted swearing as a means to a laugh, I do understand that modern day writers don't see it as that much of an issue. Maybe it's not for some folks, and that's their prerogative. It doesn't necessarily stop me from reading good material and admiring a writer's style and wit. But it also doesn't make me want to travel down that same road. I will remain a little less edgy, a little more "boring" - a little more me.

I know now that my kids are away from the nest they probably have their salty moments. I am guilty of saying things I didn't used to say with a little less caution when I'm around just their dad, but if I slip up in front of our girls I can feel my cheeks turning red. As far as writing or speaking that way for a general audience, that's not ever going to happen. And I find it ironic that I almost feel like I should apologize for feeling that way.

Over the years I have given my daughters ample opportunity to snicker at my way of thinking, particularly when I get attached to a song on the radio and they explain that this is the "radio" version... which means I wouldn't be singing along to the CD - and yes, that irritates me to no end. You're a multi-million dollar recording artist - you can't think of any other word to use in a refrain that repeats itself over and over?

When our youngest was around 10 she was in love with a song by a young female artist who was making it big on the charts. For her birthday she was given the CD. I never thought to check the lyrics because I "knew" that song from the radio. Guess what? There's a little more to it on the unedited CD. Without my even realizing that was the case, my child gave the CD back. I never said she would be in trouble for listening to it. She just lost interest when she realized she wouldn't be belting out that particular tune (the one she liked) along with the original any time soon.

In another instance of "WWMS" (what would mom say) her very protective older sister was ready to tell a bunch of guys off who were using some pretty vulgar language within earshot of the two of them. I am thankful she didn't follow through with that because I'm not sure that would've ended well. But the fact that she felt it wasn't acceptable said a lot - mainly that they both got it.

Bottom line: I admire people like David Brenner and Erma Bombeck for their talent and their choices, and I hope in a very, very small way to emulate how they brought their audience in and had them waiting for more - just by being who they naturally were.

And that's what I'm aiming for - not blue, and not lily white. Just me, darnit.


  1. No apologies needed. Always be true to yourself. My truth happens to be rather colorful, but I always respect anyone who is honest about who they are.

  2. David Brener was a great performer, and few can match Bombeck's insight and humor. Go with your gut and be yourself.

  3. Admittedly, I do have a "colorful" way with words at times, however I respect anyone who's' choices are not the same, and also know when and where to use or not to use..... I don't enjoy going into a store and hearing all sorts of words where there are so many different ears to listen to it... and there certainly are much better ways to have a discussion then belting out "ugly" words. I agree there are to many things that seemed to have been accepted, but that doesn't make it right. Be true to yourself!!! :)

  4. Nadine, you know I love you, saltiness and all! ;-) You have a zest for life that I've always admired, and you love your family and friends like nobody's business. Love you, my friend!