I had a friend in Greenwich Village who employed an effective method for handling hecklers. He was a linguistics student at one of the city’s universities and had happened upon a formula that generated plausible but meaningless, four-letter words that followed the rules for such terms in Anglo-Saxon – you may have noticed that many of our juicier curse words derive from Anglo-Saxon?
So some drunk would start at two AM about something, and Todd would start a machine gun recitation of fake curse words and graphic gestures. The drunk, unable to make a discrimination between the real and the fake, would grow incensed as the audience began to howl with laughter.
This little stunt was so valuable that it became a regular part of his nightly performance, with me or some other friend filling in for a drunk. When he started appearing on a local radio folk music show, he wasn’t allowed to do the routine for fear that complaints of profanity would take the show off the air. As Todd began to perform at better-quality venues, they refused to allow the routine even though the words were a total fabrication.
At the time, we decided it proved how uptight and puritanical our society was about body issues, sex, and curses. But we were all sobered when in 1966, comedian Lenny Bruce was arrested for saying nine words deemed offensive.
Here we are in 2023, and I wonder what the reaction would be to Todd’s routine. The words, many with apparent sexual and excretory implications, even though fake, might continue to prove that smut is in the eye of the beholder rather than in words themselves.
Please note that I kept this entire diatribe clean! No twilight messing about in the gloaming for me!