Stand-up comics finding success by dropping dirty jokes

Very funny: Keeping it clean

Posted: Thursday, May 04, 2000

LOS ANGELES -- Quick! What's the difference between clean comedy and dirty comedy?

The clean comic's paycheck has an extra zero.

By keeping sex, foul language and toilet humor out of their acts, scores of comedians who once scraped for the occasional nightclub gig are finding bountiful bookings at corporate conventions, school gatherings and church events.

''We're not here to put the fun into fundamentalism. We're not the Moral Majority of America. We're just giving people an alternative,'' said Adam Christing, president of the Clean Comedians booking agency.

The agency, which represents about 40 comedians nationwide, promises wholesome laughs, with no gender-bashing, ethnic jokes, sexual innuendo or dirty words.

The comedian-magician has gone from booking 80 shows a decade ago, when he founded the agency, to nearly 640 last year.

''I think there is a gigantic segment of the population that feels alienated from the entertainment industry,'' he said. ''People are getting burned out on the profanity. And it's a tired approach to stand-up.''

The green for not working blue is substantial.

Christing said his company's biggest fee was $80,000 from Canon for supplying comics for a weekend convention.

A major gig pays an average of $2,000, said Nick Arnette, one of Christing's merrymakers. Smaller appearances can net $500 to $1,000 for 40 minutes of material.

Work is so abundant, Arnette said he no longer competes for gigs at Los Angeles' Sunset Strip comedy clubs. Instead, he routinely appears at events for AT&T, GTE and the Salvation Army.

Arnette said nightclub gigs never suited him anyway.

''In a lot of clubs, the humor just kept getting dirtier and dirtier. I think that if a joke needs a curse word, it's probably not very good in the first place,'' the 14-year stand-up veteran said. ''When you're funny, nobody misses the cursing.''


''Well, there was this one show I did before a group of truck drivers,'' Arnette confessed. ''The company wanted clean, but the truck drivers didn't. It got ugly.''

Christing said his Clean Comedians have to be cleaner than ''TV clean'' because the material that gets past late-night censors on ''The Tonight Show'' might not go over so well with a conference of business executives.

So what material is OK? Relationships, workplace turmoil, pop culture observations, Christing said, adding that most people are so used to offensive comedy they forget how much else there is to laugh about.

Comic-impressionist Steve Bridges, another of Christing's clean cutups, does impressions of Forrest Gump, Jack Nicholson and Homer Simpson reading a company's bureaucratic memos.

Marge Smith, an events organizer for Whittier Christian Junior High School, echoed testimonials by other clients who say that they would have no entertainment if it weren't for groups like Clean Comedians.

''With this group, you know you can sit back, enjoy the show and not worry about anything but having a good time,'' she said.

During Bridges' recent appearance at the school's graduation banquet, the raunchiest his act got was a Bill Clinton impersonation that mentioned Monica Lewinsky.

''Don't worry,'' Bridges reassured the audience in his Clinton drawl. ''I'm not going to say anything inappropriate. ... I just do things that are inappropriate!''

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