The unique trial of potty-mouthed play titles


most shop windows will not put this up. #thingsidontneedtoverify

This article came up last year, in the middle of my UK tour. I remembered it this week because it’s still timely and relevant and… WHY DO I KEEP DOING THIS TO MYSELF. I I keep putting vulgar language in my play titles!

Okay, the last two plays have had inoffensive titles, but this season I’m back with nerdfucker, which is not just vulgar, but actually an obscenity by most public speech laws, so naturally I have been pondering the wisdom of my titling practices. I have had time to consider possible reactions of Fringe festivals, and the challenges of getting the poster up on bulletin boards, and I will never ever be able to go on the air anywhere, holy fuck, what the fuck have I been thinking?

That sort of face-palm mentality only comes to me in flashes. Mostly, I’m resigned. Publicity goes out to mass media, which is conservative by nature. Marketing goes out there in the public eye, and while I would assert that Fringe festivals are inherently risky places to trot your children through, I understand people’s point. This stuff is out there for passersby to see. (I’m still going to put it up there, but I understand the point.) Yes, I’ll have a little dispenser of narrow white tape to slap over the U and make it at least a little more tolerable for coffeehouse standards, but I will have to make peace with the pushback.

I’m more concerned about talking with people. I’ve been saying the title more lately—time to get used to saying it straight-faced, make no blink, give no quarter—and I’ve been getting That Grin in response. It’s a grin I know well, from promoting Phone Whore and slut (r)evolution, a kind of semi-knowing smile that nudges me sideways in the ribs and winks and says “ahhhh, and I bet THAT’S a saucy bit of stage fol-de-rol, innit!”

Nope. Not saucy, not sexy. nerdfucker is not sexy, way less even than Phone Whore was sexy. (People are constantly surprised by how not sexy Phone Whore is.) My next show, HearthCore, will not be sexy. Even Smut Slam, though it entirely features stories about sex, is rarely sexy. My shows aren’t necessarily or even primarily sexy. They just sound like they should be, because that’s the energy I bring to them, because they do touch on sex, because sex is part of our lives. Sex affects the decisions we make; it underpins so much of what most people do. I take it seriously.

But when I tell people the names of my shows, they think I’m being cheeky or something, which… not really. They think it’s going to be sexy; again, not so much. They think I can’t possibly mean anything serious with it, because it sounds sexy or at least saucy. This is the stuff I end up pushing back against all the time out on tour, and I … yeah, I get a little tired of it.

Well, you might say, if you’re getting tired of it, name your shows something different. But that lets the listener right off the hook for their own gut response. It lets society off the hook for being so weird about language and sex and skin. And I can’t seem to name my shows differently. They find their titles, or the titles find them, and the titles and the shows fit together like a hand in a beautiful velvet word-glove. If the made-up word nerdfucker says exactly what I think people need to know going in, or at least part of what people need to know, then that’s what the title should damn well be.

So. Fuck the media and hey there, fringe people. nerdfucker is neither saucy nor sexy. It’s just me.


What happens when a foul-mouthed, thoughtful wordsmith meets the world? That’s pretty much what I do. Get on board and become a patron of mine over on Patreon. There’s going to be a collision—many of them—and it’s gonna keep being good.

  • David McLeod

    So my only question for you is how you do come up for the names of your shows, and if they have to be risque titles why not abbreviate them in some way? Do you ever subject the titles to a focus group of friends, of acquaintances?

    March 1, 2016 at 11:09 pm
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