Confessions of an Anonymous Coward

Thursday, June 21, 2007


Yeah, once again it's been awhile since my last post--I've still been busy with the acting thing, and haven't had as much time to post as I've wanted to, but there are several things I've been meaning to post about once I could find the time. In the meantime, though, there's one thing I want to post about that's, well, acting-related.

Years ago, I happened to see part of an episode of the George Carlin Show. This wasn't a show I watched regularly--in fact, I think this one partial episode was all I ever saw of it--but I think this was while I was an undergraduate in college, and my roommates were watching the show one day. Anyway, that particular episode involved George Carlin's character being brought in front of a judge on charges of obscenity. He managed to get the charges dismissed by goading the judge into letting loose with some choice expletives himself, making him look like a hypocrite if he punished Carlin's character for doing the same. George Carlin's point--or the point of his character, and/or the writer of that episode, but I'm going to go out on a limb here and assume that Carlin himself probably agreed to at least some extent, since it was his show--was that everyone swears sometimes; the right, or the wrong, circumstance can bring out the blue language from anyone. It's human nature, and it's unavoidable.

George Carlin was wrong.

Profanity is not, of course, an inevitable part of human nature; it's not like we have some instinctive drive to periodically utter certain Anglo-Saxon monosyllables (or whatever the equivalents in our native languages might be). People use those words in difficult situations out of habit, and if you never develop the habit it's easy to avoid. I went through thirty-four years of my life without ever uttering any word that would have been unwelcome on network TV. No (excuse the pointless censoring) sh*t, no *ss (except to refer to the ungulate), and certainly no f*ck. The closest I ever came to foul language was when as a very young child I said "crappy", having heard my grandfather use the word frequently and not understanding what it really meant.

That brings us to last week.

Now, in acting, as it turns out (and I didn't know this until recently), one of the most important things for new actors to do is meet casting directors. Casting directors remember actors, and they tend to call on actors they know. Of course, it's not always easy to meet a casting director, but one of the best ways to do so is at a workshop. Ostensibly, the purpose of these workshops is just to let the casting directors improve the actors' auditioning techniques, but in reality they're mostly there to let the casting director meet actors and see them in action. This benefits both the actors--who get to be seen by the casting directors--and the casting directors--who get to find new actors they might want to cast. To avoid wasting the casting directors' time with actors who aren't really ready to be seen, though, the workshops generally require actors to pass an audition before they're allowed into the workshops.

Which, as I said, brings us to last week. Last Monday, specifically. I was at an audition for a workshop, and I was paired up with an actress and given a "side"--an excerpt a few pages long of a script to a television episode or, as in this case, a movie. Specifically, it happened to be an excerpt from The Bachelor.

And it happened to prominently feature the word "sh*t". Three times. (Plus the word "hell" at the end, which however for some reason I don't feel as much need to censor in writing.)

Now, as I said above, I had never uttered this word before in my life. So I had to make some quick decisions. And what I decided was--eh, the heck with it. Sure, I didn't really like using that kind of language, but here I was playing a character, and you know, if I continue into acting, chances are I'll come across other parts that require this kind of language. And really, at this point, I don't really have a moral issue with saying those words. Maybe when I still considered myself a believer, things would be different, but now--it's a matter of taste. I don't particularly like that kind of language; I probably won't use those words myself (when I'm not playing a character); but it's not like speaking those words is inherently evil.

So I performed the part as written. Sh*t and all. And after thirty-four years (getting closer than I'd like to admit to thirty-five) of completely clean language, I uttered my first profanity.

Fast forward to this Wednesday. This was in a different workshop; I'd auditioned that afternoon (this time the audition didn't involve any profanities) and gotten in, and had decided to attend a workshop that very evening, present at which was a casting director who worked on a number of independent movies. And I was handed a side...which included several repetitions, in various conjugations, of the word "f*ck". (Plus one "sh*t", but hey, I'd already crossed that Rubicon.)

Now, okay, this is a profanity of a different magnitude here. Sh*t is one thing, but f*ck is another, rivaled in its intensity only perhaps by a certain four-letter word that rhymes with bunt. Still, again, even if I don't see the point in using that language in my everyday life, I don't now see that just uttering the words when playing a character is inherently evil or anything, so...I did it.

So what would I have done had I gotten into acting a year or two earlier (or taken a year or two longer to deconvert), and had this happened while I still considered myself a faithful Mormon? Honestly...I don't know. I was pretty zealous about things like that--never having uttered a profanity may be a minor virtue, but it's one virtue I had been living perfectly, so I'd cling pretty hard to it. So I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have said the words, but I'm really not certain how I would have tried to get out of it. Maybe I would have tried to substitute euphemisms and hope they went unremarked upon (though in both these particular sides that really wouldn't have worked); maybe I would have requested a different side...but both of those would have certainly gone over very badly, and certainly not made me look good to the workshop people and the casting director. So all in all, I'm quite glad this didn't happen while I still considered myself a believer.

So how did it go? Well, one might think that my first time in my life uttering a profanity, after completely avoiding them for so many years, would be a little awkward--but, apparently, it wasn't. Anyway, in the first case I passed the audition, and in the second case the casting director responded very positively to my performance, and several people complimented me on how funny it was. So apparently I'd managed to make the profanities seem natural, even though to me they were anything but.

Which I guess maybe just gives more evidence that this sort of thing--as odd as I feel writing this, after having assiduously eschewed any such language for so long--really isn't a big deal. When it came down to it, saying those words really didn't mean much.

Either that, or maybe the fact I managed to make it seem natural just means I'm a pretty good actor. Well, hey, I'd like to think so, anyway. ;)


At 6/22/2007 9:23 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Profanity for me wasn't a huge deal - I always saw it as simply being rude, not a huge sin. My biggest thing as far as language was never using the Lord's name in vain. I didn't use it even when quoting other people. The first time I quoted somebody out loud as saying goddamnit was a big deal for me.

At 6/22/2007 12:56 PM, Blogger King Aardvark said...

I think that, though swearing may not be in everbody's nature (as you say), communicatively lashing out at something that pisses you off is universal. We all just do it based on what our preferred linguistic repertoire is.

Not that profanity is strictly limited to difficult situations. Far from it, profanity can often be used for any situation, from the happy/excited "Fuck, yeah!" to the mundane and bored "absolutely fuck-all has happened today." You may very well say "Oh yeah!" and the much more sensible but less colourful "absolutely nothing has happened today." But since it's all social convention anyway, there's really not much difference.

At 6/22/2007 12:57 PM, Blogger King Aardvark said...

Btw, I didn't really strongly swear until I went into engineering. Then it's basically required.

At 6/22/2007 4:04 PM, Blogger Qalmlea said...

I tend to swear in British, mainly because I prefer the color of the way British swear words sound. *shrugs* (See Synesthesia if that makes no sense) And, no, I'm not British.

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