Just tonight, having concluded several intense rounds of my favorite word game BOGGLE, I flipped on the TV and started clicking through the channels when I landed on Leno and heard comedian Louis CK say he was so hooked on Percocet that if he dropped some on the ground and someone picked it up, he'd "suck (that person's) d**k to get it back." The censors barely bleeped the offending word and Leno reeled backward in mock shock; the show went on.
I however, reeled back in time to a Friday evening some 30 years ago when I was doing my nightly entertainment report on the 11 O'Clock news. I had raced back from covering popular young local comedian Jay Leno who was doing his stand up act at a comedy club in Boston. In our rush to make the deadline and get the story on the air, the editor and I accidentally let one of Jay's jokes go on too long, and Jay's use of the expression "pissed off" ended up on TV. When the tape ended and the camera came back to me live on the news set, I wrapped up quickly, and anchorman Jack Williams, stricken, concluded the newscast. There was genuine shock in the air. Before I could make my way off the set and back to my desk, the newsroom phones started ringing off the hook; Freddy the guard started getting swamped with angry calls at the front desk, while BZ radio's switchboard lit up with outraged viewers calling in to complain about the offensive language they had heard on the air.
I remember feeling dizzy, as though it were all surreal, and thinking, "This is it. I'm finished. I'll never work again. " In a state of near apoplexy I stumbled toward the phone when they said my news director was on the line. He was livid, asked how I could have done such a thing, and told me to go home. I don't remember driving there. I do know that I arrived, took to my bed, and didn't leave for two days. On Sunday night, the news director called me at home and told me to report to work on Monday, that it would all blow over, but that hundreds of callers had complained, some threatening to never watch again. I vowed to be scrupulously careful, and felt as though I'd been spared a horrible death.
So tonight I found myself recoiling at the crudeness of this comedian, whose words were surely a low on a show once hosted by the witty Johnny Carson. But it was all tossed off with a laugh. I thought about how much has changed, how people go to the theater like they're dressed for a car wash, how jokes about oral sex casually appear on prime time sitcoms.
Maybe none of this really matters. But I'll keep playing BOGGLE-- and continue to choose my words carefully.