Comedians who shy away from four-letter words are often pigeonholed as "clean." This might give them a reputation for being toothless, corny or non-threatening.
"I don't really categorize comics as clean or dirty," says funnyman David Adkins, better known as Sinbad. The profanity-free veteran has a three-night stand in Raleigh this week. "I categorize you as, you're funny or you're not."
In his late-'80s to mid-'90s heyday, when he was all over TV on shows such as A Different World and The Sinbad Show, Sinbad was singled out in the media and comedy circles for not going blue in his stand-up—especially after Martin Lawrence and the raunchier generation of Def Comedy Jam comics came along, cursing up a storm.
Sinbad still doesn't understand why there has to be two camps. "It does a disservice to comedy to split it up like that," he says. "We don't say 'dirty band' or 'non-dirty band.' If you've got something to say, you've got something to say. I talk about everything. I don't shy away from any subjects."
Persevering through some much-publicized money problems—he declared bankruptcy in 2009 and again in 2013, at which time he reportedly had more than $10 million in debt, mostly in back taxes—Sinbad still has plenty to say. His latest special, Makes We Wanna Holler (now available via DVD or download after premiering on Comedy Central), finds him ranting and venting in Detroit, not far from his Benton Harbor hometown.
"You got the city of Detroit going bankrupt," he says, picking up a thread from the special. "My city, Benton Harbor, was taken over by the state. Reality stars are making crazy money with no talent. We're looking at singers who can't sing. I'm like, 'Man, what the hell is going on out here?'"
OK, make that "almost profanity-free."
Sinbad isn't the only non-vulgar comic doing his thing in the Triangle this week, as up-and-coming Nashville native Nate Bargatze heads for Durham on Sunday. Bargatze, who honed his rambling, observational stand-up in New York clubs, says he simply wanted to do comedy everyone could enjoy. "I wanted my parents to come watch," he says.
Bargatze says that there are a lot of dirty comics he likes. But as someone who grew up admiring the all-ages jokes of Bill Cosby and—yes—Sinbad, keeping it clean is in his nature. "My brain just kind of thinks clean," he says. "I don't really have any dirty jokes. It's just the way you start writing, and I think it sticks with you."
It's working for him. Even the foul-mouthed Marc Maron is a diehard fan, talking to Bargatze a couple of times on his WTF with Marc Maron podcast. He's also a favorite of Jimmy Fallon, who's had him perform on his Late Night and Tonight shows and his "Clean Cut Comedy Tour". They're currently developing an NBC sitcom project together.
So for all aspiring comics who get flak for not using profanity to get laughs, remember how Sinbad and Bargatze's careers are going—and tell the haters to go fork themselves!
This article appeared in print with the headline "FUNNY AS $#!+."