The language of laughter: What happens when comedy goes clean

People in Newfoundland and Labrador are known for their swear words, but it takes a special skill to joke without them, says Stef Curran.

Madison Ryan
Kicker

Stef Curran smiles at the camera in front of a beige wall with dark wood border at the bottom. She has a strawberry blonde mullet and round glasses. Her skin is pale with freckles. She is wearing a plain black shirt with a slight v-neck. She is holding up a picture of her comedy trio, Mom's Girls, on her iPhone. All three people in the image are wearing cowboy hats.
Stef Curran is a sketch comedian with a particular love for parody songs. She recently travelled to Ontario for the Toronto Sketch Comedy Festival with Mom’s Girls; it was the only group from Newfoundland and Labrador there. Madison Ryan/Kicker

St. John’s sketch comedian Stef Curran thinks “disgusting comedy” is hilarious. In a province known for some locals’ excessive swearing, it might be hard to imagine comedy any other way. 

Curran says clean comedy requires more thought. 

“I curse a lot in art; I curse a lot in my real life,” she said behind a quick laugh. “Being able to create clean comedy is a skill that not many people have.”

She says swear words work best when they’re used intelligently, like in her personal favourite Mom’s Girls sketch where they play cowboy babies – and sing a Bon Jovi parody at the end – for example. 

Maybe it’s dialect, maybe it’s emotion, or maybe it’s a crutch. Curran says swearing works for a lot of comedians and their audiences, but it isn’t always necessary. 

“We call it low-hanging fruit. Sometimes you want to pick the low-hanging fruit, but sometimes it’s worth climbing up the tree and getting the one at the top, right?”

“Part of comedy is being able to see yourself in a story or a joke.”

– Miri Rain

Miri Rain is no stranger to comedy. Unlike Curran, who leans towards planned-out sketch comedy, Rain was more inspired by Whose Line Is It Anyway? She’s been involved with the St John’s Improv group since 2021, but she’s been doing improv for about six years.

Improv started as a tool for Rain to improve her public speaking in grad school. However, she says it’s no fun when you do it by yourself. It quickly turned into something bigger when she discovered her love for improv’s collaborative nature.

“Yes, and …”

“The idea is that we’re building something together . . . implicitly, you agree to what the person has set up and you build on it; you add something to it. It’s kind of like building a big castle together block by block.”

The point of improv is that the scene is unscripted, Rain says. It’s the first line that comes to mind rather than the funniest line. 

“Whatever you say on stage is true,” Rain said of the mechanics of improv. “Even if you fumble your words, that’s now a new word in the world of the scene.”

When it comes to the subject of planning scenes, Curran and Rain are on opposite ends of a wide comedy spectrum. Beyond that, there are two things they certainly agree on: Comedy is difficult, and language changes everything.

“Now that’s what I call pure comedy.”

Stef Curran smiles at the camera in front of a beige wall with dark wood border at the bottom. She has a strawberry blonde mullet and round glasses. Her skin is pale with freckles. She is wearing a plain black shirt with a slight v-neck.
Stef Curran’s favourite sketch is one called Wah Wah West. She and the other comedians in Mom’s Girls played babies in the wild west, and then sang a Bon Jovi Parody. Madison Ryan/Kicker

“Something that I really valued at Mom’s Girls is the fact that we are really open to understanding what the audience likes,” said Curran. “If we said something that hurt someone, we want to know because we want to right it.

“When we go into a room, the comedy has to affect everyone; everyone in the room has to feel safe. And it’s not even us being ‘woke’; it’s just us wanting to have a good time.”

Events like clean comedy nights showcase the work that goes into the wording of comedy. St. John’s improv will be joining one on April 5 at the A.C. Hunter Library in St. John’s. 

Rain says people attending the upcoming event can expect lots of games, and the opportunity to suggest scenes for the improvisers to perform. For example, she says some of the best comedy comes from daily life, like the nearly universal experience of not knowing what to do with your hands at a party. 

“The trick is to dig. Dig really deep into those moments and sort of explore them in depth, and not just pass through them like I think many of us do. Part of comedy is being able to see yourself in a story or a joke.”

About Madison Ryan 19 Articles
Madison Ryan is an award-winning fiction writer, a music reviewer and a student journalist. She loves escaping into fantasy stories, but she’s dedicated to telling the real-life stories that matter to our communities. Contact her at @madisonjryan on Twitter/X with news tips.

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