Alexis Dubus: interview

Curse-loving comic Alexis Dubus shares his choicest vulgarities with Tim Arthur

  • First things first – how do you pronounce your surname, Dubus?

    ‘It’s pronounced “Due Bus” – just think of the anger and disappointment you feel while waiting for the number 149 nightbus at 3am in the morning which should have been due 11 minutes before, and you’ll think of me.’ 

    Your new show is called ‘A R*ddy Brief History of Swearing’. What made you want to write a show about potty talk?

    ‘It occurred to me in Edinburgh 2007 that, despite there being so many shows containing swearing, I’d never seen a show about the subject. I went for a walk that afternoon and the Lady of the Loch held her arm out of the water, her middle finger held aloft, and I knew it was my destiny to write that show.’

    What was the most interesting fact you uncovered while researching the show?

    ‘It was probably when I discovered the top 30 list of swears used by the BBC. There are a few interesting disparities on there, and a lot of people are surprised that they even have such a list actually written down. That, and the once filthy street names in the City of London. I believe Pissing Alley is still alive and well, though possibly in deed more than word.’

    Is swearing big and clever?

    ‘Shit, yeah! Swearing was once the preserve of the upper classes, and then later became the property of the vulgar common man once it was recognised as a kind of status symbol or badge of honour. A bit like the Burberry cap. King George V’s last words were said to be “bugger Bognor!” and who are we to argue with royalty?’

    What is the key to being really great at swearing?

    ‘Be sparing with your swearing. You get maximum impact by throwing in a good swear when it’s least expected. Pinter was the king of theatrical swearing – he always knew just the spot to throw in an expletive for maximum effect. It’s also probably the only reason Roy “Chubby” Brown still isn’t considered number one in the comedians’ comedian list. I’m pretty certain that’s the only reason.’ 

    What are your favourite expletives?

    ‘I’ve always been a big fan of “bollocks”. I’ve just realised that could come back to haunt me as a quote… hmmm. Anyway, it’s a very British swearword – it doesn’t sound right in any other accent. A Frenchman trying to say “bollocks” just sounds like they’ve got a mouth full of… well, you get the idea.’ 

    Is being vulgar an integral part of the modern comedian’s arsenal?

    ‘It doesn’t have to be. Some of my favourite acts are pretty swear-free, like Milton Jones, Flight of the Conchords, Simon Munnery and Andy Zaltzman. I remember laughing my arse off at The Boosh for the first time many years ago and realising they hadn’t uttered a single swearword. That said, take the swearing away from a Billy Connolly routine and it kind of takes the edge off.’ 

    Are there large cultural differences between the way we use swearwords and other races and nationalities use profanities?

    ‘Some cultures’ profanities are more family-based, others more religious. “Motherfucker” can be translated into pretty much any language, so it’s nice to see incest is a pretty much universal taboo. We like to think we’re the kings of swearing but there are some wonderfully colourful phrases uttered overseas. Where we use “fuck off” the Cantonese would say “trip over in the street and die”, which is at least a bit more specific.’

    Do swear words have particular periods when they are fashionable?

    ‘Historically, war, pestilence and national disasters seem to give rise to new curse words. That’s where we get things like “bloody”, “poxy” and “lousy” from. Tough times call for tough language. Should be interesting to see if the credit crunch throws up any new ones. Maybe “city banker” will become an increasingly popular slang term in 2009.’ 

    Are there any new expletives we should know about?

    ‘I mention a couple of new ones in the show, including a wonderful example involving a Republican senator a few years ago. Comedians are pretty good at reinventing the swear word, even if it’s just by compounding two existing words, such as “twastard” or “spunktrumpet”.’ 

    Could you create a new one just for Time Out, complete with a definition?

    ‘Ooh, tricky. How about: Spung. noun. (1) The outer rim of the penis. (2) A foolish person, prone to playing their entire mobile phone music library at high volume on public transport. I can’t see it catching on.’ 

    When you’re not standing on stage cursing you run an award-winning club night, ‘Falling Down with Laughter’. What are the secrets to its success?

    ‘What we try to do at “Falling Down” is put on a night that you won’t find anywhere else on the comedy circuit. We’ve got a small but very loyal following, who are really into acts that push the boundaries of comedy. I guess the secret to being a good promoter is to constantly provide quality, while throwing in a few surprises here and there. We celebrate our fourth birthday in February, and the club just keeps getting better and better, mainly thanks to the growing number of fucking excellent alternative acts around.’Alexis Dubus's 'A Ruddy Brief History of Swearing' is on at the Etcetera Theatre until Jan 10.

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