It Pays To Use Zest

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Everytime I hear it, I shake my head in amazement.

There has been more than a few times when a comedian has said that they have no clean material, or are struggling to come up with clean material for a big, non-open mic show they have (fundraiser, corporate gig, etc.)

I’ve been at this longer than all the current open mic comedians, with the exception of Dylan Williamson, and I’m the only comedian of the open mic bunch that has any type of comedy training, so I can tell you the following nugget of wisdom that comes from experience, and because it works.

If you don’t know how to write, if you can’t identify the patterns that make material work, you’re in trouble.  If you can’t write clean material, you limit yourself in what you can do.  However, if you are able to write material and crank out new stuff consistently, it’s like being handed the keys to a Ferrari with unlimited fuel.

Let me explain.  Think about this, who are some of the popular comedians right now?  Might it be Jerry Seinfeld?  Tammy Pescatelli?  Tom Papa?  Kathleen Madigan?  Sheryl Underwood?  They all have one thing in common.  They work clean.  Think about it, if you have the ability to work clean, it opens up so many avenues for you to perform.  I mean, who goes to a comedy show to be offended?  These days, it seems like everybody gets offended way too easily, so wouldn’t it be to a comic’s advantage to be able to write clean material?

Clean material is much more relatable to the audience and enjoyable to listen to.  Any jackass can write jokes about dick, pussy or drugs.  When you hear that garbage week after week from the same comic, it tends to get boring, at least to me.  I tend to tune certain comics out when they open their mouths because I know very little of anything substantive or intelligent will come out.  Being clean takes work, and I’m sorry, but it’s more than only writing at open mics hoping a joke works.  How is that taking comedy seriously?

Writing clean means you actually write daily or at least a few times a week, writing out what’s in your head then edit, edit, edit.  Sometimes it takes me a few weeks to whittle a piece down to where I’m comfortable with it.  Didn’t George Carlin once say that he knew 99% for sure if a joke would work before he hit the stage with it?  Last time I checked, George Carlin is regarded as one of the best comics of all time.  I think some comics don’t respect the stage enough, or at all, and will get up on stage and be as crude or vulgar as can be, hoping it works.  Why in the world would you do that?

Stand-up comedy takes work, as does being a clean comedian.  Face it, do you think the late night talk shows that millions watch get comics that are dirty and crude to perform?  How often does that happen?  Look at comics that like to be “edgy” like Louis C.K., Larry David, Amy Schumer or Chelsea Handler?  They have had negative press for either stealing jokes or telling jokes that are tasteless, offensive or just plain dumb.  The clean comics don’t seem to have that problem of getting raked over the coals for stupid material, do they?

I was introduced at the last open mic this way:

coming next to the stage is Saskatoon’s only exclusively clean comic

Why do you think I decided to start working completely clean at the beginning of this year?  It’s because I go to the open mics some nights and all my ears do is bleed because one comic after another churns out material that isn’t clean.  Maybe their ego gets in the way of figuring out how to actually be funny to more people than just a bar crowd, or maybe they aren’t smart enough to figure it out.  I would like to think that isn’t the case for some.

I got tired of telling dirty material, it made me uncomfortable especially at my age.  It’s more of a challenge to me when I sit down and hash out ideas that nobody else talks about.  That is the fun part of writing!  I like to be clean because it’s relatable.  Not only that, but through my comedy training I found out how the audience sees me.  I have inside knowledge of what the audience will accept from me regarding material that works, and trust me, that experience came from a boatload of failure.

Not only that, but attending church has sort of helped in that regard as well.  Now, I’m not here to tell you that I’m a saint or a perfect Christian, far from it.  However, I do surround myself with people from church who are mentors, who will speak positive things into my life and give me insight that I don’t get from anybody else.  Everyone at church knows I do comedy.  Like I said before, one mother at church saw my videos from my website, and it bothered me.  I don’t need people beating me down and chastising me for doing dirty material.  They know I’m capable of better, and I know that I am capable of it too.

Every time I have taken the stage this year I am the only comic that is always clean.  No swearing, no vulgarity, no drug references.  I have way more material to choose from than anybody because I work clean.  Besides that, when you work clean, it’s easier to form relationships with others in comedy that can help you.

As a comedian you want to be versatile.  Could you imagine having to tell a booker you can’t take a gig because you don’t have clean material, or try to come up with clean material and it falls flat?  Writing clean is one thing, knowing how to write clean is another.  I like being the only clean comic in the city.  I like being introduced as such.  I have the right people in my corner that encourage me to write clean and keep at it.  I probably won’t win any awards or get any big time shows, but like I said before, I have the ability to write comedy about anything, and I can make it clean and be reasonably certain that it will work, because of my comedy training.

Does that make me better than other comics?  Not necessarily, but I can tell you that I take my comedy more serious than anybody else and spend more time at it than anyone.

Think about it this way.  If you are a comic who is vulgar and disgusting, can you play to a crowd who wants clean comedy?  Nope.  However, if you are a clean comic, guess what you can do?  You can go into any situation, any type of venue and be funny.  I’ve seen it happen.  If you want to be more marketable, step up your game, take pride in the craft, respect the audience and respect the stage.



  1. Anthony Brower
    Jun 8, 2019

    Great write up and I completely agree. As a designer I find that the best and most innovative solutions come from projects that have restrictions. I believe this applies to a great many things. Limit yourself to clean work will take a lot of free material off the table and cause you to be more creative and in that process develop unique and inspiring material.

    • Trevor Dean
      Jun 8, 2019


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