One of the (in my opinion) sad commentaries on our society is the free disregard of conventions of politeness used in comedy. Many leading stand-up acts are filled with the gratuitous use of profanity. Sexual swear words abound, and while they elicit a laugh, in many cases this comes from the shock value, and often it is more a nervous laughter than a joyful one.
Even Billy Connolly, whose act include such quips as “I felt as welcome as a fart in a spacesuit,” has noted, “I’ve always been fascinated by the difference between the jokes you can tell your friends but you can’t tell to an audience. There’s a fine line you have to tread because you don’t know who is out there in the auditorium. A lot of people are too easily offended.”
Speakers (including comedians) are in the business of entertainment. If you are offending, you have limited your entertaining. This is even more pronounced for informational and business communications. “To inform and entertain” should be the watchwords.
Many have observed that audiences generally only retain three or four points from a presentation. Do you want that to be an off-coloured joke, or a main selling point of your proposal or product line? Israelmore Ayivor has said, “Be polite in your speeches. Good information rudely communicated will make no positive difference.” How correct he is!
I am not saying you shouldn’t use humour, nor am I saying you need to present yourself as some sort of mid-Victorian prude. What I am saying is show respect. Know your audience. Value them, and they will value your message.
[A side note: While my public speaking posts are focused on oratory (including preaching and business presentations), many of the principles apply to the written word as well.]