5 Forbidden Words That ‘SNL’ Made Safe for TV

So many body parts to name, so little time
5 Forbidden Words That ‘SNL’ Made Safe for TV

George Carlin got thrown in jail for talking about the seven words you can’t say on television, but the thing was, he wasn’t kidding. In the years leading up to Saturday Night Live, even words like “pregnant” (tricky when Lucy was expecting on I Love Lucy) or sights such as a belly button (the bare midriff on I Dream of Jeannie was magically navel-less) were forbidden. Slowly but surely, however, SNL has been instrumental in making previously prohibited terms like these safe for TV. 


If the word “pregnant” was out of bounds, you can bet a word like “douchebag” would set off fire alarms in the offices of NBC Standards and Practices. Yet in Season Five, SNL was able to sneak through a sketch featuring Buck Henry and Gilda Radner as Lord and Lady Douchebag. The sketch’s premise was that several of today’s commonplace items — sandwiches, Worcestershire sauce, the cardigan sweater — were named after the actual people who inspired them. 

What the sketch was really about was an excuse to say the word “douchebag” as many times as possible (10 in all), inspiring such lines of dialogue as “Where the devil are those Douchebags?”; “Spoken like a true Douchebag”; and “Parliament has always had its share of Douchebags, and it always will.”


The Matthew Broderick sketch “Nude Beach” was a transparent attempt to endlessly say the word “penis.” Give the writers credit — they managed 43 in a four-minute sketch. 

Kevin Nealon addresses the genitalia-shaped elephant in the room near the end of the sketch: “Hi, I’m Kevin Nealon. What you just saw was an attempt to make an important point — that wherever you go, no matter how you look on the outside, we’re all pretty much the same. You know, when the Standards Department was dissolved here at NBC, we welcomed it as an opportunity to deal with issues like these in a frank way. And to be honest, we’re a little disheartened by the snickering we heard during this presentation. It kind of makes us wonder if there’s room for serious discussion of these subjects on television. So to those of you who missed the point — grow up. Really.”

The sketch resulted in 46,000 complaining postcards in an organized protest, but NBC censor William Clotworthy defended the decision to allow the sketch since it used the term in a “non-sexual, harmless, clinical way.”

Not approved? The word “dick,” which had to be bleeped multiple times during the Justin Timberlake/Andy Samberg song “Dick in a Box.” The word was allowed on YouTube, but only after high-ranking NBC executives signed off on a “Special Treat in a Box” version.


Hit play The Vagina Monologues allowed SNL to give the female anatomy equal treatment. Like “Nude Beach,” the object was to squeeze in the word “vagina” as many times as possible via celebrity monologues in a new play called Talkin’ ‘Bout ‘Ginas. Here’s Ana Gasteyer as Joan Rivers on the subject: “Ohhh! My vagina! The last time I went near my vagina, bats flew out! Can we talk? My vagina is so old, I could file it for a special at the gynecologist! Ohhh! Vaginas! Ohhhh!”

The show recently revisited the topic with the sketch “Glamgina.”


You got me, Saturday Night Live didn’t actually use “cunnilingus” in a sketch, but it might as well have. When a Civil War-era family invited Colonel Angus to their plantation, the Shady Thicket, we got a five-minute dissertation on oral sex courtesy of Christopher Walken. No way this got by network censors 20 years earlier. 


And no doubt emboldened by the double-entendre success of Colonel Angus, Saturday Night Live revisited the concept in a sketch celebrating the virtues of cork soaking. 

“Luigi here was simply born to soak cork!” 

“I love-a soaking the cork! I could-a soak the cork all night long, if they let me! I want to-a soak two corks at once!”

It’s sketches like these that made the world safe for Schweddy balls and Betty White’s dusty muffin.


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