One of the most brutal situations a public speaker must endure is to persevere through his or her presentation when he or she knows they’ve lost the audience.
You’ve said something offensive. Your jokes fall flat. They hate you.
Sure, being a married father of young daughters, I’m in a better position to deal with this than most. I lose the audience at the breakfast table when I ask if someone can please pass Daddy the milk.
But last week I felt the air rush out of the room and the audience turn on me when I raised a topic that crossed a line — one just below the neck.
Yes, I went for the nipple.
I was going for edgy and wound up afoul of audience sensitivities.
Or should I say abreast.
In attendance were about 100 members of a popular civic group; about 25 adults and 75 high school seniors. The students were mature, focused, ambitious, proper — nothing like I was back then.
I was lazy, shiftless, a real entitled little prick. And I don’t mean like I was in high school.
I mean like I was last Thursday.
And I just can’t help myself. It was like I dared myself to tell the nipple joke. Picture me at the podium looking smug and, oh, so self-satisfied.
Ready? Here goes …
“Be so at peace with the world, the only thing you have left to get off your chest are your nipples.”
It’s just a great line. Only 21 words. Easy to remember. Packs a punch. And it includes the word that still cracks up those of us whose sense of humor remains anchored in the 8th grade.
Every time I deliver a line like that I expect a balloon drop, followed by a ticker-tape parade and a bi-partisan Congressional declaration that my February 15 birthday shall be a national holiday.
It was like I told them I was going to deliver the rest of my talk in my underwear. There was a disgust so palpable it felt like I’d been hit in the face with a sloppy old bar rag.
From my perch I could see girls and some of the more sensitive fellas begin exchanging nervous glances. They began shutting down. I’d lost them. It happened that quick. There would be no recovery.
Done in by 6-letter “n-word” that isn’t THE 6-letter n-word.
Why in our breast-obsessed society is the humble little nipple so radioactive, alluring yet repellent. Wholesome yet sinister. Both innocent and corrupt.
I could understand it if the duality played out atop the breasts themselves, a mammary equivalent of the old good cop/bad cop routine.
Or if nipples were exclusive to one sex. But we all got ‘em.
I guess the anatomical description just has a way of, well, titillating.
I remember in 2004 when a split second viewing of Janet Jackson’s lovely nipple brought the nation to its knees. Her wardrobe malfunction infuriated Super Bowl fans who’d tuned in for what to them is the patriotic pastime of watching over-sized multi-millionaires give one another chronic traumatic encephalopathy.
Me, I’d to this day pay more attention to every snoozer NFL game if Roger Goodell announced each broadcast would henceforth include a split-screen nipple montage every time a referee’s flag falls to the turf.
So cancel culture be damned. I’ll not let them take my nipples from me. Or you.
Now, all together …
NIPPLE! NIPPLE! NIPPLE!
I hope I haven’t upset you. No one knows better than I that nipples can be a real touchy subject.
Sorry. Just had to get that one off my chest.
Note: I’ll be speaking Wednesday, Oct. 20, 6 pm, at the Ligonier library; come for the camaraderie, stay for the nipple jokes (pre-talk cocktails from 4:30 to 5:30 at the Wicked Googly).