In 1939’s Gone with the Wind, the last words that Rhett Butler (Clark Gable) says to Scarlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh) are “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” The line has now become a frequently quoted one. While it seems tame to a modern viewer, one of the reasons that this scene became so memorable was because the use of any profanity in an American film during this period was quite shocking.
Fast forward a few decades – when Mike Smith, Robb Wells, and John Paul Tremblay started Swearnet, they did so with the intention of providing a completely uncensored television network on the Internet. With the upcoming release of Swearnet: The Movie, we spoke to Smith, Wells, and Tremblay about this project in comparison with Trailer Park Boys, their thoughts on censorship, profanity, and more.
When asked what makes this project different from their work on Trailer Park Boys and whether they prefer playing themselves to their trailer park counterparts, Tremblay says that he enjoys playing Julian more than playing himself on-screen, as the former is more fun.
Smith disagrees and explains that the experience of playing himself in Swearnet: The Movie was really different. “I’ve really only ever played Bubbles. It was the first time that I acted that I could see the person I was talking to. It was a very fun movie to make. We were tired and there were long days.”
Wells adds that they were not exactly playing themselves onscreen. “They were exaggerated versions of ourselves, but it was nice to do something different. We’d been doing Trailer Park Boys for so long, so many seasons and movies, that it was just good to do something different.”
The issue of censorship is one which is central to Swearnet: The Movie. While censorship has eased up slightly over the years, there are still various limitations on what can and cannot be said onscreen. Smith, Wells, and Tremblay explain that while they used to face limitations initially, they face less nowadays.
“We can sort of do what we want, but we do censor ourselves on Trailer Park Boys for sure,” Smith explains. “There’s never anything too gross. If something makes us laugh, we’ll use it no matter what it is, but if somebody says ‘that’s so gross’ or ‘that’s so fucked’ then that stuff doesn’t make it in. But we talk about it. It all gets thrown around as ideas.”
“In this movie, we got to do some things we wouldn’t have done on Trailer Park Boys, things that would have been pushing it too far for those characters,” Wells adds. “Like full frontal nudity – in Trailer Park Boys we would have blurred it. Some of the language too. We’ve never said the word “cunt” on Trailer Park Boys.”
We then asked about their thoughts on leniency in different genres. There is a connection between profanity and two genres of film in particular – crime and comedy. Both of these genres make liberal use of swearing, albeit for different purposes. Wells thinks that comedy is one of the toughest genres, “because you have to tell a story that keeps people’s interest, and you’ve got to make them laugh as much as you can on top of that.”
Smith adds that there is a grey area in terms of leniency, and that there is often overlap between genres in any case. He cites a scene from Natural Born Killers featuring Rodney Dangerfield which particularly stuck with him.
“That was one of the weirdest experience I’ve ever had watching a movie. That was so fucked. He was straight up talking about incest, but there was a laugh track. It was just blurring the lines between drama and comedy.”
Finally, we asked the trio about any areas of comedy which they have not yet explored but would like to. Wells says that he would be interested in doing an animated series or movie, as they have never done that. Smith agrees and adds that he would also like to try sketch comedy. “We had a show called The Drunk and on Drugs Happy Funtime Hour,” he continues, “which I still think is one of the most fucked up shows ever made for television – and I’m very proud of that fact. And I mean, just within that one show, we tried several different styles of comedy. So that was fun.”
“But we weren’t allowed to swear much in that show,” Wells adds. To this, Smith goes back to the topic of censorship, clarifying that The Drunk and on Drugs Happy Funtime Hour was made for Showcase. “They were in a transitional phase where they were changing the format of the network, so it was very restrictive on what we could say. We had to invent swearwords, come up with new swearwords. So that was fun. ‘Meat marbles’ came out of that.”
While the release of Swearnet: The Movie might still be viewed as shocking, it’s significantly less shocking in modern day. If a film revolved around the concept of uncensored swearing a couple of decades ago, there would likely be more scandal surrounding the project. However, audiences have become jaded with the rise of profanity in films from the 1990s onwards. Hopefully, the upcoming release of Swearnet: The Movie garners a lot of positive hype rather than disapproval.