Perhaps you have somewhere in your past an aunt, grandmother, or fifth-grade teacher who would sniff, “That’s a sign of a very limited vocabulary!” whenever they heard a four-letter word. I heard this “limited-vocabulary” bit all the time; it really killed in Kalamazoo among the grown-ups in the 1960s. Too bad Miss Patton’s not around anymore, because had that old prune ever heard comedian Mike Stanley, she would have learned from him that four-letter words can coexist happily with extraordinary vocabularies.

Stanley, who now lives in Chicago, grew up in Detroit’s tough Corktown neighborhood, and in his snap-brim hat, T-shirt, and jeans, he looks like he could carry himself on the streets pretty well. His act is by turns scrappy and poetically complex. His opening line the last time he visited the Ann Arbor Comedy Showcase was, “I’m a dirty comic, and I’ve got a barrelful of dick jokes.” But after telling a few of them, he went on to a masterly analysis of modern urban problems using words I hadn’t heard since college–not in a show-offy way, just because they were the best words for the job. Sorry, I didn’t write down any of them, though I did write down a new dirty word, kenkle, which is so obscure I have not yet been able to find the definition of it. (Kenkle is either really out there on the front lines of filth, or the audience didn’t know what it was any more than I did. I wrote: “audience laughed uneasily.”)

I hope he is still giving his (very funny) economics lesson on why you should give money to the homeless: if he took the dirty words out of it, he could probably use it for a PhD thesis. Then it was back to “Anyone here have herpes?” which also rocked the house. The question, you’ll note, as you read it detached from the magic of the moment, isn’t actually very funny, but it is in a comedy club.

If you know the Comedy Showcase, you know that the late show is traditionally the dirty show, and that wasn’t the show I saw. God knows what kind of @#$! goes on there.

Mike Stanley returns to the Comedy Showcase on Friday & Saturday, July 13 & 14.