Profanity in dialogue doesn’t always work for me; too often it seems gratuitous, the product of lazy writing. But when it’s not overdone and when characters are believably profane — when profanity suits their personality and background, and when it surfaces as part of a well-constructed scene with rising tension — it can make the dialogue sing. For examples, read pretty much any scene in David Mamet’s Pulitzer-winning play Glengarry Glen Ross.
Now imagine two professional cage fighters, seated in separate TV studios in Las Vegas to promote their upcoming championship fight through a series of split-screen interviews with reporters across the country. One interview ends, and while the next is being queued by the producers, what might these rivals say to one another? Would the fact they’re temporarily “off-air” affect how they interact? Will they try to intimidate one another? Will they be profane? — something they know they can’t be on live TV due to FCC restrictions prohibiting “language so grossly offensive to members of the public who actually hear it as to amount to a nuisance.”
Could such a scenario make for a good scene in a novel or play? And could moderate use of profanity enhance the dialogue and dramatic tension of such a scene? Here’s how the scenario played out in real life between UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones and challenger Daniel Cormier on the evening of August 4, 2014. Despite lasting just ninety seconds, this exchange has it all: immediate conflict, rising tension, humor, sarcasm, insults, death threats, and yes, profanity. Here’s the transcript: