In the first 30 second of the pilot episode of 2 Broke Girls, a diner waitress, Max Black, puts a cocky male hipster, who is snapping his fingers for service, in his place by saying, ''You think this [snaps fingers] is the sound that gets you service. I think this [snaps fingers] is the sound that dries up my vagina.'' And with that joke, 2 Broke Girls arrived on the television scene. As we sat down to begin writing the second season of the show, however, it seemed the word vagina had become so present on television and in pop culture. Hence, this year Max will observe: ''So many people are saying it that vagina's become the 'whazzup' of body parts.'' So here's a comedy writer's question: If vagina has gone mainstream, where's the edge?
Last season at a Television Critics Association event, a few critics asked me why I was determined to push the comedy so close to the edge when it came to the sexual content or the jokes about some of the characters' ethnicity. My response was ''Because I think it's funny.'' Some of them did not agree. What is or isn't acceptable as funny in 2012 seems to be a very abstract idea. Is the edge a Gwyneth Paltrow ''Jay-Z'' tweet on Twitter? Is the edge a pixelated Kardashian bikini-wax scene or a Comedy Central roast? Is the edge a debatably off-color joke in a comedy club that gets immediately eviscerated 10 seconds later on social media? Who's to say where funny stops and ''too far'' starts?
Happily for myself and the other writers of 2 Broke Girls, the answer to that question is made a little clearer when you are in front of a live studio audience. With a live audience, it's very clear when you've pushed it too far to the edge because you fall off that edge and hit bottom with a thud. Nothing abstract about that. You know you went too far when you hear that groan or worse that silence instead of the big laugh you were expecting following your hilariously edgy joke. It's my belief that when a joke is acceptable, people will laugh, lean in, and become more attached to the story and the char acters. If you've gone too far, they won't laugh. They'll pull away and stop watching. That is why the live audience is so important to 2 Broke Girls. They serve as the jury for the writers on tape night and a ''by proxy'' jury for the viewers at home.
Yes, there is a thrill in getting away with something a little bit shocking on television. And in our second season we are still going for broke still going for that great gasp, then laugh, you hear after a good ''Did they just say that?'' joke. But I think what's surprising about 2 Broke Girls is not the number of times we get away with saying ''vagina'' it's that the body part we are more interested in is...the heart. Under all those caustic put- downs and edgy dirty jokes, 2 Broke Girls is really a show about two girls with a dream: Max and Caroline, two girls from completely different backgrounds who have found a way to make the hard reality of being broke a little softer by being there for each other.
And when those sweeter moments do surface in front of an audience, there is also a gasp...followed not by a laugh but by an audible ''Awww.'' And it's that combination of shock and ''Awww'' that we are trying to reach for. I find it kind of funny that in this hard-edged present-day 2012, the most shocking thing about 2 Broke Girls may be that we are striving for those ''Awww'' moments.