Standing up on stage and making audiences laugh is no small feat. Experienced comedians know that there's always a chance their jokes won't be well-received, but sometimes it can be hard to predict exactly which jokes will flop -- or, worse, land the comic in proverbial hot water.
When comedian Wanda Sykes sat down with her fellow comics for her new special "Herlarious," the women confessed which of their own performances fell short and which jokes got them in the most trouble. For comic Carmen Lynch, an unintentionally insensitive off-the-cuff opening at a cancer benefit -- "My allergies are killing me," she had said, before realizing what came out -- set the tone for show that couldn't be saved. For Tracey Ashley, however, the trouble came down to one, single word.
"They booked me at a Baptist college and I had to sign a conduct form to make sure I would, you know, behave," Tracey says. "[My contact at the college] said, 'We just don't want you to swear at all.'"
After promising to keep the language clean in her set, Tracey was ready to perform for the students. "I did one bit that I do about Queen Elizabeth," she recalls. "I said the word 'ho' in it."
Tracey didn't think much about it at the time. "Show went fine, no one complained," she says. "But [my contact] then called my agent and she said, 'Tracey was OK, but she did use the word ho.'"
"That's a curse word?" ask fellow comic Marina Franklin incredulously.
"For the Baptist students, they get demerits," Tracey explains. "[My contact] said, 'She did say the word ho, so I just don't think we would want her back.'... And then my agent was like, 'Well, you probably won't want to book any of the acts that we have here!'"
An angry audience member reported on Facebook that Tracy Morgan went on a tirade during a stand-up show allegedly saying that gay was a choice and that he would stab his son if he found out he was gay. Morgan's comments sparked a huge debate about going too far in comedy. Morgan later apologized saying <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/06/10/tracy-morgans-homophobic-remarks_n_874699.html" target="_hplink">"While I am an equal opportunity jokester, and my friends know what is in my heart, even in a comedy club this clearly went too far and was not funny in any context."</a>
Michael Richards berated an audience member in 2006 repeatedly calling him "nigger" and saying "50 years ago we'd have you hanging upside down with a fucking fork up your ass." Richards later apologized but the incident prompted the Laugh Factory to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2006/11/20/kramer-actor-to-be-banned_n_34539.html" target="_hplink">ban the comedian</a>.
A Tumblr post titled "A Girl Walks Into A Comedy Club" described an incident wherein Daniel Tosh allegedly teased an audience member saying, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/10/daniel-tosh-rape-joke-laugh-factory_n_1662882.html" target="_hplink">''Wouldn't it be funny if that girl got raped by like, 5 guys right now?" </a>Tosh later apologized on Twitter for the remark.
During the 2011 Roast of Charlie Sheen, Schumer joked about Steve-O's recently deceased friend Ryan Dunn saying, "I know you must have been thinking, 'It could have been me,' and I know we were all thinking, 'Why wasn't it?'" After the Roast, Steve-O said that Jeffrey Ross texted him and asked him to tell his fans that Steve-O was fine with Schumer, because she was receiving death threats. Schumer has stood by not apologizing for the comment.
Comedians often cite George Carlin as one of their biggest inspirations. Carlin broke barriers and sparked debates with his "Seven Words You Can Never Say On Television" bit. When "Filthy Words" aired on a radio station, a father heard it with his son and complained to the FCC. This lead to the Supreme Court case of the FCC vs. Pacifica Foundation which held that it was within the first amendment to censor certain material.
Roseanne memorably butchered the national anthem at a 1990 San Diego Padres game, seemingly making a joke out of the performance. President George Bush senior called the performance "a disgrace." In 2011, on her reality show "Roseanne's Nuts," Barr sang the anthem again, better this time.
During a 1964 performance on "The Ed Sullivan Show," Jackie Mason was a bit perturbed when Sullivan tried to signal for him to wrap it up (President Johnson was about to give a speech). Mason started making movements with his fingers, mocking Sullivan. After the show, Sullivan banned Mason from future performances alleging that Mason gave him "the finger." Mason filed a libel suit and in the end a court proved that Mason had, in fact, not given the finger.
Ricky Gervais made headlines after his 2011 Golden Globes hosting gig for his colorful performance. In his opening monologue he joked, "Also not nominated 'I Love You Phillip Morris.' Jim Carrey Ewan McGregor, two heterosexual actors pretending to be gay. So the exact opposite of some famous scientologists then." The Hollywood Foreign Press released a statement saying that he did a nice job but that he <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/01/17/ricky-gervais-golden-globe-host-doesnt-care-if-anyone-was-offended-by-jokes_n_809967.html" target="_hplink">"...occasionally went too far."</a> They still asked him back for a second hosting gig.
Police arrested Lenny Bruce for obscenity in 1961 for his use of the word "cocksucker." Eventually he was acquitted.
Carlos Mencia is known for making broad generalizations about race in his jokes. However, in 2009 he was uninvited to ride on a float in the Mardi Gras parade after what many considered too-offensive Hurricane Katrina jokes. Mencia's routine included him saying that black people are hilarious because <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/02/06/carlos-mencia-pulled-from_n_164792.html" target="_hplink">"you will get on a bus to go to Million Man March, but you won't get on a bus to get away from Katrina."</a>
In 2008, several reports surfaced that Sandra Bernhard had made a joke in her one woman show that Sarah Palin would be "gang-raped by my big black brothers" in New York City. Because of her comments, Bernhard<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2008/10/01/sandra-bernhard-cut-from_n_131091.html" target="_hplink"> was cut as a headliner</a> at an annual benefit at a woman's shelter. The twist? Bernhard later denied that she said any such thing, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2008/10/02/sandra-bernhard-denies-re_n_131326.html" target="_hplink">assuring that it was just an internet rumor that got out of hand</a>. She donated money to the woman's shelter, Rosie's House, instead of performing.
In 2007, Kathy Griffin won an Emmy for her Bravo reality show. She decided to make a mark with her acceptance speech, proclaiming that Jesus had nothing to do with her win. "<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2007/09/09/kathy-griffin-on-emmy-win_n_63682.html" target="_hplink">So, all I can say is, 'suck it, Jesus.' This award is my god now."</a> Angered Christian groups called for the speech to be censored, but in her special "Straight to Hell" she joked that the whole incident had been "heaven" for her. "You can't buy this publicity," she said.
One of Chris Rocks' most controversial bits was his "niggers" vs. "black people" commentary during his 1996 HBO special "Bring The Pain." In 2009, Rock told "60 Minutes" that he would probably never say the joke again "'Cause some people that were racist thought they had license to say 'nigger.' So, I'm done with that routine."
During the 2001 Roast of Hugh Hefner, Gilbert Gottfried made a joke about not being able to get a direct flight. The joke ended, "They said they have to stop off at the Empire State Building." The punchline sparked debates about what was "too soon," considering the roast took place the same year as 9/11. In his "Dirty Jokes" DVD, Gottfried discussed the joke's "legendary" status.
Many consider Richard Pryor a king of comedy -- and of controversy. With his short-lived TV show, "The Richard Pryor Show," Pryor had a skit where he played a rock star who killed all his white fans with a machine gun. The show's final episode has the famous roast of Pryor.