A CEO might want “to do one's business.” Racecar drivers prefer to “make a pit stop.” A Hippie would “answer nature’s call.” And a mathematician would determine whether to “go number one” or “go number two.” No matter if you “tinkle, whiz, squat, piddle, pooh-pooh, leak, dump,” or simply “go,” you'll need a “john, can, head, pot, crapper, library,” or some sort of “facilities.”
In Italy, you would go to the “cabinetto.” In France, the “pissoir.” In Russia, the “ubornaya” (the adornment place). In Germany, the “plumpsklo” (the plop closet). In Australia, the “toot.” And in jolly old England, you visit the “loo” (unless you lived in the 18th-century and then you would go to the “cackatorium”). Whatever term you use to describe it and no matter where you might reside, the toilet is a common and essential part of life—but one that remains curiously unmentionable in polite society.
Some of you are probably already feeling a tiny bit uncomfortable just reading the euphemisms above, despite the fact that they apply to such a universal experience. No matter if you are young or old, rich or poor, male or female—the expulsion of bodily wastes is a daily activity for all. So why is it so difficult to talk about?
As a rule, any mention of the toilet and the activities that take place within, will almost always illicit nervous juvenile giggles. But perhaps we're making some progress in the ability to discuss such common practices above hushed tones. For example, when toilet paper was first manufactured in the 1850’s the advertising industry was forced to refer to it as “curl papers for hairdressing.” Today however, television ads tout toilet paper with advertising slogans like Angel Soft’s: “Comfort Where You Want It.” And in Australia, the Bouquets brand claims to be “The Toilet Tissue That Really Cares For Downunder.”
In 1960, one of the early hosts of the Tonight Show, Jack Parr, walked off the show because he was outraged when the network censored him for using a term as tame as “water closet” on the air. By 2001, one episode of Southpark used the word “shit” 200 times, (roughly once every eight seconds).
If there is one thing I've learned in comedy, it’s that repression breeds fascination. Tour guides at NASA headquarters report the most common question they field has nothing to do with space exploration, but rather, “How do astronauts urinate and defecate?” (FYI: Buzz Aldren was the first man to poop on the moon.)
So in the interest of relieving scatological repression (and a few cheap laughs) I feel I should lower my high journalistic standards and become a bit of a potty-mouth… literally. Although I could easily fill an entire volume with the study of the wit and wisdom of the literary works produced in restrooms (from common graffiti to “Sometimes A Great Notion,” the novel written while Ken Kesey was perched upon porcelain) I will use the space below to share my here before silenced observations and collected kernels of knowledge of the “necessarium.”
Perhaps the reason we find it embarrassing to discuss toilets is because embarrassing things often happen there. As a child, one of my earliest memories was stealing that cakes of watercolors from my kindergarten class and watching in wonder as the colors mixed in the boy’s room urinal. Picasso might have approved, but I’m somewhat embarrassed by my young life of crime. Even today, some of my favorite embarrassing movie moments have been set in a lavatory; from the disgusting toilet dive in “Trainspotting,” to the hilarious “beans and frank” mix up in “Something About Mary.”
One of my family's most repeated stories centers on a distant cousin from a rural background regrettably using a display toilet at Sears. The first time my dear mother saw a bidet, she thought it was a machine provided to clean her socks. And one of my own recent embarrassing moments was when I mistook a circular freestanding sink for a urinal (which I suppose is much better than mistaking a urinal for a sink).
When you travel as much as I do, avoiding embarrassment is always a concern, because using the toilet in a strange place can prove to be very risky. First, you must determine your proper destination, and that is not always easy. For example, restroom doors in Hawaii are often labeled either “kane” or “wahine.” Do you know which one applies to you? An Old-English themed restaurant I patronized had restroom doors marked “Kings” and “Queens.” I could not resist asking my waiter “Where do us peasants go?”
The traditional toilets in Japan consist of little more than a hole in the floor. When you do find a western-style toilet, it is often accompanied by a poster nearby, providing instructions on how to properly use it (the diagrams made me laugh so hard I almost ruined a pair of shoes).
In Sweden, one men's room I visited had replaced the urinal on the wall with just a metal grate covering the entire floor—you simply went where you stood.
The Dutch, on the other hand, do not place the same heavy emphasis on privy privacy that we do here in the States. Their sidewalk Port-A-Pottys have no walls, so anyone passing by can see men relieving themselves.
Furthermore, their indoor men's rooms are staffed by a “WC Woman,” who mops around you while you are fully exposed, and expects you to tip her 50 cents for this service.
That Holland experience brought back memories of going to a nightclub in Milwaukee that had installed one-way mirrors in front of the urinals, which made it unnerving to attempt to urinate while a room full of women was in clear sight. I also stayed at a hotel in California that had a men's room with a wall made of stones and an “electric eye” that was triggered by a stream of urine, resulting in water flowing down the wall like a waterfall. It made every restroom trip a pure delight. Any future architects might want to make note of the psychological effects: waterfalls – good, one-way mirrors – bad.
My all-time favorite bathroom accessory is a bathmat produced by a radio station in Memphis. It was dark blue with the chalk outline of Elvis. (I've always loved the irony that “the King” died on “the throne.”) Mr. Presley was in very good company, however, joining Judy Garland, Lenny Bruce, and a long list of royalty who passed while passing. King George II fell off his toilet and fatally smashed his noggin. Norway's King Haaken VII slipped on soap in the bathroom and fractured his skull, and Russia's Catherine the Great died of heart failure while straining to overcome constipation. Foul play met foul odor when Roman Emperor Heliogabalus was hacked to death while sitting on a toilet in 222 AD. And Saxon King Edmund Ironside was killed by an assassin that hid in the cesspool below and thrust his sword upward into the King's backside. Ouch!
Hollywood actress Lupe Velez attempted suicide with sleeping pills, but her plans when awry when the pills not only made her sleepy, they also made her vomit. The next day her maid found poor Lupe with her head in the toilet. She had drowned. I read of a man who attempted suicide by jumping into an outhouse, only to spend two days in three feet of raw sewage before being rescued. The police report stated his attempt might have been successful if he had only jumped headfirst. And who can forget George Michael, who chose a public restroom as the perfect location—not to kill himself—but to kill his career.
Since you’ve read all the above scatological musings, I’ll reward you by sharing a trick I learned from a flight attendant. It’s a discrete way to join the “Mile High Club.” (If you don’t know what the “Mile High Club” is, then you’re probably not a candidate for membership.) First, you pretend to have something stuck in your eye, then, you and your partner go to the airplane lavatory to pretend to get a better look. Once behind closed doors—join the club. For those who value a good laugh over discretion, as your partner emerges from the toilet, it is very funny to yell out “Next!”
“The Laff Guru” has taken his message of LAUGHTER=NIRVANA to all 50 states and 23 countries. His awards include: “Comic of the Year,” “Campus Performer of the Year,” and a “Cable Ace Award.” His credits include over fifty TV appearances, including: Showtime and The Late Show. He is represented by GP Entertainment. To find out more about his award-winning comedy act please visit: laffguru.com