Sex and Ghosts: Being Safe While Talking Taboo

Andrea Adams-Miller PictureAlrighty. This is an issue that often comes up with some of our entertainment shows: how to safely talk about sex and other controversial topics. I’m open to any and all advice!

As always, refresh to see the updates in the blog post.

3:00 p.m.: Session underway. Andrea Adams-Miller MS CHES, Consultant, Author, Radio Host –, Bowling Green State University; and Jim Barnes, Engineer WBGU-FM.

3:02 p.m.: Disclaimers are incredibly important. At the top and bottom of every hour, it’s important to have disclaimers warning of the content.

3:06 p.m.: Jim Barnes hosts Dead Air. It aims to be educational about ghosts, paranormal activity, etc. Be prepared for backlash to controversial guests. Screen guests well. However, it’s not always the guests that are the problem. Sometimes, it is people responding. Often airing on a delay is helpful for taboo subjects.

3:08 p.m.: Andrea Adams-Miller is the host of Sex Talk Live. Miller has a background in law enforcement. She used to work at a jail and as a 9-1-1 dispatcher. She wanted to be a solution. She tended to work with all men. The topic of sex seemed to come up, both literally and figuratively all the time.

3:10 p.m.: Miller has celebrity clients and does a lot of public speaking. Her focus is interpersonal relationships and sex. Topics range from dating and flirting to vulvo-vaginal injections. It is appropriate to use slang or innuendo to refer to anatomical parts, as well as using the medical term. She covers a little bit of everything.

3:12 p.m.: Political and religious topics lend themselves to backlash. Penises, vulvas, vaginas are all fair game on the air during safe harbor after 10:00 p.m. That offends some people. But if it is approached from an educational standpoint it can be better received. If someone is on the show with a genuine question or concern, they never make fun of them.

3:14 p.m.: Covering sex in the news can be tough. Live questioning can be tough. People can go off-topic. You have to prepared to re-center them on the topic. With live guests, you absolutely need a delay of some sort. Some curse words are allowed. But often a zero-tolerance approach to cursing is best. That way, no one has to wonder what is okay and what is not.

3:18 p.m.: Hosts often choose to use pseudonyms when dealing with controversial topics. You have to protect yourself from extremists sometimes when dealing with these topics.

3:19 p.m.: How to do an interview with no delay: Often pre-recording the interview is the best idea. But if that’s not an option. Let them know, “I need you to do me a favor. I’ll be interviewing you live. I want to make you look good and vice-versa. Can we agree on no curse words, etc., while we’re live?” That serves as your agreement. However, if you don’t feel comfortable with an interviewee, never interview them live. Find someone else.

3:21 p.m.: Never let go of the control. Never hand the interviewee the mic. If they reach for it, pat them on the back and say “I’ve got you.” That lets them know you have the authority and are watching out for everyone’s best interests.

3:23 p.m.: Learn improv. It’s great to have a theatre background so you can cut a joke or come up with something on the fly in case things go wrong or get misdirected.

3:26 p.m.: When dealing with controversial topics, always think about what a “reasonable man” would think. If you’re going to make a joke, how can I get the joke in and minimize the offensive portion. Think about a group of people. Could you say what you were going to say from a group of people and have less than half of them be offended? Example: Dealing with the issue what’s the size of the average male member? “The average size is about the size of an average Snickers bar. Not, of course, your king size, fun size or bite size.” Make it light and watch the wording.

3:30 p.m.: When satirizing controversial topics like death, religion and crime, throw in a disclaimer that says this is not set up to be disrespectful. It is set up to be satirical. We welcome your feedback and comments. Frame it as a discussion. Also, ensure that you offer equal time for response on-the-air and that you indicate you are not attacking a particular group but are satirizing everything equally. Let people know you are not trying to be hurtful and that it is all about comedy. Also, indicate in the disclaimer if the comedy is PG, PG-13 or R. Go in being able to back up your comedic choices or decisions. Cite other examples from industry professionals who have made similar jokes.

3:32 p.m.: Also, watch the time you choose to air programming that is controversial. Often, the safest bet is to air it after 10:00 p.m. Always remind the viewers that the comedy is not put on to change anyone’s mind. Always encourage feedback and an open line of communication if viewers are offended or disagree.

3;34 p.m.: Politically, when dealing with issues like gay marriage or prostitution of stripping, provide facts. Make sure to tell the audience that you are only airing the piece to inform. State that you do not endorse anything you are airing and are not looking to change minds. Also, never bash your guests. Frame what you’re doing in an informational context.

3:36 p.m.: If you need to address attacks others have made on a guest of yours, frame it as “in order to give you a chance to respond, I’m going to repeat what others have said.” Absolutely note that you are directly quoting and that you’re not repeating the quotations to offend or hurt the feelings of the interviewee.

3:38 p.m.: If you want to do a segment that is not appropriate for air, you can always post the segment online with a myriad of disclaimers and let viewers know in the show where they can go to view that content and show a piece of the clip that is appropriate for air.

3:40 p.m.: Always think about who your targeting and how that target audience will react to the material you airing or scripting. Also, be sensitive to random viewers who may tune in. Never assume people have seen your previous disclaimers. Air them more than once during the program.

3:41 p.m.: Use discretion. Be smart in your synonyms. Sometimes, a substitute word has more comedic value than the actual word. Furthermore, just because you can use a word doesn’t mean you should use it or use it repeatedly. For instance, the word “ass” may be okay. But using it 20 times in a show not only can be construed as inappropriate but makes the word lose its impact.

3:43 p.m.: Also, consider whether you are trying to be shocking just to be shocking or if you feel your material has genuine comedic, artistic or educational value. Shock for shock’s sake is difficult to justify no matter what the material.

3:46 p.m.: If you’re going after “bad publicity,” have funds and plans prepared to deal with the backlash. If you aren’t prepared to deal with the backlash, don’t go after “bad publicity.”

3:48 p.m.: Theoretically, a disclaimer is not going to keep you from getting in trouble. But it shows that you are at least putting forth effort to try and warn people about the topics your addressing. Remind people it’s all about entertainment, and that it is not for everyone.



This was a very interesting lecture. It provided some useful information for how to handle audience relations with taboo topics. This is a good read for anyone looking to tackle either scripted or unscripted controversial issues.

Relevance to TV2 – A

Insight and Demystification – B

Innovative Ideas – B+

Overall – B+

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