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How To Be Edgy Without Being Offensive (The Revised Version)

Have you ever read an article that just completely crossed the line? Do you ever want to give the author a good slap because you’re just so appalled with what they have to say? Or, is it just me?

There’s a fine line between being edgy and being an a$$hole and too often content creators cross it or fall far short with just plain and safe content. Not to say that safe content isn’t good content but when you’re looking for attention for your brand or yourself you have to push the boat out a bit.

Being Edgy

Religion is typically a no fly zone when you’re looking to walk the fine line of edgy content. I was reinforced of this notion in the first draft of this article that I presented to our editor. It was swiftly denied because it included an image and a link to The Onion’s “No One Murdered Because Of This Image” article. This particular article was published within just two days of the U.S. Ambassador to Libya was killed after riots over a U.S. film depicting the Prophet Muhammad as a fraud. If I’d had been allowed to include this image you’d have seen it features some of the most cherished figures of religious faiths engaging in sex acts.  So is this edgy or is The Onion taking their edgy content strategy too far?

I think it is edgy and provocative for The Onion’s audience (180,000 social shares to date don’t lie), but I have to concede that it is too vulgar, crass and offensive for the CopyPress readers (hence no image or link). Undoubtedly this did offend members of the Jewish, Christian, Hindu, and Buddhist faiths, yet they were not emotionally provoked enough to take action. After all, not a single bomb threat was made against the organization responsible.   So I ask again, did The Onion take this content too far?

Being a creator of edgy content is a problem that a lot of creators struggle with. Indeed I did writing this article, so how do you be edgy without coming off like a jerk?

Knowing Your Audience

shutterstock_63885637Before you decide whether you want to cross the edgy vs. a$$hole line you need to know where it is. The line isn’t always in the same place across audiences (it is often blurred). I feel a bit like a broken record bringing this up again, but I can’t stress how important it is to understand how your audience (and the world) will react to your content.  The most important thing to remember is that edgy is in the eye of the beholder.


Gauging your timing is the real challenge with being edgy and there’s no real way to find out without testing the water. Too soon and you’re an a$$hole, too late and you’re rambling on about yesterday’s news, somewhere in the middle you are edgy. It’s really hard to tell sometimes when it’s too soon to poke fun or find satire in an event.  11 years on and is 9/11 funny yet?  NOPE.

Being An A$$hole

Whoever you are and where ever you are, there are just some things that you should not touch with a barge pole (a very long stick) when you’re trying to create really edgy content. Most people know what they are and stay well clear of them (we have our social filters intact). However, there are some people that cross the line.

The Accidental A$$hole

I think this was me when I wrote the first draft. At one time or another each of us has stepped on people’s toes trying to be funny or edgy. It happens but you can usually get away with it when your audience knows it’s out of character or if you’re willing to concede that you shouldn’t have said that.

toshThe Attention Whore

If you’re a repeat offender and constantly and willingly step over the line then you could be an attention whore. Yes I said it, you might be a whore. You like to create controversial content just because it will get you a ton of attention. On paper you’re telling dead baby jokes (sorry had to go here again because they really irk me and help prove my point)

“What is the difference between a baby and an onion?
No one cries when you chop up the baby.”

What you’re really saying on the inside is “Look at me, look at me! I would never really chop up a dead baby like a vegetable BUT I’ll be dammed if I won’t relish in the attention these jokes will get me.”

The Recurring A$$hole

If you’re not interested in the attention, then I’m going to take a wild guess that you are a just a jerk. You speak your mind because you can and have no disregard for other people’s thoughts or feelings. Where do you draw the line? Or, do you even draw the line?  And yes, I haven’t forgotten that there is this whole freedom of speech thing going around online that I’m sure will come to an end sooner or later. Not caring what anyone thinks is often an admirable trait, but if you don’t use your social filter you’re still an a$$hole.

Learning A Lesson

Personally the message has stuck. As I am wrapping up this post I searched for “don’t be a jerk memes” to add to this article and at the top of the SERP was “Jesus is a Jerk memes.” Before it would have been included, but thanks to feedback from the team I chose to leave it out. This is in fact a less offensive version of the original draft.

About the author

Lizzie Seedhouse