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Surprisingly Lenient Censor

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At this point, I am so desperate to find the limit that I am erring into territory that even I am uncomfortable with. Specifically, themes like "coercive suicide", [...] and still, the script gets approved with no edits.
TomSka, Dear Surfshark, Please Fire Me

So you're writing a popular series, and occasionally butt heads with the censors. You've been pushing the envelope of what's acceptable for a while, and while the higher-ups are wary about annoying the moral guardians, your fans love your edgy style. OK, but surely this time you're crossing the line. You know that this joke is going too far, that you'll have to remove it and find some way to sneak it in. But screw it, you have to try! You submit it to the censor, and the reply comes back...

Approved. Huh.

You've just run into the surprisingly lenient censor. As it turns out, censors and rating boards aren't (always) the fanatical puritans we tend to imagine them as. Rating boards understand what the age ratings actually mean, and tend not to see hardcore sex in every innocuous frame. Even company censors are capable of considering context, target audience, whether children will actually see the work, and when a joke will go over children's heads. Actually Pretty Funny factors in as well — sometimes even the censor agrees that an off-color moment is amusing enough to let pass.

See also Censor Decoy, for when material is censored by the creator's intention (though this trope can very much happen to the decoy), and Getting Crap Past the Radar, for when stuff is snuck in.

To avoid this page looking like it was written by Lady Whiteadder, examples are restricted to creator reactions.



  • The famous Portuguese drink Licor Beirão ("Liquor from the Beira region"). Its slogan? O Beirão de que todos gostam ("The one from Beira which everybody loves"). Who was "The one from Beira which not everybody loves"? António de Oliveira Salazar, Portugal's then-dictator! Yes, they basically pulled a joke on a dictator and the best of all is that he knew about it, didn't try to censor it, and complimented on the liquor makers' audacity!

Anime and Manga

  • The late Carl Macek, who was known for "editing" anime when it's licensed for the U.S., expressed his shock and amazement in a podcast with Anime News Network concerning his work done when editing Captain Harlock for U.S. television. Mainly, the Mazon-aliens in said show were always naked, and there was even a scene of a live childbirth on the show (which Macek left intact), and nobody ever said anything. Even people who watched the show didn't mind!

Comic Books

  • During the writing of The Killing Joke, when Alan Moore asked if he could have the Joker paralyze Barbara Gordon, the response from the editors was supposedly "Yeah okay, paralyze the bitch". This is considered by many, including Moore himself, a case where the editors should have gotten in the way, since Barbara's paralyzation was a blatant case of Stuffed in the Fridge.

Comic Strips

  • The creators of Baby Blues wrote a strip in which dad Daryl asks for milk in his coffee and mom Wanda provides it (offscreen) by squirting her breast milk directly into the cup, accompanied with a shout of "Bullseye!", prompting Daryl to remark he was really going to miss it when she stopped breastfeeding. The comic's creators knew this wouldn't be allowed, but sent it to their editor anyway to give her a laugh. However, they found out too late that the editor wasn't in the office that week, and her substitute waved the strip on through without a second glance. Rather predictably, it's one of the most popular strips from the early years of the comic.
  • Dilbert:
    • The strip in which Alice gets a bonus. "It's Not Funny If I Have To Explain It" includes the commentary of "I was surprised that this one got published."
      Alice: Tonight I find out how big my bonus will be. After all the work I did on that project, I'm thinking four digits, maybe five.
      Dilbert: How many digits?
      Alice: (visibly upset) I used one on each hand.
    • Adams has said that this conversation was probably the worst he ever got away with:
      Dilbert: Ahh... sweet cubicle, I have returned from my trip.
      Dilbert (thinking): It's just like being in a womb.
      Pointy-Haired Boss: I just wanted to poke my head in and say hi.
    • Adams experiments with this trope quite often. He has occasionally wondered at the fact that he's allowed to publish things that suggest off-limit words, weapons, or body parts, even when it's pretty obvious what he's implying.
  • Jim Davis submitted a strip where Garfield takes catnip and wakes up the next morning in Atlantic City with a Barbie doll, and his editor approved it. In the 20th-anniversary retrospective book, Davis admits that he didn't expect the strip to be published.
    Davis: This was sent in as a joke. I combined drugs, sex, and gambling into one strip... breaking a copyright law in the process. It went through! The joke was on me.

Fan Works

  • Lampshaded and justified in-universe in Pokémon Strangled Red:
    Steven: Screw them...
    "I quirked my eyebrow at that, forgetting for a moment this was not a real Pokémon game, the vulgarity just took me off guard."


  • In Animal House, the age of the girl that Pinto seduces was "13" specifically so the censors would force them to revise the age upwards and keep the entire scene. This didn't happen because there was no objection.
  • The creators of Airplane! were surprised that the "shit hits the fan" joke made it in with no objections. Even more remarkable than that is the gratuitous shot of a topless woman stopping directly in front of the camera for a few seconds during the "Does anyone know how to fly a plane?" mass panic scene. In a PG-rated film. One can only presume the censors were laughing too hard to catch that one.
  • The Raid 2: Berandal: Because of the extreme violence, even compared to the first film, director Gareth Evans was expecting very deep cuts for an R rating. Yet, he was amazed at how little the MPAA actually cut, to the point where he called it his director’s cut save for a few frames, and the original version still has yet to be released in the US, whereas it’s completely uncut just about everywhere else.
    Evans: For folks in the US, The Raid 2 has just been rated R. And in all honesty the few cuts we made are so minimal. We are literally talking frames - and not too many of them. I’m fucking happy.
  • This Is the End: Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg have stated that they included overly explicit material in the film so they could cut it to get the rating they wanted; they were amazed when the explicit version was approved as-is. One particular moment was the scene where Satan not only has a gigantic uncensored dong, but one scene has a beam of light from the sky descend and cut it off, at which he picks it up and looks at the sky with a "dude, what the fuck?" kind of expression—Rogen theorized that the ratings board found it Actually Pretty Funny.

Live-Action TV

  • In the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "Hush", in which everybody loses their voices, Buffy makes a gesture to indicate staking the demons responsible, which Xander mistakes for a masturbation gesture. Later, after Xander beats up Spike for mistakenly believing he had attacked Anya, Anya makes the classic gesture of making a circle with the fingers of one hand and thrusting a finger of the other hand through it. They exit quickly, stage right. To this day, Joss Whedon is unsure how either of those gestures got past the censors.
  • Michael Moore was surprised that his show TV Nation was never censored during its run on NBC. Despite criticizing corporate corruption in a manner that included General Electric (NBC's corporate owner at the time), he actually had a pretty good relationship with the network.
  • The creators of The Young Ones were surprised that the censors allowed a scene at a party of Rick going through a girl's handbag, finding a tampon, and having no idea what it is. And it's not that the BBC censors weren't paying attention, as in that same episode they tried to cut Vyvyan showing the girls how many pushups he can do because they thought it looked like he was having sex with the floor.


Video Games

  • Drakengard's subject matter was, and still is, so dark and horrifying even by modern standards that its creators were extremely worried that it would not be able to be published. The game was brought to Sony in order to get their approval, but the reviewers at Sony were so exhausted from going through so many other reviews that they gave Drakengard the the stamp of approval without even looking at the game. In other words, the censor was too tired to care.

Web Video

  • After TomSka signed a 9-video brand deal with Surfshark VPN, he was surprised to find that they would allow sketches that were slightly edgier than he was expecting, so he started deliberately making darker and darker videos just to see where the limit was. He eventually had to give up without ever finding the limit when they approved a video that was just him torturing and killing people as a punishment for not downloading the VPN. However a followup shows that while Surf Shark didn't care, the advertising authorities did launch an investigation over the torture video, which made Surf Shark a bit more cautious for second 10-video brand deal.

Western Animation

  • The creators of Animaniacs said in an interview with The Nostalgia Critic that they were surprised the infamous "fingerprints" joke was left in.
    Tom Ruegger: I mean, we've obviously put that in, and we just said, "Oh, let the censor have a laugh and call us." [laughs] And I guess the censor was away that week, because that's still in there. It's amazing.
  • In the original script of the Batman: The Animated Series episode "Harley and Ivy", the Joker said to Harley and Ivy, "haven't you been busy little beavers"; Fox actually let the line through, but the team chickened out at the last second and changed the word to "bees."
    • The creators were also surprised that Fox let them use the "What're ya gonna do, spank us?" joke.
    • The creators were also surprised when the censors didn't object to Batman's response to finding out Mr. Freeze's Tragic Backstory being a low-key "My god...".
  • Codename: Kids Next Door:
    • According to this blog post, Mr. Warburton was surprised they managed to get away with the line "well, that figures" after Numbuh 86 turns into a female dog (i.e. a bitch).
    • Similarly, he said he was very surprised that Cartoon Network had virtually no notes regarding Nigel and Hoagie wearing Cree's bras in "Operation: S.U.P.P.O.R.T."
  • Futurama: In "Proposition Infinity," word of David X. Cohen is that the censors disallowed Bender saying "I'm our A in the hole!" before debating Farnsworth about robot/human marriage. This was changed to "I'm a master debater!" which the censors allowed despite the Stealth Pun on "masturbator."
  • In Gargoyles, Fang says "Kinky" when watching Demona change from gargoyle to human. Greg Weisman himself admitted he wasn't sure how they got that one past the censors.
  • Word of God from Maxwell Atoms, the creator of The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy, is that the rampant Black Comedy on the show generally got past unopposed. He attributes this to the censors not really being used to dealing with that style of humor, and instead focusing on the usual offenders that are crude sex jokes and language.
  • Looney Tunes: The cartoon An Itch in Time had a scene where the dog scoots his butt across the floor, then stops and quips "Hey, I better cut this out, I may get to like it!" This was put in by Bob Clampett as a Censor Decoy to be used at the studio's yearly gag reel, but the Hays Office left it in.
  • Rocko's Modern Life: Subverted with the scene where Heffer uses a milking machine from "The Good, the Bad, and the Wallaby." According to Jeff "Swampy" Marsh, they didn't expect the scene to pass, but described it to Nickelodeon censors anyway. The censors only responded by asking them to change the hearts in Heffer's eyes to stars, and the scene was otherwise left alone. However, Nickelodeon eventually removed it in reruns.
  • South Park:
    • When Trey Parker and Matt Stone were told they couldn't subtitle the movie All Hell Breaks Loose because the word "hell" is a curse in America, they sarcastically suggested calling it Bigger, Longer, and Uncut, and were surprised that the ratings board had no issue with (or didn't notice) the phallic Double Entendre.
    • Likewise, the episode "Raisins" features a joke where Jimmy tells Wendy she's a "continuing source of inspiration" to Stan, only due to a stutter he ends up repeating only the first syllable, "cont" (think about it). Again, Parker and Stone were pretty surprised that Comedy Central didn't cut it out.


Video Example(s):


TomSka vs SurfShark

SurfShark approves an ad that threatens violence and is full of blood.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (17 votes)

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Main / SurprisinglyLenientCensor

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