List of Comedians that are being unapologetically dense about this issue:
- Jim Norton (“Why is it okay for an actor to play a rapist, but not for a comic to joke about it?”)
- Louis C.K. (“your show makes me laugh every…
I was going to leave it alone, because it’s a pain in the ass to address this.
Look, I get that there is something that rankles when a topic is declared off-limits. Especially for comedians. Comedy is ballet on thin ice, at all times. Someone is most likely going to be offended no matter what the topic.
My problem is less with the fact that Tosh told a rape joke/made a comment, and more with his response to being heckled about it. That was the point at which he crossed the line from being a tasteless comedian to being a completely misogynistic asshole.
George Carlin once discussed the issue of using rape as an object of jokes. (Go look it up, I’m not your mama. You have the google-fu.) In that discussion, he said that it was a matter of the exaggeration. I am a rape survivor and to some extent, I still agree with that assertion. What is the point of the joke? Is it satire, highlighting the absurdity of rape culture? Or, is it the lazy and hurtful expression of misogyny that truly thinks rape is funny?
Rape isn’t funny. It’s not. If someone made a joke about a child lying back and thinking of the Church of England while being molested by a vicar, it wouldn’t be funny. Okay, it *might* be funny, because it would highlight the hypocrisy of religion, but it would still be uncomfortable. But people do make jokes surrounding issues like hot female teachers raping male students, and about the hypocrisy of the Catholic church, etc., all the time. They are rape jokes. They are often funny and uncomfortable at the same time. They highlight that yes, we live in a culture where we ignore hypocrisy.
I don’t know exactly what the joke Tosh told was, that sparked the audience member’s response. I don’t really care. I support his right to say whatever the hell he wants, just as I support her right to call him out on it. It’s the fact that people aren’t dealing with the real problem, which is his response to her.
Look, we all say things in the heat of the moment. We do. My default response to horrifying things is, “Go DIAF.” It’s an expression of frustration and horror, and doesn’t actually mean I wish that upon someone.
I try to not say it anymore, because it’s kind of awful. Well, I try not to write it, where it’s preserved forever.
To say that it would be funny if a heckler were gang-raped, crosses the line. It’s not a joke that may or may not have a point, it’s directing something awful at another human being.
I’ve been gang-raped. It wasn’t funny. It was horrifying. I don’t think this is something that all these comedians are thinking about. Rape is something that happens to real people every day. It is the most horrible thing you can do to a human being, (yes, it really is a fate worse than death. If you’re dead, you don’t have to deal with being destroyed. Putting the pieces back together is harder, trust me,) and to continue to use rape as a casual form of intimidation…
Women deal with a sort of background, low-level anxiety about rape, 24/7/365. Rape culture puts the onus on us to avoid being raped, blames us when we are, and justice is thin on the ground. That’s life. It’s not fair and it’s changing slowly, but that’s our reality.
The issue is not whether Daniel Tosh has the right to make rape jokes, he does. The issue is not whether he has the right to be an asshole to hecklers, he does.
The issue is taking the heckling seriously and wishing intimate harm upon someone just for disagreeing with you and then, for observers, taking it that step further in defending it. The issue is that when a comment about rape minimizes it, it is hurtful. The issue is that honestly, look at the number of rapes that occur each year: the guys that are committing those rapes are overwhelmingly people that you know, they aren’t random strangers. They’re frat boys and the boys at work who treat women in the office like they’re fresh meat, they’re the married guy down the block who doesn’t understand the word, “No.” Those guys, think rape is funny. Those guys think it’s funny when someone says a heckler should be gang-raped. Those guys are rapists. Those are the guys who if a joke is made properly, about how rapists are pathetic criminals who feel like the world owes them a fuck, will look really uncomfortable because they are pathetic criminals who think the world owes them a fuck.
Having the right to do something, doesn’t exempt us from the social consequences of legal acts. We have the right to be alcoholics, but that doesn’t mean we have the right to be rewarded for doing it. When our behavior negatively impacts people, we do not have the right to be rewarded for it (Chris Brown and Charlie Sheen notwithstanding and don’t even get me started on that,) when our behavior negatively impacts our employer, we don’t get cookies and a pat on the back for standing up and exercising our rights.
Daniel Tosh can say anything he wants, but it says something really important about him that what he wants to say, is that a heckler should be gang-raped. It says something really important that instead of articulating himself and saying, “No, it’s something that should never happen to anyone. I reacted badly, but let’s talk about the ways humor can open up this dialogue,” he’s being a petulant ass. He’s being defended in ways that do not help.
Rape isn’t funny, but you can make jokes about all kinds of awful things and those jokes can be funny, the difference is knowing what and why and how to do it.
There are plenty of comics that tell rape jokes and subvert the entitlement present in our culture, and that is helpful. There are plenty of comics that tell jokes about race, religion, politics, and mostly: they’re funny. Sometimes they’re misogynistic, racist, homophobic assholes who are not being funny at all.
They have every right to make jokes about what they want, but if you don’t understand why you’ve offended someone, when it’s not a case of sacred cows but a case of 1 in 4 women (at best estimates) a hell of a lot of men and a justice system and society that is broken when it comes to sexual abuse, assault, and rape. (Please, go look at the report on Penn State and tell me we’re not screwed up when people can prioritize a football program over kids getting raped. Seriously. This is what happens.)
I don’t think Daniel Tosh is the anti-christ, and I don’t think anyone should be prevented from making jokes about whatever they want. I also think that if someone doesn’t think your jokes are funny and calls you on your bullshit, you should be able to take it. Like a grown-up. Being defensive just makes you look like a jerk, and… defensiveness kind of implies knowing that you’re wrong.
Which is probably the case right now.
ETA: If you want a more thorough take-down on the humor aspects, go read this Jezebel piece.