Thursday, July 12, 2012

Rape Jokes and the Humorless Feminist

"How many feminists does it take to screw in a lightbulb?"
"Not funny."

My friends are really really fond of that joke.  I can't explain why because--and I see the irony here--I just don't find it funny.  I guess the idea of the "humorless feminist" is deeply planted in the minds of the American public--we don't find anything funny, everything offends us, we're uptight and buzzkilling and we hate comedy and testicles.  I'm here to tell you that's bullshit.  There are a number of entirely offensive comedians and movies and TV shows that I find hilarious: Chris Rock, Eddie Murphy, George Carlin, the occasional episode of South Park, plenty of guys that just talk about dicks all the time.  I get it, it's comedy and if it's done cleverly and correctly it's funny.  I even sit through the occasional episode of Tosh.0.  Well, I used to, anyway--no longer.

Many of you may have heard about this already, but if not, allow me to explain.  Now, here is the whole story according to the Tumblr account, half of which is entirely ignored by the Huffington Post article.

A woman and her friend were trying to decide what to do one night and her friend suggested they go see a comedy show.  They decided that it sounded like fun, and there were several comedians performing that night.  Dane Cook was the only one they recognized, so they went deciding to give the people they hadn't heard of a chance.  One of those people was Daniel Tosh--who it would be easy to have never heard of if you hadn't seen his show--and they quickly discovered they'd made a mistake.

So apparently Tosh asked the audience what they wanted him to talk about (this is according to the comedy club manager, who may very well be entirely clueless) and the audience responded "rape!" which is...a whole other thing that needs to be talked about.  So after Tosh goes on and on about how rape is hilarious this woman got upset, which is entirely her right, and called out that she didn't ever think that rape is funny.  It wasn't that she called him a douche while she did it or told him that his face is stupid or walked up to the stage and threw a baseball at his crotch.  That was all she said.

He proceeded to--depending on which source you believe--either talk about how hilarious it would be if she specifically were raped by five guys RIGHT THEN, or say that she sounded like she'd been raped by five guys.  Either way...well, come on, let's think about this.

I made the mistake of reading the comments on that Huffington Post article.  DO NOT MAKE MY MISTAKES.  There are a few points at play here and I want to address them all.

I want to get the First Amendment thing out of the way here before anything else because I'm sick of this "it's a free country!" argument.  No one, including the woman who was told it would be hilarious if she was gang-raped, is claiming that Tosh should be put in jail for what he said.  He had every right to make jokes about rape, she had every right to stand up and say something, and he had every right to respond.  But the First Amendment doesn't come without consequences, and she had every right to go out and tell whoever she wanted about what happened.  I don't want this guy to have to pay a fine, go to jail, or even have his show cancelled because of what happened.  But I have every right to criticize him for saying what he said, and so I will.  He can go right on ahead and keep making rape jokes but I'm going to keep on finding him disgusting for it.

I have seen many people--including people I know--say that he should be free to say what he wants and she knew what she was getting into by going to a comedy club and heckling him.  That still DOES NOT MAKE IT OKAY.  Is it less bad than if this exchange had happened on the street?  Maybe.  But he still told a woman it would be funny if she got raped, and there is nothing funny about that.  She went to the show--as is said in the article--without knowing who he was.  I don't think "oh, it's a comedy club, he can say the most offensive thing he wants" excuses the fact that we, as a culture, condone that kind of behavior from stand-up comedians.

I'm going to Aaron Sorkin out here a bit for a second, so just bear with me.  Prepare for dewy-eyed optimism about how we're better than this.

When did we get to the point where just saying the most "edgy" (read: offensive) thing you can possibly think of is comedy?  With no context?  I mean his bit appears to literally have been "haha rape is so funny."  No, it isn't.  George Carlin has been brought up a lot in the discussion about this incident, and I'll agree with what he said about any subject being funny if you put it on its head and put it in a context of social criticism.  Since when were we all just playing to the lowest common denominator and yelling "Dead babies!  People falling over!  The Holocaust!  Rape!" and suddenly it's just comedy? 

There are rape jokes that are funny.  I'm going to post a video of one below.  Please be so kind as to skip ahead to 15:45 in this video.  End at about 17:30.

Now this joke is funny because it turns the societal expectation on its head.  He talks about how absurd it would be if he, as a man, had to worry about being raped all the time and how unlikely the circumstances would be if he were raped.  That is societal commentary, and it's still funny.  It's not just "HAHA RAPE!" and that's the joke.

Which brings me to another point.  The Daniel Tosh incident--and male comedians making fun of rape in general--is a male privilege issue.  Yes, it is.  Rape can be hilarious to you if you don't have to worry about it all the time.  You can make jokes about it without having to be concerned with the reality of it.  Saying to a woman that it would be funny if she got raped or that she only thinks a joke isn't funny is because she got raped is actually scary.  It could actually happen.  That woman could really have been a rape survivor.  And that's what truly makes it gross.

Now, are there off-color female comedians, too?  Absolutely.  Someone in the dreaded Huffo comments brought up Lisa Lampanelli, who I am personally not a fan of at all, and how offensive she can be.  And you're right, we should not get a free pass for being women just like men shouldn't get a free pass for being men.  Comedy continues to be an old boys' club, unfortunately.  Adam Carrolla was kind enough to point out just how un-funny women are--in another statement of hilaaaarious racism and sexism--a few weeks ago.  There is a LOT of sexism in comedy, from the fact that women and rape are the butt of so many jokes to the fact that female comedians often get stuck talking about tampons and how much dating sucks if they want to sell at all. 

I am sick of hearing that women--especially feminists--are not funny or that we're entirely humorless.  I don't find things funny that I can relate to in no way, shape or form and that's what so much of male-centric comedy is, especially when it involves rape.  I cannot FATHOM finding the word "rape" funny when it's just tossed out there.  Because that joke isn't for me, it's for all the frat guys who want to feel edgy and guffaw at something that doesn't require them to think.  Why SHOULD I find that funny?  It wasn't intended for me. 

Daniel Tosh released a half-assed "apology" over Twitter and I'm sure his fanbase will not change at all because they didn't care in the first place.  I know I won't be watching him again.  He has made it clear that I am not his desired audience, and I don't find him funny anymore at all after that.  I want to be optimistic enough to believe that this will at least start a conversation, but I doubt it--this frat boy culture is apparently pretty powerful and lucrative, so I'm not hopeful for too much examination.  I just want to say that I do find lots of things funny--even farts, and even jokes about boobs, and even swearing and penises and on a rare occasion or two even Dane Cook.  But when women, and feminists especially, are the joke, how are we supposed to laugh for the ten millionth time?  It gets exhausting.

And a word of advice to comedians:  If you can't pull off the rape joke, just don't even try.  It just comes off as sad.


  1. As a 'professional' comedian, Tosh should know how to appropriately handle hecklers. He didn't make a joke at her expense, he made a threat and its understandable for her to to be upset and appalled by it. He could have used her comment to make a different, perhaps more self aware and actually funny joke although funny jokes don't really seem to be his forte. I've never liked him because he seems like he's just a big bully. He has a show built around making fun of unsuspecting people who post videos online and embarrassing them. His entire career is based on making people feel like shit so others can laugh at them. That's not funny. That's douchey.

  2. (p.s. your blog for some reason makes it SUPER difficult to post a comment. I had to try half a dozen times and reload a bunch and log into three different things and do two captchas to get my comment to post. Seriously.)

    1. I'm sorry about that! It's Blogger, and I know it's a huge pain--I have trouble posting on other people's blogs that use the same platform. Hopefully they'll update it and make it easier soon. Thanks so much for working to post your comment, I really appreciate your input.