Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Dear Comedians, And People Like Me Who Think They're Comedians: Please Stop

Trigger warning for discussion of rape and rape jokes


Hey funny people. How's it going? We haven't talked much lately - I've kind of been out of the comedy loop for a while - but something happened recently that grabbed my attention. I'm sure you've noticed this before but there are a lot of people on the circuit who find rape pretty hilarious. In fact, one of our compadres across the pond decided that rape was so funny, he invited the audience to gang rape a heckler.

Total chucklefest, right? I don't know about you but I laughed so hard that I despaired for humanity.

Still, I was wondering if this might be the wakeup call we've been waiting for. You see, when it comes to rape jokes, I'm just not sure we get it. In fact comedians get it so little, that many were quick to defend Daniel Tosh and his first amendment right to traumatise people with his mouth against the legions of angry Twitterati telling him that rape jokes aren't funny.

What idiots. They think they can hurt our feelings that easily? Of course rape jokes are funny. Anyone who's spent any time in a comedy club knows that - you tell a joke about rape, then the audience laughs. That's the definition of funny. That's why comedians tell rape jokes. Or why I used to, anyway. I used to have this gag I'd do - I'd bring my pint up on stage with me and then tell the audience that, even though I had a beer in my hand, I wasn't an alcoholic. In fact, I'd brought my beer with me because girls were always trying to spike my drink... so I wouldn't try and rape them later!

I'll give you guys a minute to recover from your fits of laughter. Ready? Great. Now the reason that joke is so hilarious is because I misdirect the audience. First of all they think I'm trying to avoid being raped (a guy getting raped by a woman! we all know it works the other way round!) then switch back the other way (I'm such a big rapist women spike my drink just to escape!). The funniest thing of all? I'm bragging about my kickass super-rapeyness right there on stage! As though it's fine and something I'd never get into trouble for! Which, in the vast majority of cases, I wouldn't!

So, believe me comics, I get how funny rape jokes are. I think I even saw someone laugh at mine once. Then, one day I was talking to my sister and she told me what a fucking shitty person I was being. I was pretty taken aback. She was talking about some weird shit like fostering rape culture and suggesting that somehow my harmless joke (jokes are made out of words which can't hurt people, apart from when they do) was promoting violence against women. So I did what any self-respecting comic who believes in the integrity of his work would do: I ignored her. After all, she isn't a comedian like us. She doesn't get it. She doesn't get that we need to stand up for free speech. We need to push back the boundaries. We need to allow our muses free reign to offend people, like those manatees that write Family Guy. Most of all, we need to show our fellow comics how cool and out there we are, how we're so big and brave we don't care who we offend - we'll even humiliate and shame rape survivors to get a laugh! In the fiercely, pointlessly competitive world of stand up comedy, we need to make jokes about women being brutally violated so that other comics will know that we're hardcore super-clowns who won't take no for an answer! Figuratively, I mean.

And that's the point, isn't it? We're not actual rapists - in fact most of our jokes rely on the premise that rape is a horrible, despicable and - most importantly - shocking crime.We'd never think of really raping someone. In fact we think about rape so little, we don't really understand what it is. For most male comics (I'm excluding female comedians though, god knows, some of you inexplicably join in the trivialization too) rape is such a heinous crime that it's basically abstract, something that only happens in your darker police procedurals and never to real people in the real world. Never to people you know. Never to audience members, one in four of the women in the room, for whom the idea isn't quite so absurd. For those women, for some of them at least, your joke isn't so much a what-if or a can-you-imagine as a trip down memory lane to the worst moment in their lives, now underscored with a laughter track. Laughter at a joke you told! Don't you feel proud? You triggered deep emotional trauma in someone while loading everyone around them onto the chuckle train! Pretty edgy stuff! You're like a modern day Lenny Bruce, fighting for free speech against the forces of government oppression, except that you're the one oppressing people and the government isn't trying to stop you! After all, it's your *right* to tell rape jokes, and if something is your right, you have to do it! That's which I spent the afternoon nailing my dick to the wall!

What made me stop telling rape jokes? I wish it had been what my sister told me, I wish I'd stopped that day instead of spending around a year loftily telling women why words couldn't hurt them, that they should lighten up and that they didn't get it. At first I felt I had to keep telling the jokes - had to! - simply because someone didn't want me to. Otherwise I wasn't being true to my art. It would be self-censorship. Comedians had to be free to say anything. Most importantly, how could I stay friends with the godawful, cowardly dickheads who told these jokes on a nightly basis if I turned around and said I wouldn't? Sooner or later, though, I just couldn't. Perhaps it was the jaw locking, knuckle clenching effect these jokes were having on the friends I brought along to shows. I'd sit next to them in the audience, see their discomfort, their disgust and realise I was doing the exact same thing up there, whether I knew it or not. Perhaps it was realising just how rarely rape is reported, and how making fun of it makes that less likely still. A lot of comedians say you can make a joke out of anything - and I believe that's true. But when you joke about your grandfather's cancer or the riots, it's a public airing of laundry. It brings some collective fear out into the sunlight to be mocked and defanged. Perhaps I stopped because, in all but a few cases, joking about rape doesn't do that. Instead, when we joke about someone else's secret fear, it drives it deeper into the dark cracks of our national consciousness, only to be spoken of in brutal jest. Whatever the reason, I stopped.

This post isn't meant to admonish other comics - I get where you're coming from and why you're doing it. This is just a plea to stop making the circuit a place where women don't feel safe or comfortable. I know it's your right, and your passion, and nobody can stop you but please, for the love of being a halfway decent person, would you stop? Stop triggering terrifying memories. Stop undoing the hard work survivors have done to overcome trauma. Just please, please stop telling rape jokes.


51 comments:

  1. Except Tosh apparently did NOT invite audience to rape this bitter blogger. What kind of fool accepts, without question, the clearly biased view of one person's recall of an event?!?
    A DIFFERENT NARRATIVE OF EVENT: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/10/daniel-tosh-rape-joke-laugh-factory_n_1662882.html?utm_hp_ref=entertainment&ir=Entertainment

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    1. "What kind of fool accepts, without question, the clearly biased view of one person's recall of an event?" Why, the kind YOU are, apparently!

      So the alleged victim is "clearly biased" in her recall, but the alleged perp -- the one who actually has something to gain/lose here -- is clearly not? Get a refund on those rational thinking lessons.

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    2. So why did he apologise, together with a link to the complainants blog post, if that was not what happened?

      "@danieltosh
      daniel tosh
      all the out of context misquotes aside, i'd like to sincerely apologize http://t.co/ptA7kJ2c"

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  2. Her account and Daniel Tosh's, who apologised for being an asshole. That a club owner might not want people to think they'd get treated shittily in his establishment, so try and play PR, isn't all that surprising. Also, even if the promoter's account is true, he still joked about her being raped by 5 guys. So WTF, dude?

    Also, even if this particular event didn't happen the way everyone else and I think it did, the pattern is still there. Comedians make jokes about rape all the time. This one incident is the tip of the iceberg.

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  3. This is a really great post and I'm linking it to just about everyone I know. Thank you - it feels sad that I have to thank you for being a decent human being, but there you go. Thanks.

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  4. Tosh (oh the joys of nominative determinism!) also made her feel uncomfortable enough to first speak out which is a very hard thing to do when you are surrounded by people who appear to think your pain is funny, she walked out. Also a lot of guys seem to be seeing this as one isolated incident, for women we hear this sort of crap everyday, and whatever you say about 'it just being a joke' it gets to you, it hurts, it reinforces It is just the tip of the iceberg as johnny says, and to be honest I don't care what some arsewipe of a guy who doesn't have to deal with this shit day in day out thinks because you know what? It's not about you, millions of women are saying we feel uncomfortable and even unsafe around these paragons of free speech and you try and turn it around to be about how unfair it is that you can't talk crap without someone challenging you on that crap? I support your right to say whatever you want but if you can't take genuine criticism of your beloved free speech maybe you shouldn't say it or develop a more grown up way of dealing with it than insinuating the problem is not with your words but peoples reaction to them, how dare they not accept my wonderful wit? How dare they have opinions that differ from mine and express them! Wohoo free speech! Plus if you have to rely on tired, unoriginal 'jokes' told deliberately to whip up 'controversy' to offend people and get attention, maybe you're just crap.

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  5. S'good that, Jonnie, nice one.

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  6. Comic: XXXX joke is always funny;

    Heckler: XXXX joke is never funny;

    Comic: *Put down heckler with XXXX Joke*;

    If the audience laughed at the put down than the comic proofed the heckler's assertion is incorrect. (N.B. this does not necessary support Comic's original assertion.) In this case the Heckler felt she was in the "right" but was proven wrong in the situation. (My assumption is audience laughed at the put down. Theres no-way to tell because this is a one sided account.)

    As a comic I felt for Tosh because what he done was pretty much what any standard comic would have done if they were challenged on stage i.e. bulldozed over opposition with some mean words. I even felt annoyed he half-heartedly apologise on twitter! (If you believe in what you said on stage you shouldn't back pedal out of it otherwise its a cop-out.)

    However - There are consequences in your actions and since you made a choice to act in such a way than you better accept the consequences whether you think its justified or not! If you have no understanding on the subject you making jokes on you will get found out as you can't form a credible defense to your position.

    If you asked me "Are rape jokes funny?" my answer would be "It depends on who and how it was delivered...." Not all jokes on race are racist, not all jokes on rape are horrible either but since you treading on sensitive ground with wafer thin margin of error you better have the skill and knows where you are coming from when you are telling the joke! Very few comics (especially on the open-mic circuit) has the ability to pull this off.

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    1. One of the points I was trying to make in the blog is that it's not about whether rape jokes are funny. Saying rape jokes aren't funny is like saying a roundhouse kick to a toddler's face isn't acrobatic: it doesn't matter. It's wrong because it hurts someone, not because you don't enjoy it on an aesthetic level (though both things may be true).

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    2. As you said jokes can be "...brings some collective fear out into the sunlight to be mocked and defanged." or "it drives it deeper into the dark cracks of our national consciousness, only to be spoken of in brutal jest." whether its about grandfather cancer, riot or rape. The more sensitive the subject matter is the better one needs to be "equiped" to deal with the consequences. Remember: just because one never experience the subject matter does not mean one cannot make a positive contribution on it.

      You are correct in saying most instances of jokes on rape are horrible because it come from a view point of ignorance (I seen lots of cases) but a blanket ban of jokes of rape is counter-productive. I am more inclined to look at it on a case by case basis.

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    3. Villiageidioit, you are indeed an idiot. No one is saying we should ban rape jokes, they are merely trying to educate people on why they are wrong. As a rape survivor I can definitely tell you that rape survivors do not find rape "jokes" funny. I can't tell you how many times I've been triggered by my own friends. A lot of them have stopped when I asked them nicely. Which is kinda sad when you think about it. Why is being a decent human being something to be surprised at and admired?

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    4. The difference in cancer and rape jokes is that cancer is actually taken seriously.

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    5. Nobody is suggesting a blanket ban. In fact that would be counterproductive. But the fact is, even if you try to write positive comedy about rape A.) you'll probably fail B.) you'll trigger people and C.) you legitimise people who don't have such good intentions. If a comic really thinks they've come up with something positive and useful, nobody can stop them from going for it. But I don't think the way out of this is with a load of "positive" rape material - that will just be used by asshats to justify being asshats.

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  7. I don't have much to say on this after an afternoon spent (unsuccessfully) trying to explain this issue to people on Twitter. So I'll just say this: thank you.

    x

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  8. Thanks for speaking up!

    It may be tiring to hear it asked again, but what if it was his mother, grandmother, sister, friend, or (God forbid he procreate) his daughter? Being such a putz, he probably wouldn't even care then.

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  9. This was an extremely well-written article on a very humane and important issue that often gets dismissed by narrow minds thinking that by asking for a little bit of discretion or compassion, that person is impeding their free speech. The culture we live in (with the internet playing a big role) unashamedly supports the 'ironic' treatment of controversial and discriminatory issues and doesn't often allow people to talk back. Especially as a woman.
    Thanks to your position as a male comedian and the skill with which you have written, you are helping to invoke sympathy in the masses that mean no harm but accidentally create it.
    If you don't mind, I'm going to link your post in my blog.

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    1. Thanks, Madie, and of course I don't mind. I wrote it hoping people would read it :)

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  10. Thank you for this-- it is excellently written.

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  11. Thank you for this...I came here from a link on Twitter and this was really wonderful and refreshing.

    Your concept--that it doesn't matter if people laugh, the real problem is that someone is hurt by rape jokes, is what I focus on when I talk w/ my funny male friends about this issue. I've tried explaining about rape culture, the normalization of rape, etc. They sort of get it but they'll default back to "yeah but it's FUNNY." So I emphasize 1) it's a cheap, unoriginal laugh anyway and 2) IT HURTS PEOPLE.

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    1. I think one of the problems with saying "rape isn't funny" is a whole bunch of comedians see that as a challenge - what if they can make it funny? Then when someone laughs at their lazy rape joke they think they're comic geniuses rather than boring hacks.

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  12. Comedians should absolutely stop telling bad rape jokes, or jokes that only convey 'the act of rape is funny' and they should absolutely be criticised for telling easy rape jokes that make a dumb audience member go 'did he just go there!? I can't believe what an un-PC time I am currently having!' You can communicate this criticism by 1)not laughing 2)asking for a refund and walking out. That's it.

    There will always be shitty, 'shocking' comedians who will say anything to satiate their awful audience's need to hear awful things said on a stage by an awful person so they can then say to themselves "aren't I awful?" while giggling about the death of an infant. Giving these people the benefit of mutually-congratulatory group outrage does nothing but shines a spotlight on that comedian. Guess what helps to make bad comedians popular?

    To try to eliminate any nuance from this and dichotimise it into "rape joke=bad person" and "no rape joke=good person" is insulting. Guess what? There have been funny, smart jokes on the subject of rape that didn't in theory or execution trivialise rape or perpetuate rape culture.

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    1. I did actually link to two of the (extremely rare) examples of positive comedy around the topic of rape. Guess what? Both were performed by women.

      This blog isn't really about Tosh - it's been something I've been meaning to write for a while - it's about the huge prevalence of awful, shitty, damaging, nasty, misogynistic humour on the circuit right now.

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    2. And there have been examples by males, too. I agree with you about horrible comedians telling awful, shitty misogynistic drivel, but drawing those black and white lines is damaging.

      That nasty, awful shitty humour doesn't get less popular by shining a spotlight on it. If those jokes didn't get laughs, they probably wouldn't be being told. If those laughing at those jokes didn't think that, by laughing at this off-colour humour, they're really getting under the skins of those Guardian-reading tofu-eaters, they probably wouldn't be laughing.

      I don't think the kind of backlash like I've seen with the Tosh stuff really affects any positive change, just people agreeing with how they agree with each other. Chefs don't get mad at McDonalds, they just be chefs.

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    3. Yeah, but people are more likely to stop eating McDonalds if they know it destroys the rainforest and causes heart attacks.

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    4. @Alan
      Interesting you don't think the backlash does something good, when clearly the author of this post benefitted by hearing someone complain about why this kind of humor sucks. Clearly speaking up makes a difference.

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  13. Thanks for this. I avoid saying rape jokes aren't funny because humour is so subjective. Also I think the butt of the joke matters - is it a rape joke if the butt is rape culture and the joke is leading you towards a better understanding of how messed up our societal attitudes to rape are? I don't know the answer to that question although I would think there is a distinction of some kind. Whether it's enough is something I can't judge.

    It may be verging on spoilers but I would be keen on seeing trigger warnings for comedy that touches on these kinds of areas. A common excuse for these kinds of incidents is that the audience member knew or should have known that the comedic style would include "offensive" material, but this varies so much - does it just mean swearing? Could they be more specific on whether it'll include sexism or ableism?

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    1. I haven't seen many routines about rape culture but, while they're obviously better than jokes which just treat rape as funny, they're still potentially triggering.

      Trigger warnings are something I think could be very useful in this area - imho they're only going to ruin the kind of comedy which trades on rape entirely for shock value, rather than the potentially positive stuff which treats it as a real issue that can hopefully be discussed cathartically.

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  14. Thank you for this post. I have so much respect for you for a) changing your mind and b) having the courage to explain why.

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  15. Since male comics don't seem to want to listen to women's explanations of why rape jokes aren't okay (as you didn't listen to your sister). Than perhaps they will listen to a male comic. Everyone should tweet this at all the male comics on Twitter who said something supportive of Daniel Tosh.

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    1. I think one of the biggest reasons I didn't listen at the time was the peer pressure of comedy. All my friends at that point were comedians. Agreeing with my sister would have meant telling quite a few of them they were assholes, which is pretty hard to do, but doesn't excuse it. Moral cowardice on my part.

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  16. Fantastic blog. There is no one more likely to be listened to on this subject than a practising comic. On behalf of all women, thank you

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  17. Bookmarking in case I have to refer anyone to a fantastic explanation of why appropriate self-censorship is not killing free speech.
    Thanks for restoring my faith in humanity, which takes a lot of daily knocks here on the internet.

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  18. JM - what's your take on the Onion's story on this? I reckon it's horrible, visceral and could potentially be a trigger, but is *nonetheless* entirely appropriate as a way of confronting Tosh fans with the enormity (in the true sense of the word) of what he suggested.

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    1. Satire is a bit different from stand-up that's going for laughs. I don't think people were chuckling their way through Swift's A Modest Proposal, for example. In fact, they were likely sicken, much I was when I read The Onion's piece. Satire--real satire, not hipster BS satire--is considered humor, but not the "ha ha" kind of gag humor. It's going for a very different response and requires the satirist to genuinely know the subject she or he is satirizing of the whole satire falls apart. But clearly, as Jonnie Marbles points out, comedians don't need to know much about rape to make a ha-ha joke out of it to get cheap laughs.

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    2. The Onion article certainly points its guns at the right target, and it's trying to demonstrate a point about why actually making jokes about rape is a pretty shitty idea.

      I had a friend on the circuit who did pretty much the same thing - he has a routine about rape jokes that described a rape in more and more detail, until the whole audience felt pretty uncomfortable. On an artistic and satirical level it was, imho, a pretty good routine. It was also triggering as fuck. At least, I suppose, it made *everyone* feel uncomfortable, and therefore gave the people who normally laughed about/told those gags a taste of their own medicine.

      I don't know how survivors react to something like this - does it make it better that the jokes are anti-rape and anti- rape jokes? Or is it still just as triggering? I'm guessing that for some people at least it's the latter. In The Onion's defence, you'll have a pretty good idea of what the article is going to be like once you've read the headline, so can skip the rest of it (people listening to my friend's comedy routine didn't have that option unless they got up and left). On the other hand once you've read the headline you've read the headline, which could be triggering in itself.

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  19. Thank you for writing this. There is something very profound about having a male comedian write on this topic. I think it reaches farther than a hurt rape-survivor's take on it, unfortunately.

    I wanted to mention that just because people are laughing doesn't mean the comedian is funny. People laugh when they're uncomfortable, nervous, even angry, or just surrounded by other people who are laughing.

    I like the conversations going on here, and I really love this post. I think people, especially certain men sometimes, forget just how common rape is. There are stats that say it happens to 1 in 4 women, and there are even stats that say 1 in 3 women (in terms of sexual assault)... and I love what you said about putting a laugh track over somebody's worst memory. Yeah, you have the right to do that, but do you really want to?? I mean really? to a potential 1/6th or 1/8th of the room? Chances are the individual telling rape jokes like this has a mother, sister, daughter, or friend who has been raped. But it's likely also that these women might not be particularly comfortable sharing that intimate information with him because he's been telling his super-hilarious rape jokes around them.

    Anyways, love the way you wrote this. Thank you.

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    1. Thank you - you're right, not everyone who laughs actually finds it funny. In fact one of the things I say to comedians when I talk to them about this is that the girl laughing on the front row might be doing it just to fit in and is secretly having a fucking horrible time. I hope this makes telling rape jokes a little less fun, when you have to look out at the audience and wonder who's faking it.

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  20. First of all, there are no people on the circuit who find rape hilarious. That includes Daniel Tosh. There are, however, people who find rape-jokes hilarious, of which I am one. You are definitely crossing a line when claiming that liking rape-jokes is the same as liking rape. But you know what? I'm going to just let it go and in my head come to the rational conclusion that you are smart enough to know that - and calm myself down and not take offence.

    Thank you for attempting to make us all "get it". I know your intentions are good.

    Do you want to know why your rape-joke wasn't funny? A little hint: It has nothing to do with rape.
    It's a simple pull-back-and-reveal. A decoy. A oopsie-so-I-meant-the-other-thing. You say that this is why it IS funny. It's not. It's easy and every single good comedian saw it coming. Just because it has the form of a joke, doesn't mean it's a joke.
    You didn't have a point. You did not wake up one day, sit up straight in your bed and said to yourself: I must become a comedian, because I have to change the world by doing easy-written hack-rape-jokes.
    It is the kind of joke you tell merely because it's techinally a joke, so you will get a laugh if the audience isn't picky. It's an open mic-set-closer. You have no point, no agenda, no moral, no nothing. It's you saying words to get a quick laugh.
    Therefore it's not funny. Therefore it is offensive to rape-victims. And to everyone else listening. Stop wasting people's time like that.

    Now, there are a lot of comics (real comics) who actually touch the subject of rape and they do it perfectly. I have seen a bunch of (male) comics handle the topic with such care, that it made me proud to be from where I am from.

    And before that lady heckled Daniel Tosh at his show, he was talking about how there are horrible things in the world, but you can make fun of them - and if she hadn't interrupted it is very likely that he actually had a point in which she would agree.

    One of the commenters on this site thanked you on behalf of all women. I would like to unthank you, on behalf of me. "Stop telling rape jokes" is like saying "Stop talking about rape". Then why stop there? Stop talking about racism, stop talking about Holocaust, stop talking about slavery, stop talking about homosexuality. It may offend people, you know. These are things that must be talked about. Covered up in lovely little jokes so that people have a good time. If you stop talking about these things all together, you will end up in a world where it is taboo. And taboos kill more than anything.

    Now, what you really want to be saying is this:
    Do not do a joke, unless you have some kind of thought behind it. A reason for doing it. You have to be able to justify your joke to anyone who feels offended - note that you shouldn't necessarily do this, you should just BE ABLE to. Otherwise you'll end up writing a whiny blog a few years later where you regret oh-so-deeply that you once made a terrible joke. Have a reason for being on stage, other than the fact that you're not able to brag to your friends that you're a stand-up-comedian. Have something to say.
    Don't do easy pull-back-and-reveal-jokes. Don't do wordplay. Write proper jokes.
    One-liner-comics can be amazing - and comics without thought behind as well. Jimmy Carr, Mitch Hedberg. But unless you're Jimmy Carr or Mitch Hedberg, don't do it. Very, very few can do this and make it work.

    What you really should be saying is: Stop doing comedy if you suck at it. If you suck, your mere presence on that stage is offensive to people who like to laugh.

    I'll happily be the first lady to stand up and yell, "YOU are never funny!" and then go home and write an angry blog ending with the sentence: Just please, please stop telling jokes.

    - Sofie

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    1. You're right Sofie. That joke did suck. It was a cheap way of getting laughs during my first 6 months on the circuit. But as well as having low aesthetic value, it also had the potential to mentally drag people screaming back to one of their darkest moments, and give everyone else in the room the impression rape was something trivial.

      In the blog I cite a couple of examples of positive rape jokes. A couple was all I could find (no, I don't think Louis CK justifies it). You know what stops people from talking about rape? Rape jokes. The 99.99% of rape jokes that make absolutely no point whatsoever. Imagine if it became a real taboo to talk about rape on stage - in the same way it is to be racist now. Then when a comedian did talk about it, you'd know they'd put some thought into it, that they were going somewhere with it, that they couldn't just rely on the cheap laugh. When people do routines about race today they have to put some thought into it. I'd like the same to be true of routines about rape - there should be a big hurdle of justification you have to overcome before the audience will give you credit. That doesn't exist today.

      That said, even if it did, the hurdle would have to be pretty high. Your routine is going to have to be civilization-shatteringly awesome and culture changing before it justifies triggering people.

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  21. If you weren't in the room, then you have NO right to make claims as to what was said or what happened. PERIOD. It absolutely TERRIFIES me that some fuckwit off the street can ANONYMOUSLY go online and post THEIR VERSION of an event, and immediately everyone gets so fucking riled up and pissed about it. Pick up your pitchforks and torches, kids, it's time to burn a witch.

    The biggest problem I have with people taking one side on it is that no recording of the incident exists so its all hearsay.

    I am a survivor of rape myself and I am far more offended by the people who tell me that I cannot find rape jokes funny, especially as a former victim, than the people who make the jokes. To me, a joke is a joke and I refuse to let it have power over me or make me feel afraid. I’ve had enough of that for a lifetime. That’s my coping mechanism.

    I am sensitive to the fact that those jokes CAN be hurtful to others and they can deal with it in their own way. I just resent the implication that if I laugh at a rape joke that something is wrong with the way I’m dealing with my own trauma.

    Just because you are a victim or survivor of rape does NOT mean you get to tell me how to handle MY trauma. It sucks that you are offended, and I'm sorry if dark humor is triggering for you. I hope you can find the help you need to heal and in the meantime avoid tasteless jokes. But to say that NO ONE should be able to make jokes about such a wretched subject takes away others' healing therapies. Making jokes is also called 'making light' of a situation because sometimes, there are events so fucking disgusting and horrible that they are too heavy of a burden to handle rationally. That's where absurdity, hyperbole, and sarcasm come into play. If you can find humor in the darkest of places to help lighten that load and heal, then I don't think anyone has the right to take that away from you. Nor should they want to.

    Another thing that upsets me is everyone going around adamantly shouting "Rape jokes are NEVER funny! NEVER FUNNY!" What they're missing is the end part...."to me." Just because rape jokes are never funny to YOU doesn't mean you get to silence one of my only forms of therapy, as fucked up as it may seem to you. If you don't like rape jokes, don't listen to them, and I'm sorry if an errant one finds it's way into your experience. But don't try to negate MY experience. If you want your opinion to be respected, you must respect that others have different opinions than yours (note that I did not say you have to respect their opinion, just that they might have a different one).

    Funny how no one is up in arms about the fact that the change.org petition against Tosh is listed as a "Women's Rights" issue, instead of a "Human Rights" issue. Oh wait, because only women get raped. And the 'rape culture' is only damaging to women. Because making banjo deliverance jokes and soap-dropping jokes are heeelarious. Just another hypocrisy. If you're going to be enraged, be equal-opportunity.

    If you are so deeply offended by rape jokes, you better be offended across the board - dead baby jokes, war jokes, holocaust jokes, race jokes. You're not? Why? Because the pain and trauma and aftermath of rape are SO much worse than having a baby die of SIDS, or seeing your buddy blown up in front of you, etc etc? Now's not the time to be picky-choosy. Saying that your trauma is so much worse than that of anyone else's is arrogant and shitty.

    Once you stop being able to joke about a subject, you give it more power by silencing it. Rape is not the new fucking Voldemort.

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    1. Also:

      Comedian Jim Norton made some great points in an interview recently as well: "people are dumb and they think that laughing equals cosigning a belief in the ideology, which it doesn’t. It’s odd how when people go to watch a movie, and there’s a murder or a rape in the movie they don’t feel the need to stand up and tell the audience, “I don’t agree with murder and rape” you just kind of all go into it knowing “we’re watching a movie.” But when it comes to stand-up, people feel this need to voice their objection through groaning or being offended.

      Here’s what being offended is, it’s a phony sense of empowerment. People have lost this ability to go, “Wow, I didn’t like that, that bothered me. I won’t watch that again.” People have lost the ability to just not like something and walk away. People now feel that if they object to something, nobody else should enjoy it either. It’s because we’ve seen enough people say they’re sorry, we’ve seen enough people fired where people now feel that, “if I’m offended, I voice my offense, people have to listen to me.” It’s a really weird self-centered attention-seeking device people use. So I never buy the offense. … I think 90% of it is a lie. People say, “I don’t like stereotypes.” Bullshit. You don’t like negative stereotypes. People don’t mind positive stereotypes. People don’t mind positive assumptions. It’s only negative assumptions about them. So their outrage is so arbitrary. And I’m embarrassed for us as a free society that we actually want people punished for saying things we don’t like."

      And this classic Bill Cosby quote: “Through humor, you can soften some of the worst blows that life delivers. And once you find laughter, no matter how painful your situation might be, you can survive it.”

      And to all those saying, "But you missed the point! The point is that rape jokes promote rape culture!" - not true. Nobody is going to watch a comedian then think "You know what I could go for right now? Some rape". If someone is that fucked up they were going to commit those horrific acts regardless. If you want to get offended, look at Rush Limbaugh, who frequently slut shames and spews lots of other crap that he actually means and is suggesting. Words versus intent, people.

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    2. It's really great that you can use humour to work through your experience. If this was how it worked for most survivors, there wouldn't be a problem. But what I'm hearing is that this trivialisation is having the opposite effect for the majority.

      I guess the question is: is the healing power of listening to an open mic comic make a cheap rape gag worth potentially triggering and traumatising dozens of other people?

      Also, when I say that these jokes promote rape culture, I don't mean they turn people who'd never have thought about rape into rapists. I mean they make it easier for rapists to get away with it (by discouraging survivors from reporting) and make them feel more comfortable and confident that doing what they're doing is fine.

      I've had a few people suggest humour as a way of dealing with trauma and I think that needs to be an option. But I can't see an easy way of doing it that doesn't put others in danger.

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  22. Thank you, thank you, thank you. You've said everything I've been saying, but as a woman who isn't a comic (at least, not one on a stage), my voice isn't deemed very important. Thank you for using your position to say these things.

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  23. I will laugh at just about anything. And I do think a carefully crafted joke can bring much-needed awareness to certain sensitive issues spanning all types of human tragedy.

    I think what makes rape jokes different for me is that rape is so accepted in our culture. Victims are treated as jokes themselves - accused of lying or deserving it. Rape is so accepted in our society that many studies have shown that men don't even recognize what is sexual assault. Men look to their peers to see if their behavior is accepted or not. Rape jokes in the vein told by Tosh (who I find hilarious even when he is offending me, most of the time) really do add to the culture that it's no big deal.

    It takes a lot to offend me, and I'm a huge fan of standup comedy and walking on the edge of good taste. However, I find nothing enjoyable about kicking someone when they're down.

    But the thing that most upsets me about this whole hoopla is the number of people who right away attacked those who expressed concern over Tosh's joke, screaming at how anyone who was upset by it should STFU and just horrible attacks. Basically, shut up, woman, you have no right to your thoughts and feelings. The whole tone was that women aren't people so why should they be able to have any feelings or opinions. And isn't that the kind of attitude that encourages violence in the first place?

    I would not tell a comedian to stop saying any joke. But I would implore any entertainer to at least listen to a viewpoint they might not have considered before. (True for all of us really.) Stop the defensiveness and at least consider another person's reaction. Comedians consider reactions all the time when it is laughs. How about considering other emotions they may invoke?

    I wish love to comedians, and love and healing to all victims of sexual assault.

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    1. This is exactly what I wanted to say, expressed in a less angry and obtuse fashion. Thank you!

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  24. And PS - Thank you, thank you, thank you! Not only your blogpost, but your replies to comments here are so very wise and eloquently put. I"m glad I found your blog!

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