Trigger warning for discussion of rape and rape jokes
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.