A while ago I shared some thoughts on the Tosh Rape Joke Controversy of 2012. I knew I had more to say and said I’d add those thoughts within a week. Oops, I never did. Last week, someone named alley said resurrected that old post and my brain with this:
I disagree completely with your dissection of her blog post. Rape jokes are NEVER funny…
As I said my reply to alley, capitalizing a word does make for a compelling argument, but it’s done for a reason. It’s done to express emotion. The heckler did the same thing:
…I felt provoked because I, for one, DON’T find [rape jokes] funny and never have.
This kind of emotional appeal is often used by mothers speaking to their children. The emotion expressed appeals to the kid’s empathy for his mother, and tends to have a greater effect than the meaning of the words themselves. Humans usually dislike making other humans feel bad, especially the humans they know and love, but this emotion carries no rational weight. When you’re arguing something, you should really consider your audience before you attempt to appeal to their emotions. There’s nothing wrong with expressing emotion on the internet, but when you’re talking to strangers who aren’t trying to bang you, they’re not likely to have much empathy, especially if the thing that bothers you doesn’t also bother them. Capitalizing a word to express just how seriously correct you feel, has about as much meaning as prefacing a sentence with “FACT:”
FACT: This sentence is irrefutable.
Curiously, the statements quoted above do not declare that rape jokes are off limits, but simply that they aren’t funny. Daniel Tosh or any other good comedian doesn’t care what you think is funny. They care about making the audience laugh and building material.
Building material is a process that requires an audience. If you go a comedy club in a city where a lot of comedians live, the comics you see will be working on material. Some bits don’t work, and some don’t work yet. Something that killed last night might fall flat tonight. The point being that not everything you hear is going to be funny to you, and that’s okay. Comedians will often find things funny that “normal people” don’t, and the only real test for this is the stage. Have some sense of this, before you walk into a club. When a comic who’s known for being dark, dirty, or edgy starts with a premise that offends your inner child, relax. He’s not trying to make you feel bad, he’s probably trying to get you to laugh at something that you thought couldn’t be funny. If the joke falls flat, that’s unfortunate, but you haven’t been wronged.
alley has more to say:
…the vast majority of rapes have a woman victim and many women basically shape their lives around avoiding being victimized in such a way. they base the way they dress, the company they keep, who they can drink with, and what times they go out around avoiding getting raped literally every day, and this guy has the gall to suggest that a violent and life shattering crime is funny?
Worldwide, females certainly make up the great majority of rape victims, but there are some claiming that this is no longer true in the US, where a sizable percentage of the male population is imprisoned. Why should this matter? She’s probably bringing this up because I had pointed out that rape is widely considered funny or at least okay to joke about, as long as the victim is a man. Is she implying that male-male rape jokes are okay because males are less likely to be victims? Perhaps because rape’s not so bad when it happens to convicted criminals? She could have declared that rape jokes are inherently unfunny, even if the victim is a male or even if the victim is a convicted criminal, but she didn’t. Instead, she downplayed the significance of rape against men.
There is a double standard when it comes to violence against women versus violence against men as entertainment. This is partly cultural, but I bet it’s largely instinctual. Biologically speaking, men are not nearly as individually important as women. The hard limiting factor to how many offspring a group of humans can produce, is the number of child-bearing women in the group. That’s my suspicion, and I have more to say on the implications, but whatever the reason, we (men, women, and children) are more likely to empathize with women and want them to be protected, and that makes it harder to laugh at their misfortune.
Now, the part about women being constantly concerned with rape is interesting, but it really doesn’t have much to do with stand-up comedy. It’s interesting because it’s not something women talk about much, not that I hear, anyway. Men seem visibly more concerned with their own physical security, even though they tend to have less reason to be. Rape clearly sucks, and nobody has argued that it doesn’t. The suggestion that it’s inherently funny is the joke! Now, if you don’t like the joke, you can be quite, groan, or politely excuse yourself. The rest of the crowd and the performer do not deserve to be interrupted.
Having said that, I realize deliberately pushing the audience’s buttons will sometimes set them off. I don’t have a lot of respect for someone who interrupts a comedy show because she’s upset by the material, but I can understand that’s going to happen, from time to time. It gets worse, however, when this audience member feels compelled to correct the comic, as if comedy is supposed to be factually correct. As I said before, this is childish behavior. If you can’t see why, it’s probably because you’re a child. It’s childish to think everyone’s good time deserves to be interrupted because you feel uncomfortable.
I felt compelled to comment on the story when Tosh came out looking like the bad guy. Somehow, a lot of people read the story and reacted as if Tosh was honestly arguing that rape is inherently funny, or that he had actually threatened to rape the girl. He hadn’t. He said words, words someone didn’t like.
any comedian that can’t deal with heckling is in the wrong business. if you want to try to be “edgy” or whatever garbage he was going for, you deal with people getting angry. I’d feel ashamed for not speaking up also.
There are some very funny comedians for whom heckling is the most stressful and unpleasant aspect of their job. Just because some people are assholes, doesn’t mean they’re not good comics. Daniel Tosh, is not one of them. According to the lady’s story, he did a fine job addressing her interruption of his show. The fact that heckling is part of the business does not excuse it, but that’s not the real problem I see. The problem is that it’s considered news when someone gets offended at a comedy show. The problem is comedians feeling they need to apologize for going “too far” or not being sufficiently funny.
Stand up comedians are not running for office, and they should not be punished for saying things that some find objectionable. They’re being paid to entertain crowds, many of which not only appreciate the darker sicker stuff, but actually seek it out. I’m one of those people and I’m horrified to imagine a world where comedians feel compelled to sensor themselves, where those of us who aren’t old enough to remember get to experience the state of comedy in the 1950’s, before Lenny Bruce.
It wasn’t like this: