Got your attention? Good.
Get a beverage. This is going to take some time.
It’s been a little over a week since comedian Daniel Tosh has been battered on blogs and Twitter about making some jokes and remarks to a fan in the audience of a standup show on the subject of rape. I’ve been letting all of my opinions and thoughts on this subject marinate for awhile, and people ask me almost daily what my opinion of the situation is.
As I write this entry from my hotel room in NYC, I flash back to the show I was on last night. While I was setting up the show, the sound guy (for the venue - I don’t know him) came up to me and said, “No rape jokes tonight!” in a joking manner.
I was confused for a second, and then realized he was referencing the Daniel Tosh incident. This guy - a sound technician for a club that has music and comedy acts - was chiming in on the issue of appropriate comedic material for the show. While he was half joking, and I am not sure exactly what his opinion of whole thing is, I was a little put off.
I’ve had some arguments with friends this week about this issue. It’s a very polarizing topic, and while the sides don’t fall strictly down gender lines, it’s pretty close. Women hate rape jokes and people who don’t breach the subject with the weight and seriousness they believe it deserves. Men (or comedians, in this particular case, which are mostly men) see the issue as a freedom of speech issue, and belive comedians should be allowed to say anything they want.
I wish I could say my opinion was a unique, new view, but it isn’t. Comedians should be allowed to say anything they want when it comes to the subject matter of their jokes and material. No one should be able to censor or edit that content.
Before I go any further, let me say that rape is terrible. I know I’m really going out on a limb here, but before people accuse me of not understanding the issue of rape, I’d like to make it clear that I do. I don’t think anyone, short of people who love raping, would argue that rape is a good thing. So let’s get this out of the way so you know that I don’t condone rape, I’ve never raped anyone, and I would hate to be raped. OK? Good.
There are a lot of bullshit facts on blogs and in anecdotes of this incident that people are using to bolster their arguments that rape jokes are not funny. I read an article claiming that 20% (1 in 5) of women are sexually assaulted by the time they are college-aged, and because it’s so common, comedians should know better than to talk about it, because it will invoke an angry (heckler) response in almost any room.
According to Wikipedia, in the United States, 29 out of 100,000 women each year are sexually assaulted. That comes out to .29%. That’s POINT TWO NINE percent. Not twenty-nine percent. I’m aware that many sexual assault cases go unreported, and the FBI makes an adjustment in it’s own statistics to account for estimated unreported cases, based on past data and studies conducted by independent research.
"Alright, Patrick. So rape is not super common, but what’s your point? Isn’t ANY rape too much rape? I mean, you sound like you’re OK with rape now. You’re saying SOME rape is acceptable?”
Of course not, but the fact is you’re not going to stop it. As long as we live in a society that lets people live free lives and do what they wish until they commit a crime and become convicted of it, we are going to have people committing crimes.
All of this seems to be getting off the point, doesn’t it? Right. That’s what all these women’s activist blogs are doing - rambling on about rape statistics and relayng personal anecdotes of a friend or family member who was raped, and how they shouldn’t have to re-live that experience at a comedy show. As if Tosh showed up with a video of a specific assault and made jokes while playing it to the crowd.
The only things I care about in this circumstance are the art of comedy and freedom of speech. That’s all that matters. Not that your roommate was raped, not that your friend Becky got beat up in a parking lot once, and not that YOU were sexually assaulted by a boyfriend once. No offense, but I don’t care.
I’m not saying it doesn’t suck, and I’m sure it’s painful, and it’s been a real struggle navigating the healing process after something like that. I can’t imagine what it’s like to be a woman and fear assault regularly, walking to a car at night, or stopping at a traffic light while being stared at by a group of men licking their lips. It sounds horrible.
But Daniel Tosh didn’t rape you. Daniel Tosh didn’t tell anyone to rape you. He didn’t say rape itself was acceptable. He didn’t say you deserved to be raped. He didn’t say anything like that. He said it would be ironically funny of the woman who was heckling him about his rape jokes was raped during her protest. Irony is one of the cornerstones of comedy.
Was it mean? Probably a little. But Tosh is a mean comic. I’d have probably done the same exact joke. I’d probably have been more direct and more mean. But I’m a mean comic, too.
The one point I hear echoing amongst all the complaints and protests that makes me angrier than anything is the sentiment that rape jokes may be OK sometimes, but this wasn’t a joke and it was just meant to hurt this one poor woman.
If I read one more time that what Tosh said wasn’t funny, and wasn’t a joke, I’m going to climb a clock tower with a high-powered rifle and start picking people off. These people, with all the opinions and wagging fingers, aren’t comedy fans. They aren’t Tosh fans. You couldn’t fill a thimble with their knowledge of comedy or performance arts in general. They just hear “rape” and “joke” and go crazy telling everyone how wrong it is, how it isn’t funny, and how they don’t see it as a joke.
The fact is it wasn’t a joke meant for most of us. It was meant for the people in that room, at that time, and during that show. It was an off-the-cuff crowd-work joke that was thought of and spoken in a second or two. There was no team of writers. There was no writers room. There was no editing. It was stand-up comedy. It wasn’t meant to be picked apart the next day, and the next week, by feminist bloggers and self-righteous victims of horrible past crimes that are completely unrelated to this instance. And yet that’s what Tosh has to face. And it’s unfair.
Humor is a subjective art form. That’s the beauty of it. It’s just as much for the performer as it is for the audience. Anyone - ANYONE - who says things like “that wasn’t a joke” or “it wasn’t funny” has their head so far up their own ass they should need a pressure washer to spray all the shit off their face. I found it funny. And it was a joke. Whether or not a joke works, whether or not a joke is appropriate, and whether or not a joke was prepared or thought of in the moment, it’s still a joke. What makes it a joke? The guy on stage who said it was a joke. Period. That’s all that needs to be said.
Of course a bunch of feminists didn’t find it funny. And not just feminists, but a lot of the public in general doesn’t find it appropriate. Is that OK? Sure. But those people weren’t there, and would never go to a Daniel Tosh show. It’s the equivalent of me reading that Howard Stern was making fat jokes on the radio, and I wrote a blog post calling him a mean pig. Am I allowed to do it? Sure. But it’s fucking retarded. I don’t listen to Howard Stern, I know he’s a shock personality, and I don’t hold myself being fat against him, nor do I blame him for my horrible physical obesity. If I were to do that, I’d just be a bored, sad, misleading, and confused fatso who is looking for attention and sympathy.
This isn’t the first time it’s been said, but it’s so important; when you start crucifying creative people for being creative, you discourage creativity in the most detremental way possible. It doesn’t matter whether you found it funny. It doesn’t matter if you think it was a joke. He’s a comedian. He’s paid to talk. And we all love that until he said something that hits to close to home. It’s a horrible standard to try to hold an artist to - say anything you want, but don’t offend anyone or cross any line.
There is NO LINE IN COMEDY. None. And to suggest that a few topics like rape should be off limits is insane. Rape jokes are no more offensive that black jokes, Jew jokes, misogynistic jokes, gay jokes, fat jokes, little dick jokes, cancer jokes, politcal jokes, jokes about a specific company, religious jokes, jokes about clothing, or any other topic. All of those things, on any given night, in any given comedy club in any city, could trigger a negative memory, feeling, or reaction from a crowd member. All of those things can offend SOMEONE.
When you’re an audience member in a comedy club, there is an understanding that you should sit and watch the show. You’re free to laugh, or not laugh, but no one asked for your opinion about anything the comedian is saying. It isn’t the time or place for you to talk. It isn’t a debate. It isn’t a conversation. It isn’t a protest. Sit there, don’t laugh, and wait for the next topic, or get the fuck out. Those are your choices.
"But he was saying all rape jokes are funny, and how could rape NOT be funny. I mean, that is crazy. Rape isn’t funny. She needed to say something! What he was saying wasn’t funny!"
We will never know if what he was going to say would have been funny, because no one heard the end of his joke. My guess is that had she not heckled, professional comedian and host of the number one show on Comedy Central Daniel Tosh would have probably brought it back to a hilarious place. The audience would have laughed, sans the woman who wasn’t enjoying it, and we would have never even heard about this. But his setup was interrupted by a stupid bitch. And I know that’s harsh, but it’s very selfish to sit in a room full of people who are laughing at a performance, hear something you don’t agree with, and to feel entitled to stand up and have a dialogue about it with the performer, mid-thought. It’s a very discrespectful thing to do to the performer, and it’s a very disrespectful thing to do to the rest of the audience who paid to hear comedy, and not a fight. Hecklers are the equivalent of people talking during a movie; you’re not seeing the performance as it was intended, and therefore it’s completely unfair to hold the director or writer responsible for your experience.
Setups aren’t funny. Punchlines are funny. But setups come first, and if you get interrupted during a setup, you never get to the funny. So it’s very easy for anyone to say the joke about other rape jokes being hilarious wasn’t funny, because he was just setting it up.
Here’s a simple example.
Imagine I just went up on stage and said, “black people make me nervous.”
Not really funny, right? Some people might find it offensive. Someone might yell out. That would suck, because that’s just the setup.
But then I might follow it up with, “I don’t even like it when they follow me on Twitter.”
Well now it’s more funny. Some people might still find it offensive, or mean. But we all get it, right? Whether or not we all find that funny, we all understand the joke. It’s based on stereotypes and absurdity. More cornerstones of comedy.
But we never heard Tosh’s punchline. Do you think he really thinks rape is funny? Do you think he watches shows like The First 48 and Law and Order SVU and just chortles to himself when women get assaulted? Of course you don’t. It’s absurd.
And neither did she. But something hit close to home, and rather than sit and behave like every other audience member, she felt the need to stand up, yell, and interrupt a performance mid-joke, and ruin it for everyone. And of course “rape is funny”, by itself, a setup without a punch, is going to seem mean.
One of my other favorite arguments is that rape jokes can be funny, but his weren’t and they have to be better. Once again, we never heard a complete joke. And aside from that, since when do we control what comedians can talk about based upon how funny the jokes are?
Is rape a delicate topic that should be approached with delicacy and precision? Yes. And again, I’m willing to bet had he been allowed to finish his joke, it would have been a good payoff. So I’m not suggesting every comic talk about rape just to talk about rape. When a topic is dark, it must be maneuvered through carefully. But to suggest Tosh is not one of the guys out there who can do that best is just ignorant of Daniel and comedy and general. This guy is a master of this stuff.
Sometimes jokes work and sometimes they don’t. But it’s the jokes that don’t land that teach us to be better. They teach us what we are doing right, what we are doing wrong, and more importantly, what we can do better. No one is harder on comedians than ourselves. So to try to creatively stifle someone based on your opinion of their livlihood is insane. Is a baker allowed to try new cake recipes? Chocolate Spicy Monkfish cake? Everyone thought it sucked? Alright, I’ll change it next time.
As long as there are men out there raping, and women lying about being raped for revenge, extortion, unwanted pregnancies, infidelity and the sake of their reputations, there is a topic that is ripe for poignant, thought-provoking, and, I dare say, funny rape jokes.
There’s one thing clear in all of this to me - we’re never all going to agree on this. Everyone is entitled to an opinion, but it really upsets me to see so much of the dialogue going on about this revolving around sticking points that aren’t even valid in the discussion. Instead of ganging up on a comedian who threw a joke out off the top of his head and got a mixed reaction from it, how about you focus your anger on actual rapists. I hate it when people like Tosh are made to be the bad guy in situations like this.
Jumping on to this “get Tosh” bandwagon just to feel a part of a bigger cause is hurtful to all of comedy. None of this deserves this much attention. We’ve become an uptight country of needy people who love to be on the winning side of a fight and feel like they belong. A week ago most of these people never cared about standup, Tosh, or rape. And now they’re calling for his job. It’s ludicrous. The comedians I know who are beating him up should really take a look at what they do, and decide if this is the type of criticism we want to open the door of our art to?
Comedy is about preferences and individual tastes. Daniel Tosh is edgy and mean. That’s his style. He puts on a show that you might find tough to chew even if you consider yourself a big fan of edgy comedy. So why the fuck would you want to read about what an uptight person thinks about his comedy and think you’re getting a fair review?
This is a steakhouse, and you’re a vegetarian. So get the fuck out.