digging up the roots of gender-based violence

I know funny, and rape jokes are NOT.

by Cristy C, who can tell a really funny joke and has a great sense of humor

content note for sexual assault/rape

Daniel Tosh is a so-called edgy comedian, or an equal opportunity hater.  Being “edgy” in 2012 means he tells racist, sexist, homophobic, and ableist jokes in 12 layers of hipster irony.  Daniel Tosh, in addition to being a standup comic, is also the host of Comedy Central’s “Tosh.0” (trigger warning), which shows various viral internet clips and pictures and Tosh cracks jokes about them.  Tosh and CC recently got in some trouble for using a copyrighted image from The Adipositivity Project to make humiliating and shaming commentary about fat women.  He’s also no stranger to flak, and the feminist blogosphere has pages and pages on his despicable sense of humor.

As we would expect, his defensiveness is couched in “It’s just a joke” and the “I make fun of everyone” and “You’re too sensitive” rhetoric that is the stock in trade of hurtful comedians who want license to tell tired jokes that weren’t funny the first time they were told 100 years ago, but make people slightly uncomfortable so they must be saying something important.  Comedians like Tosh compare themselves to guys like Lenny Bruce and Richard Pryor, who said “offensive” things all the time.  The difference, however, is that Lenny Bruce and Richard Pryor were exposing the truth of our culture as wrong and in need of redirection, and comedians like Tosh merely reflect back the worst of us in a bald-faced and uncritical way.  The way Tosh tells a racist joke venerates the racism, the way Pryor talked about racism made us aware that racism hurt people (while making us laugh).  There’s an ocean of difference in that.

Yesterday, a woman posted on her blog about her friend’s experience at the Laugh Factory seeing Daniel Tosh doing standup.  His routine was about how rape jokes are always funny, and he gave examples.  He didn’t merely tell rape jokes, he lauded them as high humor.  And when the woman interrupted his show by saying, “Rape jokes are never funny”, HE INCITED THE AUDIENCE TO RAPE HER.  He actually said, “Wouldn’t it be funny if five guys raped her right now?” to the audience.  Thankfully, no one followed his suggestion, and the woman hightailed it out of the club as the audience laughed.

This is exactly why rape jokes are never funny: because they can, and do, tell rapists that what they are doing is ok. This approval is over and above the fact that the joke teller is causing harm to any rape survivors who may be present. I am not the first feminist to write about the harm of rape jokes. I am not even the first feminist who writes for UpRoot to do so.  But as long as the rape culture exists, and rape apologists like Daniel Tosh continue to make a living (a very comfortable living, I am sure) hurting people and overtly approving of rape, the need for active alternative voices is huge.

Let me speak very plainly about what Daniel Tosh did. He publicly threatened a woman with rape by multiple assailants.  He told those would-be assailants that if they raped her, he would find it funny rather than a serious violent crime. He told every woman in the room that he didn’t care about her autonomy or consent, and he told every man in the room not only that they didn’t have to care, but that he encouraged and supported any of them in choosing to rape the woman who spoke out.  He used rape as a threat to silence dissent to his ill-conceived and tired jokes.

If Daniel Tosh really wanted to be “edgy”, he would tell jokes that elevate women, not jokes that hurt them. There’s nothing new or cutting edge about making rape jokes, it’s just now, people aren’t silent about the hurt that rape jokes cause. Ending rape culture means ending rape jokes.* Because seriously, they really aren’t funny.

Tell Daniel Tosh and his employer Comedy Central, and its parent company Viacom, that rape jokes are not funny here.

*This isn’t a censorship or first amendment issue, by the way. Censorship means that the government is forbidding someone from saying something, which isn’t the same thing as me telling Daniel Tosh to stop it with the rape jokes. Also, the first amendment does guarantee Daniel Tosh’s right to say whatever he wants. But it does not guarantee him freedom from the consequences incurred by what he says.

60 responses to “I know funny, and rape jokes are NOT.

  1. Ben Atherton-Zeman July 10, 2012 at 2:48 pm

    Well said, Cristy! I’m so disappointed in my (fellow) white male comedians who do this. Sexist, racist, homophobic jokes are not only bad, they’re just plain lazy – to defend them as “edgy” means he’s too famous to actually do some work and be creative. Cheap shots are much easier to think of – worse, they continue to create and sustain a rape culture.

    Tosh, get a real job. Use that creative mind of yours – get people to laugh AT rape culture, instead of perpetuating it.

    • HAVEN July 10, 2012 at 4:17 pm

      Thanks, Ben! Rape jokes *are* lazy humor, for sure.

    • Faye Knight-Wright July 12, 2012 at 11:24 am

      Rape “jokes”: are insensitive, STUPID and just wrong! Think about this, how would he feel if it (lord forbids) if it happened to his beloved mother?

      I would not wish rape on anyone. No one deserves to be mistreated and “used” in this disgusting manner!
      Shame on the comedian!!!

    • Bev July 14, 2012 at 10:28 am

      Well said Ben. Being raped or sexually abused in ANY way is no laughing matter. It affects a person the rest of their life….it affects so many ways…maybe this commedian was raped or was raised with it being a “normal” thing and he is trying to cover the pain up by making a “joke” about it all but it sure is nothing to joke at…sad…isn’t it. Thank you Cristy for you post and for your courage…keep on going my friend.

  2. HAVEN July 10, 2012 at 3:43 pm

    Reblogged this on HAVEN Give Hope A Voice and commented:

    Cristy, we agree! Thank you for articulating exactly how we feel.

  3. Cheryl Kohs July 10, 2012 at 4:10 pm

    The better thing to do would be to just NOT to go to his shows and not to watch his television program. Your petition is just giving him more attention and more publicity, which these folks crave. I don’t disagree with you that rape jokes (and harassing women with rape threats) are disgusting but she honestly didn’t know his sense of humor when she went to see his show? He is insulting and derogatory to EVERYONE.

    • HAVEN July 10, 2012 at 4:16 pm

      Hey Cheryl, thanks for commenting. I am not sure what petition you are referring to, as there isn’t one here. The end of the post offers the contact page for Comedy Central, and I included that because often times people want to know who they can voice their concerns to. But, no petition.
      Of course, avoiding Daniel Tosh is an option (though if someone doesn’t know who he is, they don’t know his material and to avoid it), but it is not an unreasonable expectation for a person to want to go out and not be threatened with rape. I am not talking about Tosh being offensive, because that isn’t the issue. The issue is that he advocated that a member of his audience be raped by multiple assailants. That’s not merely offensive, it’s cruel, damaging and potentially illegal.

  4. Matt July 10, 2012 at 4:52 pm

    I’m not saying saying rape jokes are funny, but what evidence is there other than some random girl’s blog is there that he actually did say she should be gang raped? There’s no video, and no other source giving a separate account of it, just a bunch of people reposting the same story which they got from her.

    • HAVEN July 11, 2012 at 11:16 am

      At this point, Daniel Tosh himself has admitted it through his half-hearted Twitter apology. Aside from that, living in rape culture and having watched Tosh.O, it was very easy to believe that he said these things.

    • Melanie July 11, 2012 at 11:44 am

      Classic diversion tactic. Instead of thinking about a culture which condones and encourages rape by laughing at rape jokes, you say, “Evidence, I need evidence. I couldn’t possibly take this WOMAN at her word.”

    • Lore July 11, 2012 at 12:02 pm

      Wow. This is exactly the kind of response that survivors get when they report having been sexually assaulted.

    • Mark July 11, 2012 at 12:10 pm

      Right on, Melanie!

  5. Eva Rose Gamache July 10, 2012 at 6:03 pm

    I think this is a huge exaggeration. Yes Daniel Tosh is offensive. No, he’s not for everybody. But I really think it’s wrong to blame public figures for the actions of stupid people. If you’re not smart enough to realize that forcing yourself on someone is wrong then it doesn’t matter what the tv tells you, you’re one twisted individual. Period. And what the hell is “rape culture”? There’s a culture developing from this? Is there like some secret brotherhood of big mean men that get together and tell stories about rape and make plans for future rape and incourage each other to overcome their fears of raping for the first time? Excluding the south, not as far as I know…And this friend at the show, nothing happened to her. You know why? Because it really was just a joke. Albeit a very tasteless one, but he wasn’t being serious, he didn’t *actually* want the audience to rape her and the audience was intelligent enough not to take him seriously. If she was offended then she should have left but instead she became a heckler and she bought negative attention on herself. Also, there is no such thing as a joke that “elevates” anyone. Every joke is at someones expense and whether or not you’re on the receiving end of it determines the degree of offense taken by it. It’s getting to the point where everyone is concerned about feeeeeeelings and it honestly wouldn’t surprise me if someday an animal rights activist protests the six-white-horses-ran-through-a-mud-puddle joke because it’s offensive to white horses. If this friend had seen him on tv and already knew what he was like then she shouldn’t have gone to the show. If she DIDN’T know who he was or what he was like then, lesson learned, don’t go see him again.

    • Mark July 11, 2012 at 4:01 pm

      This is not about being “offensive” or not. Sure, we should avoid being offensive as much as we can and it is pretty crappy that Tosh didn’t care to avoid being offensive to some members of his audience…but that’s not at all what the biggest problem is nor what Cristy was writing about. What he said was a problem because it normalized rape. He used the threat of rape to silence a woman he was unhappy with. It doesn’t matter if he actually meant it, or if she was actually raped in that moment. His true intentions are irrelevant. The fact is, when he made that comment and encouraged everyone to laugh at the prosepct of her experiencing horrific violence he did more than offend her, he made her unsafe. He made every woman there unsafe. In a way, he made all women a little more unsafe. When we laugh at rape it normalizes it: it makes it harder for survivors to seek help, makes bystanders less likely to speak out, trivializes the real violence that does occur, and makes rapists (and potential rapists) feel validated. This crime is supported when the culture finds it funny…rape culture. This is not about feelings. This is about safety. You are wrong that nothing happened to her. I don’t think it is too much to ask to be able to attend a comedy show (even a potentially “offensive” one) and be safe from violence there.

    • Robin July 11, 2012 at 7:16 pm

      The problem with this argument is it is relying on the idea that anyone who rapes is a sick and evil exception to the rule of how our culture operates. NONE of the statics on rape support this idea: we live in a culture in which women are raped ALL OF THE TIME. This means that yes, there are many many people who rape, and they do not exist in a vacuum. It’s fair to call a culture in which 1 in 3 women are sexually assaulted rape culture, but it also a culture in which threats to our bodies can be used to silence and control women. …Which is exactly what happened here. Your argument would only make sense if we lived in a culture where rape never happened.

    • bee July 12, 2012 at 8:19 pm

      ” Excluding the south, not as far as I know…”

      What are you talking about? Do you have some proof that people in the south are more likely to rape? Way to stereotype.

  6. Bogdan Belei July 10, 2012 at 8:16 pm

    “He publicly threatened a woman with rape by multiple assailants. He told those would-be assailants that if they raped her, he would find it funny rather than a serious violent crime. He told every woman in the room that he didn’t care about her autonomy or consent, and he told every man in the room not only that they didn’t have to care, but that he encouraged and supported any of them in choosing to rape the woman who spoke out. He used rape as a threat to silence dissent to his ill-conceived and tired jokes.”

    Why does is the line drawn here? Just because he includes an audience member does not mean that he is inciting the fact that it is okay to do so. He was obviously continuing in his element of a comedian and joking about it. If men were to truly stand up and approach the women, do you truly think that Daniel would not commend such actions? Do you think he would still think it’s funny? I personally don’t. I’ll go as far as to say that any reasonable human being that understands the nature of comedy and the scene of a stand-up show would understand that he was simply responding to the woman’s comment.

    Do I think it was offensive? Yes. Would I like him to apologize to the woman personally? Yes. But I don’t think any of the accusations you made in the paragraph above have any justification or hold Daniel Tosh accountable. It’s comedy. Sometimes the comedian will include the audience, sometimes they will go a bit too far, and sometimes they will hurt your feelings.

    Let’s take it as it is. Offensive, yes… but threatening with true intent? C’mon.

    • HAVEN July 11, 2012 at 11:14 am

      I would like to direct you to this post at Shakesville, because I don’t need to reiterate things that have already been said: http://www.shakesville.com/2011/03/feminism-101-helpful-hints-for-dudes.html

    • Lou July 11, 2012 at 11:42 am

      it doesn’t really matter to me if he was threatening with “true intent”. he stated quite clearly that he thought it would be funny. that’s enough right there to set a tone that encourages sexual assault. no men got up at that moment, but if the woman had stayed around through the end of the show, would Daniel Tosh have been there to escort her to her car safely after his audience had imbibed a few more alcoholic beverages? his message that rape is funny is a dangerous one.

    • Mark July 11, 2012 at 12:48 pm

      Not the point at all. It doesn’t matter if his intent was for her to be actually raped. His intent is irrelevant. What matters is that when he is up there laughing at the potential for real violence, he normalizes it, discourages others to speak out against it, makes it harder for survivors to speak up, and made her (and probably many others in attendance) feel incerdibly threatened. And even more than just make her FEEL threatened, he actually did made her more unsafe. This is not funny. Please, read that post on Shakesville, it is very good.

  7. Chunjai Clarkson (@chunjaiclarkson) July 11, 2012 at 3:36 am

    I think he is a jerk and he is not really very funny. His schtick is the underlying misogyny in his jokes and videos. I remember one clip where a women falls from a height which must have injured her seriously. Of course, the laugh track was played. A – hole.

  8. Pingback: Daniel Tosh Apologizes For Rape Joke Aimed At Female Audience Member At Laugh Factory | 207Rewind.com

  9. Kyle July 11, 2012 at 7:23 am

    He didn’t threaten anyone with rape. To state that is to ignore context. What he said is vastly different depending on WHERE it was said. To pretend that the author ACTUALLY believes Tosh was threatening someone with rape is ridiculous. The author is smarter than that.

    The United States citizen has a vast number of rights. The right to NEVER be offended by something is NOT one of them.

    • HAVEN July 11, 2012 at 11:11 am

      This isn’t about Tosh being offensive, and I won’t debate that point. It’s not debatable.
      It’s also not debatable as to whether what Tosh said was an incitement. If the person who heard it felt threatened (which, I hope is clear, is not the same thing as being offended), it was a threat. Intent and context are irrelevant.

      Rape jokes are unequivocally pro-rape. They inherently advocate rape by reinforcing the beliefs that rapists have. Whether or not I “believe” that Tosh really wanted audience members to rape the woman who spoke up is not the point.

    • Terri Eagen-Torkko July 11, 2012 at 11:49 am

      Kyle, rape “jokes” normalize rape. To pretend that you ACTUALLY believe that this was “funny” is to ignore the cultural context in which this occurred. And surely you are smarter than that.

    • Lore July 11, 2012 at 11:57 am

      To state that his statement wasn’t a threat is to ignore the context of our culture within which rape occurs and the lived experience of women (and some men) who have been raped.

      Most rapists rape women they know. They do it because they believe they can without being caught and without consequence. They believe that because of the many, many, many messages generated in our culture that tell them and others that rape is funny, that raping someone and getting away with it is a challenge, that raping someone who is too drunk to resist is “priceless,” They believe that because they have done it and other men have known and done nothing to stop them. See, for example, the Undetected Rapist video and research by Dr. David Lisak.

      When Daniel Tosh said what he said, he wasn’t being funny. How is it possibly part of the comedy to say: “Wouldn’t it be funny if five guys raped her right now?” What he was saying was: “I can shut you up right now. I can make you be so quiet, I can make you regret ever saying that. I can even make you leave. Because I can say this and get away with it. And people will laugh at it. Except for those who have been raped or who understand that they are in the class of people who are more likely to be raped than others — and those are women that we can say have no sense of humor and are easily offended and just don’t get comedy. See? Now THAT’s funny.”

      • Kyle July 11, 2012 at 8:06 pm

        And now it would appear we have conflicting reports about what was actually said. I’m shocked.

        “How was it part of the comedy to say ” ‘Wouldn’t it be funny if….” Yes, it was part of the show – he was putting down a heclker. Was it the best way to go about doing it? No. But she spoke up and interrupted a COMEDY SHOW, where comedians routinely deal with interruptions by audience members in a direct and cutting manner. Again- using rape as the best tactic, probably not. Then again; did he actually said what he was accused of saying? Difficult to say – there are now different reports.

        But, she didn’t have to be there, didn’t have to interrupt the show, and could have simply left.

        I never said I thought what he allegedly said was funny or not .That’s irrelevant. But no; there was no actual threat to her safety. Was he putting her down for interrupting him, Yep. Just like every other comedian does. Was she ever in actual danger of 5 guys actually physically assaulting her? Not a chance. Therefore – not a threat.

      • HAVEN July 12, 2012 at 3:41 pm

        The simple fact that she did not happen to have been raped right then and there is not evidence that there was no threat. The issue is much larger than the actual possibility of Daniel Tosh’s threat coming to fruition. This is not simply about that one woman being “offended” or not. Please read this article: http://www.shakesville.com/2011/03/feminism-101-helpful-hints-for-dudes.html

    • Eva Rose Gamache July 11, 2012 at 6:01 pm

      “The United States citizen has a vast number of rights. The right to NEVER be offended by something is NOT one of them.”

      Thank you.

      • HAVEN July 12, 2012 at 3:34 pm

        Clearly you haven’t been reading what we and others have said repeatedly. If you would like to be a part of this discussion, please do so. This is not about “offending” people.

    • Robin July 11, 2012 at 7:27 pm

      “The United States citizen has a vast number of rights. The right to NEVER be offended by something is NOT one of them.”

      In regard to this, I would like to point out that no one is trying to say that this violates the Bill of Rights; this is not a legal argument. Rape is ostensibly illegal, but making it so has not stopped it from happening. The idea that there is no connection between people saying that rape is funny/something to laugh and the fact that women get raped all of the time seems very naive to me; our ideas affect our actions.

  10. Bryan July 11, 2012 at 8:44 am

    I agree totally; this guy is tasteless and sick. Several years ago my wife barely escaped a rape attempt and it was no laughing matter. Thanks for the link to Comedy Central and Viacom. They’re sure to receive my vehement feedback about Mr. Tosh’s loathsome humor.

  11. Jenny Fairchild July 11, 2012 at 10:38 am

    I have disliked Daniel Tosh for so long now, but have had a hard time articulating why his type of “humor” is so not-funny. Thank you for helping illuminate this for all who read your blog! I plan on sharing this widely.
    I am always bothered when my sense of humor is questioned if I critique offensive “comedy.” I happen to very funny and have a wonderful sense of humor, thank you very much. And I also happen against sexism, violence, homophobia…. This can co-exist, ya know? :)

  12. Keeana July 11, 2012 at 12:46 pm

    There is NO CONTEXT in which rape is funny. Not one. We live in a world where it is perfectly ok to equate paying high gas prices or spending $15 at a fast food restaurant as “getting raped”. I’ve experienced all of those instances and I will tell you that paying $60 at a gas pump is NOWHERE NEAR as painful, demoralizing, violent, and humiliating as being raped. If I were in a room and a comment was made – joking or not – about it being funny if I got raped right then, I wouldn’t be offended. I’d feel threatened. I believe wholeheartedly that more folks don’t get that because almost everything around us, much like Tosh’s ability to “joke” about it says that it’s just fine to even suggest violating a woman in this way, because it’s not that big of a deal.

  13. Petra July 11, 2012 at 1:00 pm

    People keep talking about being offended and it’s not about that. What it is about is threats and perceived threats. What he said was threatening and all that matters is how that woman felt. I don’t care if there isn’t video or audio…she felt threatened enough to leave his show. This is something we talk about with our students when it comes to bullying. It doesn’t matter what your intent was. What matters is how it was perceived. We hear all the time, “I was just playin’…” Well, this is the adult version of that, isn’t it? He felt he was “just playin’” and it was anything but that. So, young people who watch him talk about these things start to possibly think….well, it’s all just playin’ around, right? No harm done saying these awful, threatening things….’cause I was just playin’ around. Makes me sick and sad that we still live in this type of culture and our young people are growing up seeing twisted people like this guy on TV. As a middle school teacher I see this type of behavior everyday and I fear that things are not going to get better, but worse. I see a kid grab a girl inappropriately and his immediate response is, “What? I was just playin’!” Kids see adults doing this stuff, they hear about it and figure….well, I can just shoot off some lame excuse of an apology and all is good! Not good. Not good at all.

  14. Mari Bononmi July 11, 2012 at 1:36 pm

    This man is repulsive; he’s so not-humourous that I cannot imagine how, in a truly woman-welcoming culture, he would have much of an audience other than troglodytes.

    I’m an old lady… nearly 70. When I was a kid, rape was a “funny” subject (e.g. “Where are you?” “I’m hiding!” “Where are you? I want to rape you.” “I’m hiding in the closet!” — when I was around 10 that was considered howlingly amusing.), no doubt b/c actual rape was something *never* discussed, certainly not around children.

    When I was 13 I was almost raped by one of those “you don’t know his name but he’s always around the neighborhood looking for odd jobs” types. My mother arriving home is all that saved me. And for more years than I want to think about, I believed *I* had somehow enticed him, that it was *my* fault.

    But that was over half a century ago. How can we not have come further since then? That *anyone* truly human would find *anything* of amusement in this man’s sorry excuses for jokes distresses me deeply.

    And for the record: if a woman feels threatened, there is reason for her to do so, either past or current. And for the record: that SoB *did* threaten her, however couched in “hahaha”!

  15. Cara July 11, 2012 at 2:36 pm

    I would really encourage anyway trying to defend Daniel Tosh at this point to pause a moment and really ask yourself, “Why is it important to me that someone be able to tell anyone that it would be funny if they got raped? Why is that an important thing in this world?” Because frankly, if you’re upset that people are telling you (and others) not to say things like that and you think that means you’re losing some valuable, inalienable right and you’re thinking about how hard and unfair it is not to tell people it’d be funny if they got raped….then you really might want to rethink your life.

    • Lore July 11, 2012 at 4:06 pm

      Oh, Cara, thank you — this is SO on the mark. Goodness, I have tears in my eyes. You articulated what was roiling around inside of me that I couldn’t put words to. Relief.

  16. Cara July 11, 2012 at 2:37 pm

    Of course, I had to have a typo in the first line. I meant to write “encourage *anyone”.

  17. Jaron July 11, 2012 at 3:02 pm

    An audience is someone there to hear what you have to say. Does Tosh seriously think it’s funny or acceptable to egg on some members of his audience to, as a group, rape another member of his audience (or anyone else for that matter?) He made a big mistake. It’s not funny. It’s not okay. And anyone who can’t see that has some thinking to do.

  18. wendy July 11, 2012 at 3:50 pm

    I concur. rape (searching for the equals sign with the slash through it) does NOT equal funny, and like someone said earlier up, he said it to shut up a heckler because it was the least circuitous route to his power over her. Thank you, Ms. Cardinal. We should all be willing to call this out.

  19. Pingback: Women Sex Health » Daniel Tosh Apologizes For Rape Joke Aimed At Female Audience Member At …

  20. Robin July 11, 2012 at 7:47 pm

    Thank you so much for writing this!!! This needs to be said, and as upsetting and disturbing as what Tosh said is, it is just a window into the ways in which our culture normalizes rape. The push-back people are getting for calling him out proves exactly how widespread this is– and how important it is to call it out.

  21. Deborah K. July 11, 2012 at 7:50 pm

    I applaud you Cristy for responding so eloquently to this incident. Rape is a serious crime with long-term detrimental effects both physically and psychologically. Nothing is funny about it, was ever funny about it, or will be funny about it.

  22. jmackey50 July 12, 2012 at 1:56 pm

    Thank you, Cristy, for your courage. You speak for many of us!

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  24. Delores Day July 14, 2012 at 5:35 pm

    Cristy, I want to give you a BIG High Five for what you had to say about this!! We should Never settle for anything Less than the High Standard’s God gave US!! To me, anyone who thinks as these things as jokes, somewhere had these thoughts in their mind in the first place. Sad and Scary as who know’s if he actually has “raped” someone, but they “never” told!! Thank you for showing everyone his True Colors!! <3

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