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.