According to a blog post, on Friday, a young woman and her female friend went to the Laugh Factory in Hollywood to watch some comedy. When Tosh took the stage, she wasn’t sure who he was, but remarked that he seemed really awkward. That’s so Tosh!
What transpired next is pretty awful. According to the report, he quickly fell into his rape groove, telling joke after joke about rape, followed by the observation that rape jokes are always funny.
What follows is from the aforementioned blog post.
I yelled out, “Actually, rape jokes are never funny!”
I did it because, even though being “disruptive” is against my nature, I felt that sitting there and saying nothing, or leaving quietly, would have been against my values as a person and as a woman. I don’t sit there while someone tells me how I should feel about something as profound and damaging as rape.
After I called out to him, Tosh paused for a moment. Then, he says, “Wouldn’t it be funny if that girl got raped by like, 5 guys right now? Like right now? What if a bunch of guys just raped her…” and I, completely stunned and finding it hard to process what was happening but knowing i needed to get out of there, immediately nudged my friend, who was also completely stunned, and we high-tailed it out of there. It was humiliating, of course, especially as the audience guffawed in response to Tosh, their eyes following us as we made our way out of there. I didn’t hear the rest of what he said about me.
I honestly don’t believe that Mr. Tosh meant to be abusive. Having done the comedy thing myself a few times, I can imagine that his first thought must have been “It’s a heckler! Must stop heckler from speaking! CRUSH! KILL! DESTROY!”. And he used the first thing that came into his head.
Which regrettably involved said person being gang raped.
Let me make this clear. I AM NOT DEFENDING DANIEL TOSH! I’m simply pointing out what I believe was going through his head when he made the comments.
What was going through the audience’s mind was, I hope, embarrassment.
And let me also say that whatever personal embarrassment Mr. Tosh is going through is richly deserved.
Because of the sensitivity of this topic, I am going to be slightly more pedantic than usual. I apologize but I need to go through this step by step to make sure I’m not needlessly offensive. (I have no problem being offensive but I want to be careful only to offend the people who deserve it.)
First off, let me say that no topic should be off-limits for comedians.
None. Nada. Bugger all.
By its definition, comedy needs to be dangerous. It needs to probe and prod at our sore spots. To mock the thing we hold dear. If for no other reason that if they survive the mockery, they deserve to held on to. The minute we start telling comics what they can or cannot do, we return to a pre-Lenny Bruce era of nothing but mother-in-law jokes.
And let me retype that in bold block letters…
there are some topics that are so loaded and dangerous that a comic needs to approach them like a bomb disposal expert approaches an IED. With great caution.
Look, there’s plenty of low hanging fruit in the comedy orchard. Dick jokes. Fart jokes. Star Wars jokes. A guy in a homemade Chewbacca suit farting while dealing with an unexpected erection. Never gets old!
But topics like politics, religion and yes, rape. You really have to ask yourself some hard questions about why you’re going near these topics. Do you have something legitimate to say about these things or are you just stringing together a bunch of jokes to fill out a three minute block of time?
Gawker has a brief video of Tosh making a joke about how his sister got raped. I’m not able to embed it here because it’s been tagged as age restricted. Follow the link and then we’ll meet back here. Okay.
In a nutshell…”Hey, I switched out my sister’s pepper spray with silly string and she got raped. Golly, ain’t I the scamp?”.
It does not help matters at all that Mr. Tosh’s has developed the comedic persona of the “Smug White Asshole” which in it itself is not bad. (Chevy Chase had a nice run with that persona for years.) But when you add rape to that equation, it becomes a toxic stew.
Surprisingly, the best most salient comment about the Tosh Kerfluffle was written five years earlier by John Rogers at “Kung Fu Monkey”. It was about the Don Imus “Nappy Headed Hoes” controversy in 2007.
Almost, but no. Humorists don’t use jokes to establish power. We use jokes to steal power. We use jokes to steal power from the audience. We use jokes to steal power from smarter, better looking people. We use jokes to steal power from powerful men and women, politicians and celebrities. I do believe that this balance, these scales are hardwired into us culturally. This is why we tolerate celebrity-bashing humor — the comedian is our proxy in levelling the playing field. “Britney may be rich and beautiful but she’s still a redneck” … and therefore not better than I am. This is also why shock humor tends to work. The boundaries of polite, acceptable behaviour are set by society, which is immensely powerful. When you break those boundaries, you are stealing power from society at large. It does help, however, if you have a larger purpose in mind than petty larceny.
I think this is the key to understanding why the Rutgers incident suddenly brought the whole Imus parade to a halt. The guy’s been a frikkin’ cretin for years, and this was really not that different objectively — you really have to listen to the whole thing, by the way, to get that this was a good solid chunk of time dumping on these young women, not just the magnificently constructed “nappy-headed hos” sound bite. McGuirk in particular is just hateful … Anyway, why this comment and why now?
For all these years, Imus stayed, barely, on the right side of the power equation. Always gone after public figures, or his bosses …
… but then he screwed up. He didn’t steal power, he used it. Used it to say just shitty things about people who, in our minds, just didn’t deserve it. He broke the power equation. And when he did, we balked, even if we don’t quite understand why this one got under our skin. The wiring goes both ways. It’s actually heartening, because it confirms one of the admirable things about American society at large:
America loves a rebel.
America loves a bad boy.
But America hates a fucking bully.
When a heckler interrupts a comedian at a comedy club, they are stealing that comic’s power. The comic tries to regain it by crushing the heckler. Daniel Tosh tried to regain his power but did so in the worst possible way.
It should be noted that this is not an isolated incident. My friend, Comedian Derek Sheen a few weeks ago on his podcast “Delicious Mediocrity” that the open mikes at the Comedy Underground in Seattle have become a “Bataan Death March of rape jokes”. (Episode date 2-12 with Sarah Skilling. Starting at 6:37.) (And if you listen, they’re actually able to make some damn funny rape jokes that don’t say, “Yay, rape is awesome.”.)
There’s also the long documented GOP war against Abortion and reproductive rights and you have some creepy anti-woman energy flowing through the Zeitgeist right now.
So the question is not, does Daniel Tosh have the right to make rape jokes? Of course he does. The larger issue is what are the rape jokes in aid of? Are you mocking the bullies or are you enabling them?
And ladies, let me make make one final point.
If a male comic makes a pro-rape joke, take comfort that he’s may be subconsciously admitting that women won’t fuck him voluntarily.
I hope that helps.