So Daniel Tosh walks into a bar and gets raped. *taps mic* Is this thing on? Man, I never get the endings of rape jokes right…
By now, interwebz citizens, you’ve likely heard that stand-up comic and Tosh.0 star Daniel Tosh took on a female audience member after she broke about nine cardinal rules and complained aloud at his Laugh Factory show last Friday (June 29). The unnamed woman’s Tumblr blog entry about the nasty incident– ”A Girl Walks Into A Comedy Club”–went viral yesterday, eventually prompting a half-assed apology from Tosh on Twitter.
In case you missed it, Rape.0 went a little something like this. Tosh, known for being as inappropriate and equal-opportunity-irritating, was doing a bit about how there are horrific things in the world and that being horrific doesn’t mean there aren’t jokes to be made.
The woman blogged:
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.
PSSSSSSSST! I’ll give you a hint. It starts with c and ends in t. What? I mean “Can’t take a joke.”
Tosh’s Twitter apology read:
Tosh tried to tweet some context for his joke, which is always a good idea, because all you typically need to provide context for rape jokes is 140 characters…it’s science. He referred to the woman as a heckler, as many a message board has, seeing as calling her a heckler is the easiest way to work the words “her fault” into the discussion, in between references to feminazis, fat chicks, and–bizarrely–knocks on Stephen Colbert, whose only crime in this case is pulling lower ratings than Tosh.O in the common room at Sigma Rapey Decathalon.
Here are a few truths about this situation:
- I haven’t heard a rape joke yet that wasn’t stupid. But people are welcome to keep making them. Assuming they don’t capture rape joke lightning in a bottle, it will catch up with him or her in the end. Get it? “In the end.” Ah, rape…
- The woman wasn’t a heckler because hecklers are trying to show-up the comic onstage. The woman was a protester. I mean, she wasn’t even funny. She didn’t make a single rape joke. I checked.
- Whether you’re a heckler or a protester, you will get picked on by the comic in question. Any comic. Anywhere. By any means necessary. And to make sure you stay quiet, that comic will bully you. Is it nice? No. it’s also not nice to interrupt someone at work.
- Does Daniel Tosh show up when you’re trying to rape someone and interrupt you? No. I won’t say it’s the Golden Rule, but…
- Odds are nil that Daniel Tosh thinks actual rape is funny.
- Daniel Tosh acted like a dangerous bully, making someone feel unsafe versus just making her feel stupid.
- The woman has every right to feel sad, to have felt frightened, and to tell the whole world that she was bullied.
And the final truth:
- Daniel Tosh should never have apologized.
Hey, you on the message board! Yes, you. The one mid-keystroke about how I need to get laid, how I’m a fat-ass c-wad, and how I must only watch Nova reruns and have never seen Tosh.0. You can stop writing now. You, who just decided that I have botched my feminism, I’ll give you a minute to regroup and redirect. *beat*
The whole point of wildly inappropriate or upsetting humor is to get us closer to ugly things. To take away the shroud around ugly things so we can talk about said ugly things. To apologize for using rape jokes to battle a heckler/protester means you aren’t backing up the joke that got you heckled/protested in the first place. Daniel Tosh: apologizing implies that you weren’t trying to make a point that terrible things are joke-able because no one loves terrible things (rape, dead babies, mushed kittens, Creed). You weren’t trying to shed light. Apologizing implies that you lost control. That maybe deep down you meant it—I have to believe you didn’t mean it, because I need to sleep. Apologizing, for me, is the jackass nail in the rape joke coffin.
You’ll recall Seinfeld alum Michael Richards’ 2006 racist rant at the same club. He was heckled, so he said the cruelest thing he could think of, hurling the N word at black audience members. Remember his apology? That was because he lost his shit and personally leveled a personal attack at individuals who made him angry. I don’t know that I buy it and I know that I don’t forgive him, but I understand why he was apologizing. It wasn’t for a line or joke that was hurtful or stupid. It was for being a stupid, hurtful person. If all jokes on all things are up for grabs and don’t reflect your personal ethos, why apologize, Daniel?
At the root of hate jokes or rape jokes is the intersection of relatability and reality. Relatability is what makes or breaks comedy—being able to safely articulate unsafe ideas to which people can relate. That’s why rape jokes or lynching jokes or gay-bashing jokes upset people. Unfortunately, they can relate. The reality is these awful things happen at a troubling rate (um, any rate over 0). That means it’s far from a statistical impossibility that someone in the room with you has enough rage or self-loathing to make racist, sexist, violent things happen. Relatability plus reality = somebody will be scared and pissed off.
Now, that doesn’t mean you don’t toe the sensitivity line. As Alyssa Rosenberg pointed out on ThinkProgress in 2010, “I do think it’s possible that very carefully constructed and tightly targeted jokes can effectively reinforce the idea that rape is a horrible thing to do.” She was talking about Louis CK‘s jokes about child rapists and raping Hitler. CK crosses the line all the time–I’ve made peace with it because it looks and smells like the effective reinforcement of which Rosenberg speaks. And the fact the CK has never backtracked or apologized reinforces my belief.
But you know what: I probably loathe Daniel Tosh’s apology most because it short-circuits women and women-lovers and rape-loathers their rightful moment to joke back. I blogged a while ago about how women need to fight funny. This is one of those times. So Daniel Tosh: would it be funny if I got gang-raped by five people for interrupting your set? At least it would be more fun than watching your act.