When I was a Junior in high school I performed a 10 minute self written play with three of my best friends called “The Summoning of the Flamingo of Love.” It was “so offensive” that we were forced to go to a hearing where students and teachers were asked to find appropriate punishment. The reason it was “so offensive” is because we made a masturbation joke.
Johan, The Magical Prince of the Magical Swans, had just watched both his parents die and had accidentally let Mosquito Man steal the potion of love from his kingdom. Speaking out towards the audience, he said: “Ooooooh, I’m so lonely. Why am I so alone? When will I ever find love? Why is my right arm so much bigger than my left?”
The point is that that is a joke. Saying: “I masturbate” is not a joke. That is not to say that saying: “I masturbate” isn’t funny. In fact it might be funnier than the shitty joke I wrote when I was 16 depending on context. But it is not a joke.
The worst part about doing comedy is coming back to your rural hometown and having your parents friends ask you what you do. The second you say “I do comedy” they respond: “Oooh. Tell us a joke!” Telling jokes and doing comedy have as little to do with each other as selling life insurance and murdering people.
Stand-up is an art form that attempts to open avenues of self-exploration for an audience by watching someone explore themselves. Stand-up is instructional scaffolding. It leads its students to water then asks them to watch as they screw up drinking in numerous ways.
For this reason: Stand-ups should talk about rape. We should be talking about rape. A stand-ups job is to educate our society, and we really need to have better education about the rape culture in which we live.
“Rape jokes” are easy and stupid and not really jokes. A joke is something that plays with misdirection to shock someone into laughing. Saying “rape” without context is a form of misdirection that will typically shock someone into nervous laughter. Shitting your pants while you’re talking accomplishes the same thing – except shitting your pants is funnier. The reason it’s funnier is because you are demanding vulnerability – you are asking the audience to pay attention to you while you illustrate how much you suck at life. Telling a “rape joke” where you make fun of people who get raped is like having an audience member accidentally shit themselves while you’re on stage, you can claim none of that laughter as your own – the only thing that’s happening is that a bunch of mean people are laughing at a person who is sad. This is not stand-up.
Comedians DO need to talk about rape though. But they need to do it intelligently. This does not mean that they need to lecture us about the pervasiveness of a society that deems male dominance the norm and asks rape to be the logical extension of that normality, but it means that they need to internalize this dialogue. When you do stand-up you should only talk about yourself. Therefore your comedy about rape should be about how living in this rapey-country/world affects you – a country where 14.8% of women and 3% of men are are sexually assaulted in their lifetime, where victims of sexual assault are 4 times more likely to contemplate suicide and 26 times more likely to abuse drugs, where 54% of sexual assaults go unreported to the police, where 73% of sexual assaults are by “non-strangers.”(source)
A lot has been written about what makes a rape joke okay to do – about why it’s different when Louis CK, or John Mulaney, or Sarah Silverman does it. It’s because they aren’t telling jokes. They are speaking from the heart about what life is like for them in this society where rape is prevalent and disturbing.
Daniel Tosh did not do that. He tried to tell a rape joke. He got frustrated that someone was farting in the audience and he started claiming that they had shit themselves. The reason people are so mad at him is because he’s not a stand-up comedian, he’s an asshole, and we’re tired of watching assholes get money and popularity.
When I made that masturbation joke in high-school it was because I was lonely and masturbated a lot. I was tired of the popular, rich asshole making fun of me for being a loser who couldn’t get laid. So I got on stage and told everybody that I was a loser who couldn’t get laid. As a gay man, Tosh understands how it hurts to be ridiculed for something inside you that you can’t change. As a kid he felt insecure about his secret and found a way to distract people from his sexuality was to make fun of the fat kid, or the slow kid, or the poor kid. I know it’s defensiveness and fear that pushes him to make these jokes, but you’re popular and rich now Daniel, you don’t need to keep making fun of others. You can make fun of yourself.