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June 1, 2013 7:10 PM   Subscribe

Comedian Jim Norton and jezebel.com writer Lindy West debate rape jokes.
posted by anothermug (275 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
Oh boy, this again. My thoughts:

1. Comedians can make jokes about whatever the heck they want.
2. People can freely criticize a comedian's jokes on whatever grounds they want.
3. Number 2 really shouldn't happen DURING a performance, but afterwards.

The dust-up over rape jokes really exploded after Daniel Tosh's remarks last summer and the subsequent support he got among the comic community. I think lost somewhere in the back-and-forth was that most of the comedians weren't directly supporting Tosh's words, but rather the method he used to disparage the heckler, which is to attack with extremely vicious, hurtful words. Of course, that attitude is kind of a problem in and of itself.
posted by The Notorious SRD at 7:25 PM on June 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


Norton's argument really doesn't make any sense at all. It's essentially that people shouldn't feel the right to make personal judgments on speech acts. Well, uh, okay then. This would have been much more interesting as an interview with West; I'm surprised Kamau Bell would fall into this "there's two sides to every story" trap.
posted by threeants at 7:26 PM on June 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


I was kind of disgusted by his closing, suggesting he a Lindy make out. It was exactly the wrong thing to say in a discussion about rape and sexual assault. I kind of wanted to punch him.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 7:43 PM on June 1, 2013 [36 favorites]


Lindy West is very interesting on this topic. I'm looking forward to watching this.
posted by painquale at 7:43 PM on June 1, 2013


/r/ShitComedySays
posted by charlie don't surf at 7:44 PM on June 1, 2013


I think Paul Feig already established that men aren't funny. That's why the least witty lean on rape jokes.
posted by discopolo at 7:47 PM on June 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


3. Number 2 really shouldn't happen DURING a performance, but afterwards.

Uh, could you explain the logic behind this? Surely if nothing is sacrosanct, people can say whatever they want, whenever they want, and in whatever situation they want.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:48 PM on June 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


It seems likely to me that this argument is a whole lot of people talking past each other. A comedian's job is to produce as many laughs as possible, regardless of how. Lindy West (& co.) doesn't want comedians to make rape jokes.

It seems that comedians, in following their prime directives, will continue to make rape jokes if they continue to be the most laugh-getting jokes that the comedians can make. Lindy West cannot change their prime directive, so instead, it seems to me that she should be attempting to convince audiences to not laugh at rape jokes. She's arguing about what is acceptable to laugh at- a discussion that is anathema to the comedian worldview.
posted by DGStieber at 7:49 PM on June 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


Norton's repeated references to 9/11 & AIDS show that he sees rape as this tragedy, that randomly befalls people. A tragedy that can be mined for its shock value as some weird way of dealing with the random cruelty of the world through laughter.

West tries to push through the fact that rape isnt a tragedy so much as its a ongoing crime, happening everyday, made possible BECAUSE of the normalization that comes from laughing at.

Would a 9/11 joke really have been hilarious on 9/12?
posted by cacofonie at 7:50 PM on June 1, 2013 [41 favorites]


I sort of have a hard time parsing the words "rape" and "joke" juxtaposed.
posted by HuronBob at 7:50 PM on June 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


@cacofonie if I remember correctly, David Cross was making jokes within a week. About the terrorists' rude awakening when they end up in hell instead of paradise, i think.
posted by DGStieber at 7:52 PM on June 1, 2013


I think norton's point, which boils down to comedy being an alternative lens on reality, where some things are omitted or altered clinched it for me. We have to be able to laugh at anything, as long as malice isn't behind it.

The sad truth however is that a rape victim in the audience may actually be disturbed, or made sad. I don't think norton or anyone else expects them to be laughing, it's something that they should make their peace with. We don't ban fireworks because they inflame PTSD in veterans, nor should we impugn comedians for tackling subjects that make the audience uncomfortable.
posted by sp160n at 7:53 PM on June 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


Oh boy, this again.

Wait, did the situation get resolved at some point? Generally you get to keep bring up a problem as long as it keeps being a problem.
posted by SharkParty at 7:53 PM on June 1, 2013 [33 favorites]


The multiplication effect of emulation really gets under my skin. Default Reddit is the Internet equivalent of a hostile environment because every thread that has anything at all to do with women has some hack who thinks they're Louie C.K. making a shock joke and it has 100+ up-votes from the type of people who think LOL stands for "didn't really laugh, but smirked because it reenforced my cognitive bias towards misogyny."

Meanwhile, Daniel Tosh is a hack. Any improv school drop-out could do an Internet clips show and win a few laughs. Maybe I've killed my own sense of humor, but mean-spirited, shaming based humor has really stopped doing it for me.
posted by Skwirl at 7:54 PM on June 1, 2013 [36 favorites]


it's something that they should make their peace with.

Yeah, just get over your sexual assault already! People are try'na laugh here!
posted by SharkParty at 7:55 PM on June 1, 2013 [11 favorites]


Any improv school drop-out could do an Internet clips show and win a few laughs.

Most of which is lifted from Equals 3.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 7:55 PM on June 1, 2013


Would a 9/11 joke really have been hilarious on 9/12?

As a NYer who had to smell that burning pile constantly for months and had friends in both buildings, yes, we were making 9/11 jokes on 9/11, and 9/12. Sometimes something is so bad that you can't process it any other way to try to find some morbid humor in it. Obviously we weren't running down the street shouting them, but in between crying and wishing our phones or broadcast tv would work, yeah, there were jokes there.

Rape jokes, then? I don't know. The woman I love most in the world was raped, so even the thought makes me think of her in pain. So no, I'd never personally do it and I don't find them funny. My sister killed herself. I don't like suicide jokes or even people saying "ugh, I want to kill myself." But, the world does not exist to coddle my little heart. So joke away, I just won't listen.
posted by nevercalm at 7:56 PM on June 1, 2013 [37 favorites]


Can Jim Norton just walk around with a big sandwich sign that says TRIGGER WARNING on it?
posted by Apropos of Something at 7:58 PM on June 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Also, I just can't look at Jim Norton without feeling like he's a total creep. There's just something so completely not funny about him. Yeesh.
posted by nevercalm at 7:58 PM on June 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


It seems likely to me that this argument is a whole lot of people talking past each other.

1. Comedians can make jokes about whatever the heck they want.
2. People can freely criticize a comedian's jokes on whatever grounds they want.
3. Number 2 really shouldn't happen DURING a performance, but afterwards.


That looks like the very definition of "people talking past each other". If you can't interact with a Live Comedy Show, you can save your money and watch the same thing on TV. Then again, if someone you paid to make you LAUGH instead makes you UNCOMFORTABLE, demand a refund. Money talks.
posted by oneswellfoop at 7:58 PM on June 1, 2013


Yeah, but aren't all (or almost all) jokes offensive? Whatever the joke, there is someone who becomes the putz who is the one being laughed at. If you're the putz you'll hate the joke. If we ended all offensive jokes because the person being offended was offended we would have no more humor.
posted by ishrinkmajeans at 7:59 PM on June 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


It seems likely to me that this argument is a whole lot of people talking past each other. A comedian's job is to produce as many laughs as possible, regardless of how.

That's not true at all. A comedian can't hurt someone for a laugh and say, hey, that's my job!

Putting "regardless of how" at the end of a job description is never appropriate. If I said, "a police officer's job is to arrest criminals, regardless of how," the falsity would be apparent. Comics don't get a pass.
posted by painquale at 7:59 PM on June 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


The thing is, virtually all of the comedians revered by Metafilterians have made rape jokes or misogynistic jokes and/or comments. But they tend to get a pass. So the rule really seems to be "if you're going to make these types of jokes you better be goddamn funny."
posted by Justinian at 8:00 PM on June 1, 2013 [7 favorites]


Surely if nothing is sacrosanct, people can say whatever they want, whenever they want, and in whatever situation they want.

Just because the comedian-audience social contract gives the comic permission to approach taboo subjects without reverence doesn't mean that the whole remainder of civilized behaviour goes on hiatus.

If a comedian makes a joke you don't like, the social contract grants you the right to groan or to leave. If you escalate it beyond that, you're the one being the asshole, I'm afraid.
posted by 256 at 8:00 PM on June 1, 2013 [11 favorites]


The closer he made about making out with the other debate member was... terrible. Not funny, and it caused the whole interaction to go gross.
posted by Phalene at 8:01 PM on June 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, I just can't look at Jim Norton without feeling like he's a total creep. There's just something so completely not funny about him. Yeesh.

He's not that good. Cringe comedy =/= wit. It's just the easiest kind of comedy. Make things awkward so someone giggles out of nervousness even if they feel despair.
posted by discopolo at 8:02 PM on June 1, 2013


Whatever the joke, there is someone who becomes the putz who is the one being laughed at. If you're the putz you'll hate the joke.

"Comedy is when you slip on a banana peel. Tragedy is when I slip on a banana peel."
-Groucho
posted by charlie don't surf at 8:02 PM on June 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


Jim Norton is literally the worst possible comedian to debate about this. Well played Jezebel.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:02 PM on June 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall down an open manhole cover and die.
posted by Justinian at 8:04 PM on June 1, 2013 [8 favorites]


Yeah, but aren't all (or almost all) jokes offensive? Whatever the joke, there is someone who becomes the putz who is the one being laughed at. If you're the putz you'll hate the joke. If we ended all offensive jokes because the person being offended was offended we would have no more humor.

This flattens things in a most unhelpful manner. What you're saying here is there's literally no difference between a joke about The Donald's hair and a joke about a woman who's been raped.

"Comedy" devoid of all shared cultural context and understanding would indeed not be at very funny.

(It's also a funny idea that "comedy" and "humor" are the same thing; to me, they're not at all, though there's certainly overlap.)
posted by rtha at 8:06 PM on June 1, 2013 [8 favorites]


Yeah, but aren't all (or almost all) jokes offensive?

The problem is not that rape jokes are 'offensive.' The problem isn't that people are 'offended.' The problem isn't even jokes about rape, or jokes that invoke the concept of rape. The problem is that the category of 'rape jokes' (such as it is) sides, rather than with the victim, with the oppressor. It's punching down. It's taking a terrible abuse of personal power and minimizing it, trivializing it, making light of it. The problem with rape jokes is the same problem as racist jokes or sexist jokes or etc.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:09 PM on June 1, 2013 [123 favorites]


Surely if nothing is sacrosanct, people can say whatever they want, whenever they want, and in whatever situation they want.

I didn't say that a person who objects to a particular comedian or joke can express their displeasure whenever they want. I said that they can object on whatever particular grounds they want. They don't have to accept the comedian's framing of an issue. And no, they shouldn't disrupt the performance.

I could buy a ticket for a Roman Polanski film and stand up in the front reading the text of the grand jury decision against him. Lord knows I think he's a total piece of garbage for what he did. But I'd quickly get tossed, and rightfully so: it's not my right to wreck the show for other people.

That looks like the very definition of "people talking past each other". If you can't interact with a Live Comedy Show, you can save your money and watch the same thing on TV. Then again, if someone you paid to make you LAUGH instead makes you UNCOMFORTABLE, demand a refund. Money talks.

I agree. I'd think the most discomforting thing a comedian can hear is silence.
posted by The Notorious SRD at 8:11 PM on June 1, 2013


I think that comedy is pretty much proportional to the harm done to the putz. That's why "clean" jokes sort of suck with rare exception (Dimitri Martin, and the stoner guy who died whatshisface).

Besides whats the call to action here? Not like rape jokes? Sure, don't care for 'em. But beyond that are we supposed to black ball the guy or get him censored? Cause that's where I see things like this headed when people lash out at comedians or speech they don't like.

I can understand the comment about making jokes about the oppressed rather than the oppressor. Sure. But again, what are we supposed to do about it besides get all angry? And really what's the point in even that when there is so much more worthwhile to get angry over, if that's your bag.
posted by ishrinkmajeans at 8:11 PM on June 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


KokuRyu : Uh, could you explain the logic behind this? Surely if nothing is sacrosanct, people can say whatever they want, whenever they want, and in whatever situation they want.

Because a "performance" means just that - Someone has prepared to perform in a particular role on stage. They may have chosen to play a saint, or a demon, or a buffoon, but they occupy a role, for our entertainment (or not) that has no connection to their real self.

If you want to rip the performer to shreds on your blog, have at it. If you want to call them inappropriate, disgusting, not funny, what-have-you, great, let it rip in your review of the performance. But to throw someone off in the middle of their routine? That simply counts as rude. Could you get up there and do better?

Or put another way - Do you boo someone playing the devil in a movie? The lawyer for the evil corporate scum? The frat boy picking on the nerds? Or do you accept it as a role, someone you don't like but nothing more and nothing less than an artificial persona adopted solely for your entertainment?

Now, if you don't like certain types of comedy - Hey, cool, stay home and save the cover charge. Personally, I can't stand RomComs - so I don't watch them.
posted by pla at 8:12 PM on June 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


Lindy West is more hilarious than every misogynistic douchecanoe "comedian" out there. She regularly writes shit that is super informative AND super hilarious and it makes me respect her WAY more than any of these people.
posted by NoraReed at 8:15 PM on June 1, 2013 [12 favorites]


13:52 Norton says "no reasonable person..." blah blah blah

Well, considering that many rapists are considered to be "reasonable people" and that rape is so often played off as a "misunderstanding," and that rapists hear these jokes and do actually feel like society has their backs, and that rapists who tell these jokes are actually testing the boundaries of their listeners

Rape jokes further the objectification of rape victims, tend to suggest or directly state that the victim deserved the rape, and/or assert that the rapist did something awesome/powerful/approved of. Rape jokes call into question the right of the victim to seek justice, and call into question the actual damage of rape. Because haha, rape is just a funny thing.


I think Norton is an idiot who needs to do some actual self education about what rape culture is and how it is actually perpetuated.

My favorite definition of what makes a joke funny is that it's a benign transgression. There is nothing benign about rape. Never. Not when it's stranger rape in a dark alley, not when it's acquaintance rape via intoxication or force or coercion, not when it's marital rape, and not when it's a man getting raped, and not even when the speaker follows up the sentence with "haha, just kidding." Maybe he should read up on comedy too, while he's at the library.
posted by bilabial at 8:15 PM on June 1, 2013 [15 favorites]


I don't think that's a very good definition of what makes a joke funny, at all. Would Lenny Bruce or George Carlin agree with it? I very much doubt it.

That isn't to defend Norton, I just think it's a bad definition.
posted by Justinian at 8:18 PM on June 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


Nope. If nothing is sacrosanct, then neither is a performance. We should be allowed to boo, hiss, throw vegetables, whatever. Shut the dumb fuck up.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:18 PM on June 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


I guess I live in a different world. I don't think I've ever even heard a "rape joke". I've heard jokes that were sexist, racist, offensive to various nationalities..but, I can't recall ever hearing someone "joke" about rape.

An honest question, if you've felt a joke about rape was humorous, and actually laughed about it, what did you find in the joke that was funny? And, if you did find it funny, how did you reconcile that response with the pain and trauma that rape brings to its victims?
posted by HuronBob at 8:19 PM on June 1, 2013


Who said "nothing is sacrosanct?"
posted by 256 at 8:19 PM on June 1, 2013


Is there a sudden surge in rape jokes?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:20 PM on June 1, 2013


An honest question, if you've felt a joke about rape was humorous, and actually laughed about it, what did you find in the joke that was funny? And, if you did find it funny, how did you reconcile that response with the pain and trauma that rape brings to its victims?

A rape joke I laughed at, and honestly never really felt the need to reconcile with anything.


And here's an example of an unfunny rape joke that you have almost certainly heard a variation of.

posted by 256 at 8:25 PM on June 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


"Here's your rape" is a rape joke that makes me laugh. Makes me laugh every time. Why? Because it's from the perspective of a potential victim. And because she talks about all the terrible preventing rape advice. And because nearly every woman I know, whether she has been raped or not, has had a similar experience. And we know that untamed heart thumping gut twisting terror of being sure that something awful is about to happen to you.

Kind of like that time you were driving and some other car swerved into your lane and you almost got hit head on. Or some other car ran a red light at an intersection and came this close to hitting you.
posted by bilabial at 8:25 PM on June 1, 2013 [25 favorites]


Not to derail the central discussion too much, but I think it's pretty funny when these discussions erupt and some people take it upon themselves to rally behind the earnest, hardworking comedian, like they are selfless charity workers digging wells for the poor.

This generation of comics must be a serious pack of soft little shits if Fozzie Bear can take a tomato to the face better than them.
posted by SharkParty at 8:26 PM on June 1, 2013 [26 favorites]


Sadly Brandon, yes. I defend comics rights to say anything they want, but rape jokes are a boring transgression these days, especially among wannabes at the open mic night. Stop it dude-comics!
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:26 PM on June 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


If nothing is sacrosanct, then neither is a performance. We should be allowed to boo, hiss, throw vegetables, whatever. Shut the dumb fuck up.

I work at shows pretty much every night. You are one person in an audience. The other X number of people who are there paid good money to see the performer. Not to watch you grind whatever your personal axe is. It's not about being polite to the performer, it's about being polite to the rest of the audience. If you pulled that crap at any of the places I work, you'd be bodily hauled out and it wouldn't be gentle.

Further, at my regular studio security is armed, wear bullet proof vests, are ex-military and take that shit seriously. There are larger issues. If you throw something, no one knows what you will throw next. You'd be tackled and in handcuffs before you could blink. That's assault. So now in addition to being a putz, you've put everyone around you in danger as they arrest you.
posted by nevercalm at 8:26 PM on June 1, 2013 [19 favorites]


The problem with the attitude of "Hey, if you don't like it, just shut up/stay home/ignore/don't watch" is that the world doesn't come with warning labels. There's nothing you can do to avoid hearing rape jokes. Even if you just avoid all comedy shows altogether, there's somebody at your office, or standing in the metro station, or at a party, who will go ahead and launch into it.

Nobody (or at least a close approximation of nobody) is suggesting banning rape jokes, or throwing comedians in jail. But speaking out against them is absolutely the essence of free speech! It's the best remedy! Boycotts, complaints to advertisers, protests--these are all great tools. And if the effect can be to make it risky to tell a rape joke, I personally think that's an ideal and appropriate outcome. There are funny rape jokes to be made, and funny holocaust jokes to be made, and nobody is going to be able to come out and describe the exact limits of what's "worth it". But we have some pretty solid social norms surrounding, for example, racist jokes: not even the gregarious "edgy" guy is going to tell this joke around the water cooler:

What do you get when you cross a nigger with a gorilla? A dumb gorilla!

But that same guy might tell this one:

A pedophile and an 8 year old girl are walking through a forest, and the girl says, "It's so dark, I'm scared." The pedophile says, "You think you're scared? I have to walk back alone!"

People speaking out consistently against this kind of thing can help to shift the cultural norms over to a better place.
posted by tkfu at 8:28 PM on June 1, 2013 [18 favorites]


Apropos of Something: "Can Jim Norton just walk around with a big sandwich sign that says TRIGGER WARNING on it?"

Speaking of: Rape jokes, Signs being worn, and David Cross makes me have to link this Mr. Show sketch.

I think Rape "jokes" in general are awful and comedians better fucking think twice before telling one. That does not mean that there isn't a possible way to make them, but the way they should be done are the way really good comedy does: Speak Truth to Power (loathe as I am to use that phrase now that I'm past my hippie phase). In this sense a rape joke isn't really a rape joke, but pointing out rape culture.

The aforelinked Mr. Show sketch doesn't take on rape culture, but pushes the question of "how far of a limit is valid for Scarlet Letter approach that we apply to sex offenders?" (I can see issues in that clip, as well, of course).

Anyways, a rape joke is different from a rape-culture joke.

Part of the other issue is that it creates a nice clear line with "Rape"/"Not Rape" and thus obfuscates the actual blurry lines between consent that can occur and some of the difficulties that entails. It makes "Rape" be just one thing: Stranger in an alley with a gun aimed at you. It doesn't, as bilabial points out with their examples, attack the fundamental issues of other forms of rape (and it legitimizes prison rape quite often instead of attacking it as it should be doing).

Fuck the weak comedians who seem "edgy" when in reality they're just playing the same old game that really doesn't offend, and reinforces all the tropes of power that they pretend they're actually supposedly attacking cuz they're "edgy" and "free speech, man" and all that.
posted by symbioid at 8:29 PM on June 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


Jim Norton's entire schtick offstage is in finding the people who are offended by his choice in material and arguing/browbeating/kvetching about the fact that they're trying to muzzle or censor him out of some misguided, liberal, PC whiner mindset. It gets old rather quickly, because he has no argument other than that comedians have to be able to laugh at anything, and if you don't care for what they're joking about, you're part of the problem.
posted by xingcat at 8:29 PM on June 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


HuronBob : An honest question, if you've felt a joke about rape was humorous, and actually laughed about it, what did you find in the joke that was funny?

I recall hearing the winner of a "most tasteless joke ever" contest, once upon a time. Basically it ends with a priest molesting a little girl - Real kicks there, eh?

Sometimes, a joke turns something horrific into humor precisely by going so far over the top that you can't take it seriously. See: South Park. How many years have they managed to stay on the air essentially by mocking the "sensitive" issue of the week?


And, if you did find it funny, how did you reconcile that response with the pain and trauma that rape brings to its victims?

Short answer - I didn't. If you really stop and think about the circumstances behind most humor, you couldn't help but start praying for an asteroid to wipe us off this mudball.


As an aside, I really don't find most intentionally-hurtful humor - racist, misogynistic, homophobic, etc - all that enjoyable. But I also don't consider them off limits if a comedian can come up with something really, really good.
posted by pla at 8:29 PM on June 1, 2013


cacofonie: "Would a 9/11 joke really have been hilarious on 9/12?"

Sure. That kind of thing tends to get deleted around here but some of the post 9/11, columbine, SARS, Tsunami sort of jokes are hilarious immediately.

Justinian: "I don't think that's a very good definition of what makes a joke funny, at all. Would Lenny Bruce or George Carlin agree with it? I very much doubt it."

George had an extensive rape joke routine but he claims in it that every joke needs an exaggeration rather than a benign transgression. And I think the bit is safely funny because it is the rapist he's exaggerating/making fun of.
posted by Mitheral at 8:30 PM on June 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


If you have real balls as a white bro comic, write jokes about race. The last 2 minutes of Louis CKs special were about slavery, and they may be his best work.

I respect the rights of people offended by jokes to yell "Fuck you thats not funny!" once, but then they should walk out in protest, because of basic politeness to the other customers who may not be offended.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:31 PM on June 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Monty Python's Life of Brian was initially very controversial because Christians were offended by they way in which the movie discussed what they perceived most sacred to them: their faith and God. So why exactly should rape jokes be singled out when something as subjective as being offended or hurt is at the core of the problem? Cause I'm pretty sure that there are lots of people who think that blasphemy (or whatever) is far worse than rape.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 8:31 PM on June 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


Not to derail the central discussion too much, but I think it's pretty funny when these discussions erupt and some people take it upon themselves to rally behind the earnest, hardworking comedian, like they are selfless charity workers digging wells for the poor.

I don't give a shit about the comedian. If his jokes aren't funny, he'll stop getting gigs and find another job. I give a shit about the rest of the audience who I can only assume you're not planning to refund when you decide to take over the show.
posted by 256 at 8:32 PM on June 1, 2013


Here's another question. Does anyone go to this show not knowing that there will be material that will be offensive to them personally? If the guy's headlining and he's known for doing raw stuff that you don't like why are you even there? If it's open mike at a seedy joint and you're thin skinned why are you there? You can easily look this stuff up before a show. It's like a vegetarian going to the Rib Shak and then getting all huffy that they sell meat.
posted by ishrinkmajeans at 8:33 PM on June 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


pla

pla

pla!

what are you doing pla

are you seriously arguing that standup comedy, a frequently confessional and even autobiographical form of performance, is the same thing as an actor portraying a fictional character

do you think that tig notaro didn't actually get breast cancer after her mom died and her girlfriend broke up with her? because if so, you are wrong!

do you think stuart lee does not actually believe the things he says to be true? because if so, you are wrong!

pla!

pla

oh, pla =(

...

Notorious, how shitty does a comedian have to be before she or he can be heckled? If someone tried to make lynching jokes, is it permissible to scream at him? What about whatsisface's racist meltdown? What about a comedian that picks an arbitrary audience member and abuses them until they leave, are you ok with anyone interrupting that?

I would gently suggest that trying to create a "you must always behave thusly" rule for complex social situations that regularly test the envelope of a given culture's mores is probably a bad idea.

anyway, yeah, rape jokes. People laugh at them for two reasons:

1) They hate women
2) The same reason five year-olds giggle when someone says "poop," because you're Not Supposed To, even if they don't understand why not

They're also absolutely the least edgy form of humor possible, because they don't buck or subvert or satirize the dominant culture at all. They're solely the province of toadies to the powerful, like white morning radio show hosts calling each other "my ninja" through their loathsome smirk-holes.

so bilious
posted by kavasa at 8:33 PM on June 1, 2013 [19 favorites]


An honest question, if you've felt a joke about rape was humorous, and actually laughed about it, what did you find in the joke that was funny?

Huron Bob, if you don't laugh at one of these examples, I'll send you 10 bucks.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:33 PM on June 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


If rape jokes are completely out, murder jokes should be out too, right? Murder is at least as bad as rape, after all, even if it's less common. There are plenty of people out there who survived attempted murder. So any and all jokes about, say, wanting to kill your boss are completely off-limits?
posted by Green Winnebago at 8:34 PM on June 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


there's probably not an actual murder survivor in the front row.
posted by SharkParty at 8:35 PM on June 1, 2013 [20 favorites]


What if 50 cent is there BOOYA, counterpoint.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:36 PM on June 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


From Potomac Avenue's link, and also something Lindy says in the video, that's apparently always ignored in these discussions because of people yelling about censorship and shutting up the comedians:


In case this isn't perfectly clear yet: You can say whatever you want.

You can say whatever you want. You can say whatever you want. You can say whatever you want.

You can say whatever you want.

posted by sweetkid at 8:38 PM on June 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


kavasa : do you think that tig notaro didn't actually get breast cancer after her mom died and her girlfriend broke up with her? because if so, you are wrong!

And do you normally consider breast cancer "funny"?
posted by pla at 8:38 PM on June 1, 2013


It's like a vegetarian going to the Rib Shak and then getting all huffy that they sell meat.

THIS

That's a great way to put it. If you're that fragile that you can't handle it or if you trigger that easily, you don't belong at comedy shows with people who aren't like....Paula Poundstone, Bill Cosby, or Ellen.
posted by nevercalm at 8:39 PM on June 1, 2013


Any improv school drop-out could do an Internet clips show and win a few laughs.

Indeed. And honestly, you wouldn't even have needed that first day of class. It's a job that could be done by most people who make it through casting on any reality show.

Twenty years ago, Jim Norton, Daniel Tosh, and Greg Giraldo would have all needed day jobs. They're the most prominent members of a crop that lowered the bar of professional stand-up. Jerry Seinfeld, Roseanne Barr, and Tim Allen had to actually be funny in order to score network sitcoms. But then along came cable television and Comedy Central and an unending need for original programming irrespective of quality, and now guys—and I do mean guys—like this just need to have the right friends in order to score steady work. Colin Quinn's show was an embarrassment in that regard, and I'm a Colin Quinn fan.

The notion that Jim Norton has any kind of role in "debating" anything more serious than a Spike TV analysis of the best light beer is ridiculous. The subject of rape jokes and edge humor is challenging and complex, and it's insulting to say with a straight face that anybody affiliated with The Opie & Anthony Show might have anything to offer that discussion.
posted by cribcage at 8:40 PM on June 1, 2013 [10 favorites]


You can say whatever you want.

Everyone's free to be an obnoxious asshole. But wouldn't it be great if we all weren't?
posted by tommasz at 8:40 PM on June 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


pla, do you understand that a woman talking about her own tragedy is different from a straight man making bog-standard rape jokes about women as a whole?

and again, the point here was that she was not in any way performing a fictional character

if you haven't, you should find that set on itunes and listen to it, it's some of the finest (and most unrelentingly, soul-crushingly dark) standup ever performed
posted by kavasa at 8:41 PM on June 1, 2013 [8 favorites]


You can say whatever you want.

Everyone's free to be an obnoxious asshole. But wouldn't it be great if we all weren't?
posted by tommasz at 11:40 PM on June 1 [+] [!]


Yes that's the point
posted by sweetkid at 8:42 PM on June 1, 2013


Potomac... you don't need to send me the $10, but if we're ever at a meet up, you owe me a glass of wine. The Louis CK joke was referenced above, it made me cringe both times....

And, for those of you responding to my question, thanks.... I'm trying to maintain an open mind on this, your thoughtful responses are helpful.
posted by HuronBob at 8:42 PM on June 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


If you're that fragile that you can't handle it or if you trigger that easily...

you serious??
posted by SharkParty at 8:43 PM on June 1, 2013


It really was. I sat there with my mouth open for the whole set. And nothing but breast cancer, death, and breaking up.
posted by nevercalm at 8:43 PM on June 1, 2013


HuronBonb: How do you feel about Arrested Development?
posted by Justinian at 8:45 PM on June 1, 2013


Also, I just can't look at Jim Norton without feeling like he's a total creep. There's just something so completely not funny about him. Yeesh.

He IS a creep. But he can also be very, very funny at times. Very quick witted. He has some characters he does on the radio that are incisive and quite disturbing. But creepily real: you know there are real people out there just like that.

But he is an incredible narcissist, and uses shock/vulgarity as a crutch.

And he makes the cardinal mistake about the first amendment: he has the right to say whatever he wants on stage, yes, but when it is over, the audience has the right to criticize what he said. It's somewhat understandable given that he is in the business of speech and walks the razor's edge of acceptability. But still, a failing argument. Goose and gander stuff.

Where he is correct: if you don't like it, don't tune in and don't buy tickets to his shows. He isn't fuckingn with people or misleading them in any way. His shows are vulgar and offensive, and you take the risk.

Finally, *anything* can be funny. But not just because some delicate genius comedian says it on stage. Nobody complains about funny jokes.

(Look at "The Aristocrats". The definitive example of this rule: the whole point is to be just funny enough to overcome the horrible, horrible things you are describing. If you don't, you are a hack.)
posted by gjc at 8:46 PM on June 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


If you've been through horrible shitty bad trauma, then making jokes about it sometimes helps. What most critics of comedians don't realize is that comedians all (mostly) have been through horrible shit (sometimes that horrible shit is waking up being Jim Norton) so they think they can joke about anything. "Everything is awful you guys, but look at me! I can say anything! You can survive too!" They don't even really understand when that perspective isn't understood. It's actually kind of sad if you think about it. Nevertheless, comedy isn't for them, its for the audience. And they should wise up, because audiences more and more demand a more personal perspective where the speaker of the joke should have a real understanding of the subject. You can't just say whatever awful shit comes into your head as a form of healing, or at least don't expect not to get widely lambasted for doing so, or at least not onstage. Youtube comments are still available unfettered.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:46 PM on June 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


the stoner guy who died whatshisface

Er. Mitch Hedberg?
posted by sweetkid at 8:47 PM on June 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


SharkParty: "there's probably not an actual murder survivor in the front row."

In Canada rape is ~20 times more common than attempted murder (though you have to think that some of the assaults are actually attempted murder). In an audience of few hundred people there is probably someone who has been a victim of an attempted murder. Where you think the line should be drawn? If there are any potential victims? 1:1000? 1:100? 1:50? 1:20? 1:4? 1:2?
posted by Mitheral at 8:47 PM on June 1, 2013


Justinian, ironically, Arrested Development is on the "I guess I should watch it list" because of the recent buzz with the release of the new season, but I've never seen a single episode.
posted by HuronBob at 8:48 PM on June 1, 2013


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6xaj2fC1jI

Hey you guys laugh break. And yes thatshisface.
posted by ishrinkmajeans at 8:48 PM on June 1, 2013


And do you normally consider breast cancer "funny"?

When delivered by someone who has cancer and is exploring the social awkwardness and trials of dealing with cancer, yes absolutely. Someone who says stuff like "haha that XYZ is so dumb they should get cancer and die (j/k)" Not so much.

Come on folks this is 101 stuff. You don't get a pass when making fun of other genders/ethnicities and following it up by saying "well they call themselves niggers/bitches so I should get to as well".
posted by edgeways at 8:49 PM on June 1, 2013 [15 favorites]


Here's my devil's bargain (but, to be sure, I'm only suggesting it, because it's not my place to make the bargain):

If you're going to make a rape joke or tread on any of the other big taboos, you better be REALLY, REALLY sure that it's funny. Not "I just broke a taboo" funny and not "making fun of an out-group" funny. It better be in the top 1% of original thoughts that have probably never been said (or heard by your audience) before. It better be the most hilarious thing that I'm going to hear this year. 90% of your audience better be belly laughing.

Notice that you don't particularly hear a lot of griping about Louis C.K., Sarah Silverman, Dave Chapelle or any of the other geniuses in the field whose routines run the gambit from very complicated topics to very base ones.

If I made a Rothko-esque painting that was half a shade of red on one half of the canvas and half a shade of black on the other and tried to pawn it it off for genius, I would be ridiculed. But Rothko earned the right to publicly delve into very basic forms because he mastered very complicated ones. The problem with this kind of comedy is that it's like we have a world full of two-bit Rothko knock-offs that are being pushed in to our faces all the time.

Certainly this is all subjective, but, frankly, if a person thinks most of the rape jokes or shame jokes that they hear are funny, I really do believe that they have an unsophisticated and unexamined sense of humor.

Everything is subjective if you want to believe in moral relativism. There are people who laugh at gore and accident videos on Youtube and seek them out and, yeah, I do judge someone who feeds that side of their psyche and, yeah, it does really seem like something most people grow out of when they graduate from high school and develop an adult conscience.

But, like I said, that is a devil's bargain. I'm totally okay with boycotts and other 1st Amendment-based responses to bad speech because it forces the actors to make a risk-reward judgement. If you just wrote the most hilarious rape joke ever -- that's maybe forgivable. But if it's pretty mediocre and the chances of it advancing your career are worse than the chances of ending it, you should hold back. Why should comedians be immune to market forces or Darwinian forces?

Meanwhile, there really does need to be safe-space comedy. Certainly there's the idea that "trying to be anything other than funny will result in being not-funny" but it is really awful to go to a comedy club and hear all the hacks with hate jokes these days. There's a reason why there are so few mainstream women comediennes and our culture has really benefitted from the small gains that we've seen in that department.
posted by Skwirl at 8:50 PM on June 1, 2013 [13 favorites]


In Canada rape is ~20 times more common than attempted murder (though you have to think that some of the assaults are actually attempted murder). In an audience of few hundred people there is probably someone who has been a victim of an attempted murder. Where you think the line should be drawn? If there are any potential victims? 1:1000? 1:100? 1:50? 1:20? 1:4? 1:2?

I don't understand... you said first that rape is more common than attempted murder (which supports my witty little bon mot) but then start throwing out weird unrelated ratios that I don't think really make your point.

But anyway I will just go ahead and counter with the fact that a rape-joking dude comic is pretty much just as likely to be murdered as anybody so he's in the death pool with the rest of us... whereas he's probably not reeeeally all that worried about getting raped anytime soon unlike MANY ACTUAL PEOPLE IN THE ROOM WITH HIM.
posted by SharkParty at 8:52 PM on June 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Justinian, ironically, Arrested Development is on the "I guess I should watch it list" because of the recent buzz with the release of the new season, but I've never seen a single episode.

Ah, well, there's a rape joke running through a bunch of episodes which is treated as a throwaway.
posted by Justinian at 8:53 PM on June 1, 2013


Potomac... you don't need to send me the $10, but if we're ever at a meet up, you owe me a glass of wine

Happy to do it, but you watched all the clips? John Mulaney's joke even? Hard to believe none of those elicited a chuckle. Anywho, it's ok if you don't think they are funny, there are different kinds of comedy. As Skwirl points out the problem is comedy isn't very genre-based actually. Imagine going to the "music club" and not knowing if you were going to hear Yanni or Cannibal Corpse? (shout out to the paleo thread y'all).

Comedy needs genres and I propose the first one is called "Jim Norton" and we make him and all those meaty shmucks put JIM NORTON RAPE JOKES HEREIN on all their posters. Sadly they might sell out bigger venues if they did.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:54 PM on June 1, 2013


Replace the word "rape" with "lynch," and suddenly the joke, even the best, highest quality rape joke out there, becomes unfunny.

Why is that?
posted by cacofonie at 8:55 PM on June 1, 2013 [17 favorites]


@sharkparty , by 'make their peace', I meant that everyone on this planet has to acclimate themselves to the fact that their individual experiences are not universal, and other people's perceptions and reactions to a topic are different, hence my analogy to veterans with PTSD. I thought that was fairly clear, and don't appreciate the selective quoting.
posted by sp160n at 8:56 PM on June 1, 2013


You don't get a pass when making fun of other genders/ethnicities and following it up by saying "well they call themselves niggers/bitches so I should get to as well".

Yeah, but they don't get to be the arbiters of good taste just because they are in some demographic or suffered some tragedy. "A funny thing happened on the way to my chemo appointment" is a lot different from someone using their own issue as a crutch. A rape victim making bad rape jokes is no more acceptable than a non-rape victim.
posted by gjc at 8:56 PM on June 1, 2013


The second genre of comedy is called STEVEN WRIGHT and you will never hear anything personal, only set-ups and punchlines.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:56 PM on June 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6xaj2fC1jI

Hey you guys laugh break. And yes thatshisface.
posted by ishrinkmajeans 4 minutes ago [+]


Yea Mitch Hedberg was hilarious without being rapey or racist (and kinda deserves better than "stoner what'shisface" as an intro)

RIP Mitch
posted by sweetkid at 8:59 PM on June 1, 2013 [15 favorites]


There's a reason why there are so few mainstream women comediennes and our culture has really benefitted from the small gains that we've seen in that department.

Are you really implying that there's a lack of women comedians because rape jokes exist? Why are there so many jewish comedians then, given all the trials they've had?
posted by ishrinkmajeans at 8:59 PM on June 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


But beyond that are we supposed to black ball the guy or get him censored? Cause that's where I see things like this headed when people lash out at comedians or speech they don't like.

Really? You see us headed this way? Taking a guy to jail? Forbidding him to speak?

But ok, what if doing rape jokes means no one will book you because it's fucking gross and the club gets lots of negative publicity/calls/protestors? Is that ok, or is that "blackballing"?

There is no monolithic entitiy deciding who gets to be a comedian. There's just people.

I think, if you are going to die on the Rape Jokes hill, you better fucking be prepared for some criticism, hatred, protesting, what have you. It doesn't matter if you think they should hate you because Free Speech. They do. And to whine about it, when no one forced your weak unoriginal ass to make a goddman rape joke, makes you a giant titty baby.

Do your rape jokes or don't do them. But don't shake your finger at me if I stand up and tell you exactly what I think of your hateful ass. And the hateful asses of anyone laughing with you.

If you can't take the heat for rape jokes as a comedian, get out of the goddamn rape jokes kitchen.
posted by emjaybee at 8:59 PM on June 1, 2013 [36 favorites]


Replace the word "rape" with "lynch," and suddenly the joke, even the best, highest quality rape joke out there, becomes unfunny.

See also: "blackface".
posted by edgeways at 9:00 PM on June 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


@emjaybee

There's a difference between a few people not liking a comedian and doing everything they can to disrupt his career and him being largely unpopular. This seems like the former case.
posted by ishrinkmajeans at 9:01 PM on June 1, 2013


Replace the word "rape" with "lynch," and suddenly the joke, even the best, highest quality rape joke out there, becomes unfunny.

Yep. Alternatively, make it a joke about raping a child.
posted by jfwlucy at 9:01 PM on June 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Your argument as I saw it was a comic should avoid certain jokes because the victims of joke situation might be in the front row. I think likelihood of a victim hearing the joke is a bad reason not to tell a joke. If a bunch of Klansmen get together over a beer and start telling nigger jokes they shouldn't get a free pass because their aren't any black people around. Or if a bunch of "bros" are joking around about rape those jokes should be called out even if there aren't any women around because the jokes themselves are the problem not that a victim will be traumatized.
posted by Mitheral at 9:03 PM on June 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah no one would ever laugh at a joke about pedophilia unless it has a priest or a sports guy or anyway actually people laugh every day at mainstream comics telling jokes about pedophilia I was being sarcastic in the first part of this comment.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:03 PM on June 1, 2013


jfwlucy : Yep. Alternatively, make it a joke about raping a child.

Erm, I already went there...

Yep. Still funny.

/ I really need to find a link to that joke so you don't all consider me completely batshit.
posted by pla at 9:05 PM on June 1, 2013


Yeah, you might be right, now that I think about it. Maybe I hang out with too many parents. I like the lynching version better.
posted by jfwlucy at 9:07 PM on June 1, 2013


ishrinkmajeans: No, I am not saying that there are fewer women comediennes because rape jokes exist, I'm saying that there are fewer women comediennes because there are fewer safe spaces for women in comedy, same as IT, same as professional sports. Ah, screw it. You can do your own Google searches for the stories of women in comedy.
posted by Skwirl at 9:07 PM on June 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


There's a difference between a few people not liking a comedian and doing everything they can to disrupt his career and him being largely unpopular. This seems like the former case.

You are seriously asking me to feel sympathy for a guy who can't handle the negative backlash for telling rape jokes. I'm sorry. I'm not that kind of saint. He has the right to tell them. He does not have the right to be protected from criticism, protest, and other forms of "career disruption" (aside from actual violent harassment) while he tells them.

To go back to an earlier comment, many Christians protested Life of Brian. I didn't agree with them, but they absolutely had the right to protest it. And their protest did not stop the movie from gaining a following or becoming a cult favorite.

Somehow, I don't think this guy's genius rape humor is going to go that route. But if it doesn't it won't be because of protestors, but because it's shit.
posted by emjaybee at 9:07 PM on June 1, 2013 [13 favorites]


Yep. Alternatively, make it a joke about raping a child.

pla> I really need to find a link to that joke so you don't all consider me completely batshit.

Is it this one?
"Kid's walkin' down the street, and he finds a welder's mask. He goes, 'Oh, cool -- a welder's mask,' and he picks it up and puts it on, and he's walkin' along, flippin' it up and down, when a Cadillac pulls up.

"'Pssst, kid, get in the car.'

"Kid gets in, and he's ridin' along with this old man, playin' with the welder's mask, and the old man says, 'Kid, you know what frottage is?'

"Kid goes, 'No, sure don't,' flippin' the mask up and down, and the old man says, 'Hey, kid, you know what mutual masturbation is?'

"Kid goes, 'Naw, never heard of it' -- flip, flip, flip -- and the old man leans over and says, 'Hey, kid, you know what pedophilia is?'

"The kid looks at the guy and says, 'Hey, buddy, listen -- I'm not really a welder.'"
posted by UrineSoakedRube at 9:07 PM on June 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


Potomac Avenue... yes, i watched them. In all honesty, sure, I see how they could be considered humor, but I couldn't avoid watching them with that "what if I were a rape victim" perspective in the back of my mind, that pretty much eliminates any possible chuckles.

I'm not a rape victim, I can't imagine that type of trauma. But, the one event in my life that will never leave me was the death of my son in a motorcycle accident. So...I sort of relate this discussion to that in a PTSD way...

I can't imagine sitting in a comedy club, laughing away, and, all of a sudden, having the person on stage begin to build to a joke about someone dying in a motorcycle accident... There's no doubt a gifted writer could find a joke in that, somehow... I guess. I would want to think that, if a comedian was aware of that, he/she would choose not to inflict that on me....

And, as mentioned upstream, the number of individuals that have been victims of sexual assault is huge, the potential of one of them being in the audience is almost certain.

To me, it's a matter of being human, a matter of compassion and kindness. As I mentioned earlier, I can't imagine the words rape and joke belonging in the same sentence. I'll leave this conversation now. Let me say that, for the most part, I admire the open and honest comments here, you're treating each other well and with respect..

I also have to state that I appreciate that, here at MetaFilter, we set the bar pretty high around this stuff, and that's a good thing...

peace...
posted by HuronBob at 9:08 PM on June 1, 2013 [12 favorites]


@ishrinkmajeans:

If you really, really love a comedian, you're gonna tell all your friends about it, try to get them to listen, show youtube clips to them, whatever. If I really, really hate a comedian, I'm gonna do the same (in reverse).

Replace "comedian" with "politician". If you think a public figure is shitty and harmful, trying to convince others to not support their career as a public figure is absolutely the best response.
posted by tkfu at 9:11 PM on June 1, 2013


I can't express it as well as the person who originally wrote it, but here's something that I heard when I was like 18 years old and shitty that made me shiver and then never tell a rape joke again.

Summarized: there's likely a rapist, not just a victim, in your audience, given how common rape is, and that rapist is likely to have really mixed-up ideas about rape. What if they hear you telling your rape joke, and they hear everyone laughing, and what they hear is silent support for them and their crime? "See, it's not a big deal, and everyone else knows it too--look, they're laughing."

I really, really don't want to be laughing along with the rapist rather than his victim, especially in a society that already has such a huge problem with rape. Oh, and that's the other thing that makes the "Well, we tell murder jokes" defense so bizarre-sounding to me. There are SO MANY differences between how our culture treats murder and how it treats rape. How many murderers think what they did "wasn't really murder", the way people think about not-in-a-dark-alley-with-a-gun rape? I just can't take that argument seriously at all given the reality of our cultural conversation.

Anyway, all I can think of now when I hear a man telling a rape joke and all the men around laughing with him is "One of these men is probably a rapist". Blech.
posted by a birds at 9:14 PM on June 1, 2013 [38 favorites]


@sharkparty , by 'make their peace', I meant that everyone on this planet has to acclimate themselves to the fact that their individual experiences are not universal, and other people's perceptions and reactions to a topic are different, hence my analogy to veterans with PTSD. I thought that was fairly clear, and don't appreciate the selective quoting.

okay well the full paragraph was:

The sad truth however is that a rape victim in the audience may actually be disturbed, or made sad. I don't think norton or anyone else expects them to be laughing, it's something that they should make their peace with. We don't ban fireworks because they inflame PTSD in veterans, nor should we impugn comedians for tackling subjects that make the audience uncomfortable.

Which part of that do you think somehow makes it a better argument? It still sounds like "it's okay to be sad but the rest of us don't get it so please pipe down"
posted by SharkParty at 9:14 PM on June 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's like a vegetarian going to the Rib Shak and then getting all huffy that they sell meat.

Actually it's a bit more like a vegetarian going and paying for a dinner that is said to have vegetarian options and then it turns out they put some kind of meat broth in it and they end up kind of sick.

When you're making jokes that marginalize your audience based on their gender (because rape jokes effect many women, not just women who have been assaulted, because all of us live in a rape culture and have to deal with the fear that comes from that), you're limiting your options for audience. You're intentionally making comedy clubs unsafe spaces for women, because we know that a room full of drunk people that think rape is hilarious is probably less safe than a room full of randomly selected people. You're making your entire art form look like shit and turning people off from it, and you're making comedy be less respected as an art form as a result.

It's a little like video games. You've got some stuff with great writing, some really interesting indie stuff, games like Flower and Portal and whatever. But when the face of your industry is TITTIES MCGEE IN TITS FIGHTER 4, women are somewhat less likely to take you seriously. Comedy has a lot of potential as an art form, and I've seen some really fantastic comedy before, but a lot of people will never see it as more than jaded dudes on stage telling jokes about their prejudices because the face of that art form is often dudes like Daniel Tosh.

The face of comedy is often douchebros making rape jokes. And racist jokes. And sexist jokes. And transphobic jokes. And gay jokes. And that's why I don't seek out standup comedy: mainstream, big-name comedians are using my vagina as their crutch, as West said. I avoid horror movies for the same reason: they'll use rape just for shock value because it's a cheap way to ramp up feelings of disgust and fear.

People have every right to decide to make places where misogynistic humor is 100% acceptable and hilarious, but they're alienating their potential audience by doing so. People also have every right to go to those places and laugh at them, but I generally assume those people are about much more likely to be a douchebag at best and a rapist at worst, because they've already demonstrated a willingness to marginalize rape victims, contribute to rape culture, and make actual victims in the room feel like shit.
posted by NoraReed at 9:19 PM on June 1, 2013 [36 favorites]


Huron Bob: Hey man, that makes a lot of sense. But let me say this about that. What comics want, even the crappy ones, is to be able to make a joke about, say, motorcycle accidents, that makes someone like you laugh deep and hard and clean. A lot of the time they fail, and deserve a big fat BOO. But they're not trying to make light of tragedy. They're trying to make something awful, for a moment, create joy. Maybe they shouldn't try 99.9% of the time! Many of them are hacks, and should not. But anyway, imagine for one moment that someone started a joke about a subject that really really hurt, and somehow just nailed it, just really found a way into your brain or showed you a new way to look at something crappy and you were like OH SHIT!!!!!! Plenty of people have had that experience with comedy, so it is possible. It might be worth it to try to tackle traumatic subjects for that reason. But like we're all saying, it's a lot less fraught with danger when you're the unfortunate victim of the specific bad thing, like my woman Tig, rather than just tackling random badness because your comedian brain said you have to. Sleep well man!
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:19 PM on June 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


UrineSoakedRube : Is it this one?

Nope. It involves a priest, a car accident over a cliff, I seem to remember a puppy - And it all plays completely straight (almost like a "glurge" story) right up until the punchline.


Also, HuronBob - It might help to realize that no one (sane) considers actual rape as even remotely funny. No one consider a lynching funny. No one considers pedophilia funny. A well-set-up joke comes with its own context- and consequence-free world, makes it okay to laugh at something completely reprehensible. Rape? Auschwitz? Pedophelia? Mohammed? Kicking puppies? Abortion? In the right setting, and absolved of the normal behavioral restraints, anything can serve as the backdrop of a joke.

For comparison, consider that some people (albeit not many these days) still consider "drug humor" as intolerably gauche. How can anyone laugh at the horrors of Meth ripping apart lives, families and entire communities?
posted by pla at 9:23 PM on June 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Also, HuronBob - It might help to realize that no one (sane) considers actual rape as even remotely funny. No one consider a lynching funny.

Not true.
posted by sweetkid at 9:29 PM on June 1, 2013 [7 favorites]


@pla: It might help to realize that no one (sane) considers actual rape as even remotely funny.

The problem is that a lot of people have a lot of different definitions of what "actual" rape is. A lot. You can be pretty sure that in the audience of a large comedy comedy show, there are more than a few people who genuinely think, for example, that if a woman decides to get naked and engage in oral sex and manual stimulation with her partner, she shouldn't be surprised if he just can't help but put his penis in her vagina. A lot of rape jokes help to reinforce this idea that lots of people hold that people are waaaay too sensitive about what they call "rape". I mean, if you said yes to a blow job but no to PIV sex, but then didn't push him away when he tried to stick it in, that's not actual rape, right? Probably just a dumb slut with morning-after regrets.
posted by tkfu at 9:30 PM on June 1, 2013 [11 favorites]


They're trying to make something awful, for a moment, create joy.

You are giving way, and I mean WAY TOO FUCKING MUCH credit to the average piece of shit who thinks making a rape joke is hilarious. In fact this assertion itself is perhaps the most hilarious thing I have heard all day.
posted by elizardbits at 9:31 PM on June 1, 2013 [27 favorites]


Thanks I'll be here all week.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:31 PM on June 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, HuronBob - It might help to realize that no one (sane) considers actual rape as even remotely funny.

This has not really been my experience, no.
posted by jetlagaddict at 9:32 PM on June 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


But also I'm talking about professional comedians on a stage, not some bro at a frat party.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:32 PM on June 1, 2013


So am I.
posted by elizardbits at 9:33 PM on June 1, 2013 [8 favorites]


The Steubenville boys considered actual rape funny. Lots of people find prison rape funny (in addition to being part of the punishment). I knew someone as a teenager who sexually assaulted someone who was sleeping by jacking off on his face as a joke with an audience who thought it was funny.
posted by NoraReed at 9:34 PM on June 1, 2013 [7 favorites]


Well then we have a different experience with comedians. In my experience with my friends of both genders who do stand-up that's what their art is all about.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:34 PM on June 1, 2013


I obviously am not friends with Jim Norton though.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:36 PM on June 1, 2013


Actually it's a bit more like a vegetarian going and paying for a dinner that is said to have vegetarian options and then it turns out they put some kind of meat broth in it and they end up kind of sick.


That's a nice analogy, but you've failed to address my point. You can look up before hand for any comedy club who will be performing. They usually dont put hugely disparate acts on stage. If its open mike it's open mike so anything goes. You have to be willfully ignorant to ever be at a show where you will hear a range of jokes that will offend you as opposed to not being funny. If you are convinced to go to a show by your friends and it is offensive to your taste either look up what the show is about next time or get better friends. There is absolutely no way people should not know what they're getting into when we have the Internet.
posted by ishrinkmajeans at 9:38 PM on June 1, 2013


So comedy clubs should only be accessible to douchebags who find rape funny?
posted by NoraReed at 9:40 PM on June 1, 2013 [8 favorites]


And either way it normalizes that kind of attitude for those same bros pushing more shots on wasted chicks at the frat party, and the schmuck on the crowded train who rubs up against some girl's ass, and the piece of shit skater kid by the astor cube who pretends to trip and crash into me and grab my tits. It's hilarious for them to demean women, and it doesn't fucking help when they see some jackass up on the stage getting applause for yukking it up about rape. They're not creating anything other than a hostile environment for women.

ugh. i was happy and drunky when i got home and now i just wanna shank people.
posted by elizardbits at 9:40 PM on June 1, 2013 [28 favorites]


@Potomac Avenue: Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote something recently along the lines of, 'It seems like any discussion we want to have about race is this country needs to be predicated on the fact that there are no actual living racists.' There's something similar going on in this thread with regards to rape apologists: of course none of my friends are the bad ones, and aren't part of the problem, so their actions should be defended. I mean, if there were to be other hypothetical people with different experiences, maybe that would be a different story...but I'm just sayin', I've never seen it.
posted by tkfu at 9:41 PM on June 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


Sometimes walls are good for society. I'm not trying to defend Daniel Tosh (I think people were right to be offended in that instance fwiw). I would gently suggest, however, that not everything is for everybody. In the past, if you were likely to be offended by edgy comedy it was certainly easy enough to avoid. There was a wall between offensive comedy and those likely to be offended by it. Today, of course, that wall is gone.

Good comedians can sometimes mine painful subjects for both comedy and insightful social commentary, but the line between funny and offensive is obviously subjective. Everyone seems to love Louis C.K., but you can bet that in the process of crafting his material he's crossed the line and said offensive things onstage. That's why I would argue that a comedy club isn't the best place to try to enforce standards of decency.
posted by seymourScagnetti at 9:41 PM on June 1, 2013


rape apologists

Wat.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:42 PM on June 1, 2013


Sorry, would you prefer "rape culture apologists"?
posted by tkfu at 9:44 PM on June 1, 2013 [10 favorites]


I understand the power dynamic thing, in that men are far more likely to be perpatrators of rape than they are victims.

I do think there should be a kind of exception for professional comedians like Jim Norton and Daniel Tosh, people who are widely known for being offensive and prodding every possible taboo. I don't know Norton, but Tosh jokes about racial stereotypes, violence, pedophilia, mental illness, and just about everything else. People go to their shows because they're offensive.


Rape jokes can certainly be offensive. Context is important: a lot of Tosh's jokes work in stand-up comedy, but would be shockingly offensive in most day-to-day conversation. Or god forbid, in a women's crisis center.

But the most important thing is the underlying meaning of the joke. A few people earlier in the thread mentioned lynching as something that's completely off-limits. And I wasn't able to find many examples of lynching jokes, so maybe they're right. But here's on by black comedian D.L. Hugely :

"Black folks never bungie jump. That’s too much like lynching for us. “I’m gonna let you tie a rope around me and push me off a bridge? You must be out your damn mind.”

Lynching is a deeply offensive subject matter for a joke, and yet the joke isn't unacceptable in the context of stand-up comedy, and wouldn't be even if it was a white comedian telling the joke. The joke isn't really making fun of blacks, or lynching victims, and certainly isn't pro-lynching. Instead, it's funny because of the simultaneous similarities and disconnect between lynching, a series of historical atrocities, and bungie jumping, a relatively recent past-time popular with upper-class white thrill-seekers. And yet compare that to the lynching "joke" in Michael Richard's rant to a heckler:

"... Fifty years ago we'd have you upside down with a f***ing fork up your ass."

Which is obviously deeply, deeply offensive, largely because of the subtext. A stand-up comedian like Tosh could say this exact same line in the character of a racist southerner, and no one would bat an eyelash. Richards, however, said it out of anger, and seemed to be implying that African Americans deserved lynching. Same subject matter, and yet infinitely more offensive. Any language that promotes lynching is obviously unacceptable, and has no place in any form of discourse.

I would say that any rape joke promotes or downplays the seriousness of rape, tacitly or plainly, is offensive, and has no place in any comedy show or discourse.

It gets tricky when irony is involved. Take Louis C.K.:

"I'm not condoning rape, obviously—you should never rape anyone. Unless you have a reason, like if you want to fuck somebody and they won't let you."

Taken literally, this is obviously a terrible, terrible thing to say. But Louis C.K. is being ironic: the joke's implications are that this is obviously an absurd statement, rape is terrible, and anyone who thinks like this is terrible. Or take shock comedians like Daniel Tosh. His whole shtick is that he says things that are absolutely terrible without meaning them. Taken at face value, everything he says is terrible. But the point of most of his jokes is ultimately that, hey, isn't it funny to say terrible, shocking things sometimes?

I understand that rape jokes can be deeply offensive, but not everything that's offensive should be off limits in every situation. Jokes promoting racism, rape, murder, and other terrible things should absolutely be off-limits, as should jokes that minimize the seriousness of these things. But jokes that are about how terrible racism and rape are? Jokes that are against racism as rape? Jokes that use racism and rape to laugh at the horrors and absurdity of the world? Jokes that use racism and rape to make fun of racists and rapists? They can all be offensive, and I understand why many people don't want to hear them. But comedy is often at it's best when it's about humanity's worst.

Also, TITS FIGHTER 4 is the pinnacle of the tit-fighting subgenre, and I refuse to listen to your inane criticisms. You're just another Mortal Tit-Combat fanboy.
posted by Green Winnebago at 9:44 PM on June 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


Just to be clear I'm totally on-board with boo-ing when someone makes an offensive joke of any kind, as I've said several times in this thread. Sooooo, not really apologizing for anyone, friend or not. In fact I've told people I know not to do certain jokes anymore cuz I think they are offensive too all and not funny. All I was trying to offer was some understanding as to why comics make offensive jokes, and why I love it when they get it right.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:47 PM on June 1, 2013


Just gonna quote myself from upthread there "I defend comics rights to say anything they want, but rape jokes are a boring transgression these days, especially among wannabes at the open mic night. Stop it dude-comics!
posted by Potomac Avenue at 11:26 PM on June 1 [+] [!] "

What I mean is: Dude-comics please stop making any kind of joke about rape it's not only probably sketching someone out, it's probably not funny because of tosh etc etc. Unless you're literally a headliner in an arena, cut it out. And I've said that out loud on a mic at an open mic night. If that's rape culture apology, then, hmm. I dunno y'all. Let's stop fighting and enjoy some delicious night-time carbs. Because we may be of different opinions, but we are all definitely fat.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:57 PM on June 1, 2013


For some reason, I'm always surprised in these threads when people feel like they need to explain comedy, stand-up comedy, how comedians work, etc. to those who express objection to rape jokes, as if how all of that works must be totally unfamiliar and if it were just understood then rape jokes would be okay. Or something. That's probably not exactly what the people explaining mean, but that's often what it sounds like.

Believe me when I say that a lot of us who object to (most kinds of) rape jokes really do grasp the finer points of transgression, of whistling past the graveyard, of deconstructing something terrible with humor. We get it. The problem (for me, at least) is not the existence of excellent jokes about terrible things, of which there are not many (and not many performers who can really deliver), but the ocean of cheap, lazy, profoundly stupid bullshit that gets put up on some pedestal as Art in discussions like this.
posted by rtha at 10:01 PM on June 1, 2013 [29 favorites]


Yea Mitch Hedberg was hilarious without being rapey or racist

I came here to say exactly this. He pretty much didn't make fun of anyone.
posted by jimmythefish at 10:01 PM on June 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


But jokes that are about how terrible racism and rape are? Jokes that are against racism as rape? Jokes that use racism and rape to laugh at the horrors and absurdity of the world? Jokes that use racism and rape to make fun of racists and rapists?

In general we are probably talking about white dude comics and maybe they aren't always the most qualified people to find humor in serious, terrible, ongoing, real, actual situations that pose an extremely limited danger to them.

I mean you know... give it a shot, brave warriors... but when you suck at it (and you will) just be prepared.
posted by SharkParty at 10:04 PM on June 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


Read the title of this thread literally. Ow.
posted by maryr at 10:06 PM on June 1, 2013


@Potomac Avenue:

And I should clarify, I really did mean "going on in this thread", not specifically your comment, though the pattern of "my friends do it the right way, and it's okay" is kinda what brought the idea to my mind.

A selection of quotes from other parts of the thread:

"It might help to realize that no one (sane) considers actual rape as even remotely funny."

"The sad truth however is that a rape victim in the audience may actually be disturbed, or made sad. I don't think norton or anyone else expects them to be laughing, it's something that they should make their peace with. We don't ban fireworks because they inflame PTSD in veterans"

"Yeah, but aren't all (or almost all) jokes offensive? Whatever the joke, there is someone who becomes the putz who is the one being laughed at. If you're the putz you'll hate the joke. If we ended all offensive jokes because the person being offended was offended we would have no more humor."

"The other X number of people who are there paid good money to see the performer. Not to watch you grind whatever your personal axe is."

But after more carefully reflecting on what you (Potomac Avenue) actually wrote, I'd like to walk that back a little: to the extent that it was directed at you, that wasn't a fair accusation on my part. I apologize.

(And for me it's early Sunday morning, and I haven't had my coffee or carbs yet, so I'm maybe a little more ornery than I'd otherwise be.)
posted by tkfu at 10:08 PM on June 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


The problem is that the category of 'rape jokes' (such as it is) sides, rather than with the victim, with the oppressor. It's punching down.

There are really two ways to divide rape jokes - jokes that imply that rape is funny, and jokes that are really black humour about rape and how terrible it is. The former are crass and gross, the latter use humour to undermine ideologies that promote the former.

I've heard Wanda Sykes do a joke about rape - what made it different than an offensive joke is that hers definitely sided with the victim.
posted by jb at 10:15 PM on June 1, 2013 [11 favorites]


All good dawg. I'm snacking on tiny blueberry muffins at the moment so I can pass out and won't have to spam this thread with my Important Thoughts soon. I usually just ignore those kinds of boring re-hash-of-every-thread-on-this-subject comments cuz they're so wack. People should have to pass a quiz on every other rape joke thread on metafilter before posting in new ones imo. Enjoy your morning!
posted by Potomac Avenue at 10:15 PM on June 1, 2013


Believe me when I say that a lot of us who object to (most kinds of) rape jokes really do grasp the finer points of transgression, of whistling past the graveyard, of deconstructing something terrible with humor. We get it. The problem (for me, at least) is not the existence of excellent jokes about terrible things, of which there are not many (and not many performers who can really deliver), but the ocean of cheap, lazy, profoundly stupid bullshit that gets put up on some pedestal as Art in discussions like this.

No one is defending profoundly stupid bullshit. The problem is that there would be no 'good' edgy comedy if the bad stuff didn't exist. Good material and good performers don't just come out of nowhere. They usually start out as awful performers with terrible material.
posted by seymourScagnetti at 10:17 PM on June 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


The problem is that there would be no 'good' edgy comedy if the bad stuff didn't exist. Good material and good performers don't just come out of nowhere. They usually start out as awful performers with terrible material.

So it's worth putting up with 'profoundly stupid bullshit' if we get a 'good edgy comedian' every now and again?
posted by CrystalDave at 10:19 PM on June 1, 2013


I'll put up with a hundred Jim Nortons for one Bill Hicks, yes.
posted by Justinian at 10:20 PM on June 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


Basically my thoughts on rape jokes are this:

At least one in twelve of all college-aged guys I meet, and I'm maybe lowballing it here, but that's okay because if you think about it I work with hundreds of college-aged men every day and probably thousands over the course of my lifetime, would think it was okay to try to, at least, touch my tits if I were drunk and they thought I wouldn't remember.

And I'm pretty much against any sort of joke that would make them think that this would be funny in addition to an okay thing to do.

Yeah, you can argue all you want about no one sane thinks that rape jokes are dating advice and that's probably true, but America has a problem with insanity when it comes to caring about women's consent, so, hey, let's not give them any more fuel, hmm? I understand that you want to laugh at your joke, but I would like to make it home from the bar one more night without anyone trying to grab my tits without my say-so.

Also, for those of you arguing that jokes are harmless and compartmentalized, there's some research out there about that. The key phrase: “The acceptance of sexist humor leads men to believe that sexist behavior falls within the bounds of social acceptability.”
posted by WidgetAlley at 10:21 PM on June 1, 2013 [53 favorites]


Skipping over this discussion, because 20 comments in it was as depressing a discussion as I was expecting MetaFilter to have over this, to say: I have been a fan of Lindy West from back when she was a little-known writer in The Stranger, I kept being her fan when it was fashionable to hate on her, and actually seeing her debate in person, it is remarkable how good she is at arguing a series of comprehensive, intelligent, eloquent points, while remaining hilarious and whimsical.

Obviously plenty of people, especially YouTube commenters, will feel differently, but I felt like Lindy came out much better in this debate. I didn't think Jim came off absolutely terribly—he conceded plenty of points, and many of the times that he didn't it came off less like he was being a smug douche and more like he was really taken aback by Lindy's arguments. (His responses were aggressive and somewhat dickish, but comedians are generally trained to act like dicks, and there was nothing smug to his dickishness.)

This wasn't the best possible conversation, but it didn't go as awfully as I was dreading. If anything, it makes me think about just how hard a conversation is to have between two people with different perspectives who each think their own perspective is the right one to have. And fans of Norton will come away disliking West, and fans of West will come away disliking Norton. So to whomever said that might be a flaw of this "two sides to the same story" format, I think you're probably right.
posted by Rory Marinich at 10:22 PM on June 1, 2013 [8 favorites]


seymourScagnetti: “Good material and good performers don't just come out of nowhere. They usually start out as awful performers with terrible material.”

That's an odd way to see it. Good people usually start out as misogynists? Somehow I have a hard time believing that.
posted by koeselitz at 10:25 PM on June 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


There's kind of this weird cognitive dissonance that I've noticed a lot in progressive circles, one that's only a little bit more common among men than women: everyone knows the statistics about how common rape actually is, how it's almost a statistical certainty that in any reasonable sized crowd there's going to be a woman who has been raped. But the connection is often not made that it's also a near statistical certainty that there are rapists in the crowd as well. I'm not going to go looking for the exact numbers right now, but I've seen studies that showed that about 1 in 8 men will admit to having done something that legally qualifies as rape, as long as you ask them in a way that doesn't frame it as, well, actual rape. To me, that's enough to....

....aaaand I just refreshed the comments and WidgetAlley just said everything I wanted to, with actual links and sources and everything. Go read her comment instead.
posted by tkfu at 10:25 PM on June 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


That's an odd way to see it. Good people usually start out as misogynists? Somehow I have a hard time believing that.

No. I'm not defending misogyny. The thing is that edgy material, by definition, exists on the line of being offensive. It's not an easy needle to thread and it takes years to learn how to do it well.
posted by seymourScagnetti at 10:31 PM on June 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


So negative feedback and disapprobation ought to be a good thing, to help them figure out where those boundaries are. And given that the goal is to figure out how to navigate an anonymous, random, ever-changing audience, the best way to do that is for everyone to just give their most honest reaction/feedback. If there's one person out of a thousand that hates a joke, and the rest of the people love it, maybe the comedian decides it's worth keeping. But surely it's better for them to have that feedback, no?
posted by tkfu at 10:36 PM on June 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


Would a 9/11 joke really have been hilarious on 9/12?

Only if it didn't bomb.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:38 PM on June 1, 2013 [11 favorites]


No one is defending profoundly stupid bullshit.

But you do exactly that in the next sentence.

Of course beginners are not very good - they're beginners. But I do not believe that Wanda Sykes or Kate Clinton or [lots of other comedians] went through some mandatory Lazy Rape Joke phase in order to get good at what they do.
posted by rtha at 10:41 PM on June 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


I apologize for anyone who can't get to this link, because it's a SagePub, but there has actually been a study on sexist jokes and respondents' self-reported rape proclivity. It's Journal of Interpersonal Violence Dec. 2010: Exposure to Sexist Humor and Rape Proclivity if you want to try and find it on your won.

I'm not all the way through the article yet, but thus far the findings appear to be summarizable as: if you are not adverse to sexist humor in the first place, a rape joke will make your self-reported rape proclivity go up. If you are already conscious of and adverse to sexist humor, it will not affect you. So yeah, drawing attention to the inappropriateness of rape jokes could be really, really important for rape victims' safety.

The researchers also find that high levels of hostile sexism affect rape proclivity regardless of jokes, which, um, duh.
posted by WidgetAlley at 10:42 PM on June 1, 2013 [25 favorites]


Of course beginners are not very good - they're beginners. But I do not believe that Wanda Sykes or Kate Clinton or [lots of other comedians] went through some mandatory Lazy Rape Joke phase in order to get good at what they do.


Nor do most comedians. I'm not defending rape jokes per se. I'm talking about particular type of comedy which almost by definition has the potential to offend. I guarantee every comedian who approaches touchy subjects had to spend time figuring out where the line is.
posted by seymourScagnetti at 10:52 PM on June 1, 2013


Here is another paper on sexist humor and the self-reported propensity to rape, which found that acquaintance rape was reported as more acceptable after exposure to sexist jokes, and lead to not only a greater propensity to self-report likelihood to rape, but also more victim blaming, less perceived "seriousness" of the crime, and a lower recommended sentence for offenders.

Here's a couple of abstracts that are a bit more general, the first of which shows that the more likely a man is to accept rape myths, the higher his self-reported rape proclivity, and the second indicates not only that one's own rape myths affect propensity to rape, but that when one is given evidence that one's peer group also subscribes to rape myths, one's rape proclivity goes up as well.

Also I would like to amend my previous comment on the prior research to make it clear that the study was on sexist jokes, not rape jokes per se (which I think is an important distinction, considering rape jokes can be non-sexist... for instance, the one about the woman thinking, "This is finally it. This is my rape." Which is so funny because it is so sad and true.)
posted by WidgetAlley at 11:01 PM on June 1, 2013 [18 favorites]


Potomac Avenue, I respect the shit out of your passion for stand-up comedy, but I think that in this case the mistake you're making in your argument that comedy should go to dark places, that comedy ought to explore taboos, and that comedians have their fair share of painful experiences which they draw from when they're doing standup, is this:

When comedy truly explores dark places, their responsibility is to show the darkness. Tig Notaro's now-famous live set about breast cancer is a perfect example: the humor comes from how mind-blankeningly awful breast cancer is, how it came to her on top of the shittiest couple months of her life, how she's facing (at the time of her set) a pretty damn high chance of being dead very soon, and how, compared to all that, stupid her dumb written opening joke was about to be. What makes Tig's set so memorable, so against-all-odds hilarious, is that the audience is empathizing with her. They're feeling her pain. And the comedy comes from the fact that Tig is able to feel this pain and find the path to humor. The laughter comes from the recognition that yes, there is light in this overcloaking darkness.

Louis CK at his best evokes this, which his routine about feeling dark thoughts towards his children who are too young to understand what they're provoking. George Carlin at his best evoked this, with his look at the insanities which govern our world. They plunge into darkness, and they give us a method for coping with it. (At times Carlin failed to do this, and when he did it sounded like you were hearing a man, miserable and wretched, use his audience as a way of coping with his own miseries. I don't know if that's who Carlin really was or if it was just his craft slipping, but in either event it was very unpleasant and unfunny when it happened.)

Rape jokes don't do this.

A rape joke isn't about the absurd injustice of a woman being hurt and scarred, probably for life, for a reason so trivial you can teach a well-balanced high school kid to scoff at it. It's not about the cruelties of a society that is hellbent on looking the other way about this horrible thing, to the extent that rape happens so damn frequently, that rapists are looked upon by the media with sympathy, that people who know rapists personally will say, "But he's such a good guy!", missing the fact that many people are good except for all those things they do which are thoroughly, thoroughly despicable.

Almost all if not all rape jokes, in the hands even of Louis CK who is wiser than some comics about gender, only plunge far down enough to say: "Isn't it impressive how much people don't like being raped?"

And that's the end of it. There's no empathizing with the victim. If anything, there's empathizing with the would-be attacker—not in any direct way, but this sense that the crux of the joke is not a horrible thing happening to a person, it's a horrible thing being committed by a person who, as he's telling the joke, is self-aware enough to know what a horrible thing he's talking about. The real dark absurdities of rape, the ones that can turn life nightmarish for rape victims, are ignored entirely. Because they're hard to joke about? Because most comedians who joke about rape don't have a good idea of what-all rape entails? I have no clue.

Look, this shit does matter. And the fact that people get so motherfucking DEFENSIVE about rape jokes, that matters also. "What's the big deal?" isn't just the question people ask about rape jokes, it's the question people ask about rape victims, and rape crimes, and rape in general. And in asking it, they advance this notion that it is completely normal (which it is) and completely okay (which it fucking is not) to wonder why rape is such a big issue.

Rape culture refers to culture which enables rapists, either by encouraging them to think it's permissible to rape women out of their own personal struggles with power or sex or whatever horribly trivial reason exists for a rape – that rape is so not-a-big-deal that they can go ahead with raping a person and still live with themselves – or by making it harder for rape victims to speak out, to find support, to feel like the crime committed against them is being treated like the abominable violation that it is. It refers to a culture wherein a lot of people might have friends who're likely to become rapists or who already are ones, and even see signs that there's something wrong going on, but are okay with ignoring those signs because "He's such a good guy!" and "What's the big deal?" Because isn't it normal for people to act like that? To think like that? Isn't it expected that sometimes some people will lose control? Isn't "lose control" the right sympathetic way to describe somebody who does something as horrible as raping another human being is?

You'd better believe that shit happens. And you'd better believe too that when rape is so trivial a matter that you can fire off as shitty a rape joke as all but a handful of comedians fire off and still get points because "ooh edgy, that's so taboo", it's helping further that trivialization of rape. Yes, it's possible to joke about taboos, and it's true that some of the best and funniest jokes are the ones which violate those taboos in the search of shocking truth. But it's not violation of a taboo to make a rape joke. The taboo in our culture is talking about rape in a way that conveys the horror of the crime, of the system which enables that crime, of the response to that crime that trivializes trivializes trivializes until a young girl who's dragged around by her arms and legs and raped and photographed and filmed can make the news and the headlines are not "How did we fuck up so badly that our children think this is an okay thing to do?" but "What's gonna happen to the poor boys who are in trouble over this?" Find me the comedian who can make THAT absurdity funny without shying away from any of it, and I'll tell you that you've found the new great comedian of our time. But if that comedian exists, I've never seen them.

I think it might be important to point out that I've never been raped. I am not especially familiar with rape. A few friends have told me about their rapes, not much, just that they happened; I'm certain that I know more people who have been raped than have felt comfortable speaking to me about it. It is chilling to me, how casually the ones who tell me about it have learned to speak of it. And it is chilling to me that when I hear stories like that, there's a part of me that doesn't find it surprising how frequently it seems to happen, how close-to-expected it sometimes is.

But even the little that I do know has managed to convey what a shudderingly panickingly awful experience it is, what a wretched crime it is to commit. It's been conveyed strongly enough to me that I feel a certain dread thinking of what must be to go through a thing like that, and a certain revulsion towards the people who could inflict that upon another person. I'm terrified at the thought that it might happen to somebody I love. And I'm appalled at the comedian who can casually fire off a joke about something like that without having the same response. That's not courage, it's not wit, it's not talent, for I know a thing or two about comedy and what it's not. That's ignorance, plain and simple, no matter what justification it might hide itself with.
posted by Rory Marinich at 11:02 PM on June 1, 2013 [86 favorites]


(And I write that all, by the way, as an aficionado and craftsman of some thoroughly reprehensible jokes myself. One of my favorite jokes is a Holocaust joke; I know how to take that "boy and a pedophile walk into the woods" joke and change one word and deliver it in a way that makes it not only funny, but horrifying, the sort of joke that's meant to produce a horrified yelp and a whole ton of discomfort. I can't think of any rape jokes off the top of my head that even amuse me; I can't think of any that amused me even when I was 11 and discovering my love for offensive humor. And I still wouldn't tell any of those dirty jokes on a stage, not because I'm more of a coward than a successful stand-up, but because I have the empathy to understand that some jokes are meant for specific kinds of crowds, specifically non-public ones.)
posted by Rory Marinich at 11:10 PM on June 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Way upthread someone mentioned that money talks, and people asking for their money back at a show is a way to financially make a statement about rape jokes. Yeah, I tried that once when my boyfriend and I went to a comedy club, probably about less than ten years after I had been assaulted by my ex-boyfriend, and I had to listen to a comedian spend a lot of time on women being cockteases and deserving what they got (I seem to remember it was related to a sports figure who'd been accused of rape, but I could be conflating).

So I asked for my money back and was told that I was a bitch with no sense of humor and my request was denied. And my boyfriend made a big deal of how embarrassing I was.
posted by emcat8 at 11:19 PM on June 1, 2013 [9 favorites]


This is a Wanda Sykes joke that's been mentioned a few times in this thread and is used as an example of a 'good' rape joke.

The thing is, though, that this joke most likely didn't emerge fully formed. It may not have been that funny at first. It may have come across as trivializing rape or insensitive on any number of different levels.

It probably had to be practiced and polished for some time until it became the thing you see in the video. And it had to be practiced in public, meaning Wanda Sykes had to go out on stage in front of people and take the risk of telling a rape joke with no guarantee that it would not be considered offensive. That's the nature of comedy.

The point is not to let anybody off the hook, but only to suggest that if we start strictly enforcing the boundaries of good taste in comedy clubs, we as a society will lose something.
posted by seymourScagnetti at 11:40 PM on June 1, 2013


seymourScagnetti: “The point is not to let anybody off the hook, but only to suggest that if we start strictly enforcing the boundaries of good taste in comedy clubs, we as a society will lose something.”

But we already do. We've always talked about what taste means, and what the boundaries of taste are. There are and always have been boundaries that a comedian will get in trouble (lose jobs, lose standing in the community, etc) for crossing. So it is, so it always has been, and so it shall be – and that's a perfectly fair and correct thing. Speech may be free, but it has repercussions.

Don't confuse freedom of speech with freedom from consequence. This is absolutely not about freedom of speech. Nobody here has suggested that anybody be arrested or jailed for telling a joke. We've only suggested that perhaps it'd be nice if we applied the same categories to rape jokes that we apply to racist jokes.
posted by koeselitz at 11:57 PM on June 1, 2013 [9 favorites]


But we already do. We've always talked about what taste means, and what the boundaries of taste are. There are and always have been boundaries that a comedian will get in trouble (lose jobs, lose standing in the community, etc) for crossing. So it is, so it always has been, and so it shall be – and that's a perfectly fair and correct thing. Speech may be free, but it has repercussions.


This is true. What's different today is that thanks to phone cameras and youtube, a good, thoughtful comedian making a good faith effort to address a difficult subject can end up compromising their career.

Look, if some hacky asshole wants to try to make a career out of telling horrible rape jokes, they absolutely should be called-out publicly and suffer the repercussions.

I think the problem is that if good, thoughtful comics begin to assume that any attempt at challenging material could end in a public shaming, they may stop making the attempt. All you'll be left with are the hacky assholes who don't care.
posted by seymourScagnetti at 12:10 AM on June 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Haven't there always been really great comedians that play to audiences that amount to millions? Anyway, I grant that the modern world, as it is, can be tough on everybody. All of us – including everyone right here on this very website – have to think now about having our statements exposed to the world. We all have to think about that. That doesn't amount to censorship or undue pressure; it's just the reality of the world now. Asking comedians to think about what we all think about – every one of us who has a Facebook account or a Twitter account, anyway – shouldn't seem like a huge request.
posted by koeselitz at 12:58 AM on June 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


So it's worth putting up with 'profoundly stupid bullshit' if we get a 'good edgy comedian' every now and again?

Yes!
posted by eugenen at 1:05 AM on June 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's worth it for society to be wretched and patriarchal so long as we get to enjoy a few skilled "edgy" comedians in the midst of our suffering? Really?
posted by koeselitz at 1:22 AM on June 2, 2013 [12 favorites]


You're assuming your conclusion. That jokes which involve rape in some fashion can't exist in a non-wretched or non-patriarchal society.
posted by Justinian at 2:01 AM on June 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


"Look, this shit does matter. And the fact that people get so motherfucking DEFENSIVE about rape jokes, that matters also. 'What's the big deal?' isn't just the question people ask about rape jokes, it's the question people ask about rape victims, and rape crimes, and rape in general. And in asking it, they advance this notion that it is completely normal (which it is) and completely okay (which it fucking is not) to wonder why rape is such a big issue."

I'd give that whole comment a hundred favorites if I could, but especially that paragraph.

I wish I understood the transition I've observed over my lifetime where "offensive", "edgy" comedy, almost all of which was primarily subversive, became "offensive", "edgy" comedy that defended privilege and bigotry. The turning point might have been Andrew Dice Clay and the conservative backlash against "political correctness".

There was a knowing group of conservative instigators who argued that if leftists had defended the transgressive humor of Lenny Bruce and Richard Pryor, then they couldn't protest the transgressive humor of racist and sexist comedians. Concomitant with this was the rise of shock jocks, most of whom used transgressive humor to reinforce regressive cultural norms and so then we've had a couple of generations who've grown up with transgressive humor understood as funny and acceptable merely because it was transgressive, and not as a means of subversion.

And there's this whole fucking conservative industry that promulgates the message that if someone is offended by a racist or sexist or homophobic statement or behavior or book or movie or television show or song or political candidate, hey, it's the racist or sexist or homophobe who's the real victim here ... our society has become so intolerant! It's political correctness run amok! This is a song-and-dance that's more than twenty years old now and I'm so goddamn tired of it I want to scream.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 2:01 AM on June 2, 2013 [29 favorites]


Jim Norton is everything I hate about standup distilled into one terrible comedian.
posted by EatTheWeak at 2:40 AM on June 2, 2013


In case you think threads like this are futile or worthless, I can at least speak for myself and say that hearing mefites share their experiences with sexual assault in these threads changed my perspective on rape jokes and casual misogyny. A major part of the growth of my attitude toward this stuff was driven by commenters taking the time to carefully dismantle arguments for rape culture and its semblances, so keep up the good work.

And how about this as a rule: we can make rape jokes when rape isn't a serious problem for anyone. Until then, we should be working on fixing the problem instead of making jokes about it.

And we can get scientists to build a series of tiny violins out of sodium atoms or something to play for those poor comedians who can't make all the jokes they want.
posted by serif at 2:45 AM on June 2, 2013 [5 favorites]


I wish I understood the transition I've observed over my lifetime where "offensive", "edgy" comedy, almost all of which was primarily subversive, became "offensive", "edgy" comedy that defended privilege and bigotry. The turning point might have been Andrew Dice Clay and the conservative backlash against "political correctness".

I don't think this is really accurate. The most commercially successful and respected comics over the last 20 years have been people like Chris Rock, Dave Chapelle, Jon Stewart and Louis C.K., none of whom particularly defend privilege and bigotry. Good comedy punches up, so to speak, and I think people recognize and reward that. Not that there isn't a sub genre of comedy that does what you describe, but it has always existed and has never been particularly relevant.
posted by seymourScagnetti at 2:48 AM on June 2, 2013


This thread started with someone sagaciously and presciently talking about people "talking past" each other. Shit, that's what happened in the debate, right?

I've never even heard of Norton before (or the other two people, for that matter), but found myself mostly agreeing with his explicitly stated assertions. I also found myself agreeing with West's. The problem with this issue (and many others) is the boatload of assumptions and improperly-extrapolated positions from both sides of the fence.

I think the one side can simply say "sometimes rape jokes are funny," and the other side can simply say "comedy isn't consequence free, and rape jokes usually aren't funny."

I'd be pretty baffled if anyone disagrees with me on these two statements.
posted by GoingToShopping at 3:26 AM on June 2, 2013 [7 favorites]


The problem with this issue (and many others) is the boatload of assumptions and improperly-extrapolated positions from both sides of the fence.

This is a bad post about a lousy debate specifically designed to draw eyeballs for controversy. The entire debate is vague enough that people can see whatever they want to see in the talking points,then feel righteous and morally superior about their views.

The truth is some jokes about touchy subjects are good. Others are terrible. Either can draw an audience and provide money to the comedian and various promoters. Nothing is solved with this "debate" but that's ok, it wasn't a goal.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:58 AM on June 2, 2013 [8 favorites]


The most commercially successful and respected comics over the last 20 years have been people like Chris Rock, Dave Chapelle, Jon Stewart and Louis C.K., none of whom particularly defend privilege and bigotry. Good comedy punches up, so to speak, and I think people recognize and reward that.

I don't think this is particularly accurate. I suspect the most commercially successful comics in recent years have been people like Dane Cook and Jeff Dunham, whose schtick is pretty much all bigotry and privilege defending.

Lots of people support comedy that punches down, as the prevalence of rape jokes and the fervid support they receive attests.
posted by misfish at 4:13 AM on June 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


Fervid support for rape jokes? I'm not seeing that here. I'm seeing people fervidly supporting the right of comedians to give it their best shot and suffering the consequences if they screw up. Judge them on what they are actually saying, and not solely on the contextless keywords their act contains.

Tosh's rape joke? Not funny, not a joke. Anyone who says he should be able to say that without getting criticized is a moron. But anyone who says that he should never work again because of that incident is an asshole. Let the consumers of his product decide.

The "hey buddy, I'm not really a welder" joke above? That's a good joke. Nobody is getting raped, the kid gets the better of the creep, it's funny how the innocent kid thinks those are welding terms of art and we point out how creepy some people are. There is nothing wrong with comedy that punches down, as long as it is down on assholes.
posted by gjc at 4:36 AM on June 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


And do you normally consider breast cancer "funny"?

Having had it four times, I can do nothing else.
posted by thinkpiece at 5:02 AM on June 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


Fervid support for rape jokes? I'm not seeing that here.

Not here, perhaps. But in the world at large? Definitely.

For example, Dane Cook and Jeff Dunham were the top two highest earning US comedians in 2010/11.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 5:16 AM on June 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Man, this is a long comment thread. Makes me think that the world record might be achieved if I posted something about a cat stuck on a ledge making rape jokes on 9/11.

I once heard the opinion/hypothesis/presented-as-fact statement that the source of all humor is pain. If that's true, rape is pain. Cancer is pain. Death is pain, be it from old age, suicide, violent accident, 'watch this redneck trick'.

It is tasteful? No. Neither are the Space Shuttle jokes... (Need Another Seven Astronauts = NASA).... Gotta admit it's clever, though.

It is helpful? If made by a rape victim as a healing exercise of ANY sort, I don't care what she/he does. Whatever gets you through the night. If made by a comic looking for laughs at the expense of someone else's pain.... well, that's the formula. Kinda everywhere. What pains are off limits? My deceased wife's colon cancer? Your old age? Dead babies? Being black? White? Asian? Certainly no one ever said "Nigger" on a comedy stage, right?

I think the measure of this is whether the comic is still around in a decade or is working a Breugger's Bagels. It suggests a lack of sophistication to exploit unpopular routes to success. I don't like rape jokes. I am a strident supporter of women's rights and issues. I wish comics would steer clear of this complex topic, particularly in light of how common it is and how it interfaces so closely with the general male/female dynamic.

There's a lot of other stuff to mine for funny. Try as I may, my own mind comes up empty re: rape. Or maybe I'm forcing it to, I dunno. I do know I'd change the channel or boo on all issues of poor taste with no redeeming value. To me, it's like snuff films. But that's me.

Last thought... comedy is hard... not hard like rape but hard like putting yourself in front of a lot of people and bombing and having no out. They ask for it, of course, but I can guarantee you that if there is one neuron of sensitivity alive in the brain of someone bombing on stage from rape jokes, it sticks on some level. Psychic pain. Never forget this pain. If it's any consolation, in that respect it may be payback.
posted by FauxScot at 5:16 AM on June 2, 2013


That was the least insightful clip I've watched in a loooong time.
posted by phaedon at 7:07 AM on June 2, 2013


I actually liked the video. I've only really seen discussions of rape culture online so it's interesting to see the discussion face to face and I like how Lindy carried herself in the conversation. The host had some good points too.
posted by sweetkid at 7:15 AM on June 2, 2013


Fervid support for rape jokes? I'm not seeing that here. I'm seeing people fervidly supporting the right of comedians to give it their best shot and suffering the consequences if they screw up.

Is giving offense to the audience, and all that it entails, not a consequence to be suffered? I think it is; so do most of the other anti-rape-joke commenters.

Judge them on what they are actually saying, and not solely on the contextless keywords their act contains.

Likewise, I'm not seeing that here.

What His thoughts were red thoughts said.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 7:19 AM on June 2, 2013



I'm great statistic. Experienced rape one and sexual assault three times in my life. Once a decade it seems. I'm hoping the trend will be broken in the fifth decade, because come on enough is enough here. I like to think that I at least have taken the statistic away from some other woman who doesn't have to go through it. At least I have some experience to fall back on. The last time it was all like 'seriously, again? Fuck you dudeboy. You're dealing with a pro here. I've got this dealing with this part of rape culture down. It's getting really fuckin' old." Bap, boom. Yeah sorry. I'd hope you can still have kids now if I had some compassion but yeah...riiiiight.


So yeah I do have experience with this. I'm a victim. Rape jokes? They don't trigger me or make me sad. That's me, many other women are different and do. They make me mad but not in a frenzy, freak out type mad way. More a stoic, strong righteous type mad. A quiet type mad. A sad type mad because as many have already commented on they perpetuate a dark part of our culture as not being as bad as it is. I don't see them the same as racist jokes and the like because rape and sexual assault is something that all women have in common regardless of race, class and whatever other label that might divide us into categories.

Rape and sexual assault. Have boobs and a vagina? We're in it together baby. Solidarity!!

Frankly I'd really rather to not have this in common with most every other woman on the planet.

The 'this is my rape' joke up thread did make me laugh. Black humor. I like it. Pretty much summed up the situation that all women in this culture face. I'd really, really like it not to be 'funny ironic' though because it would be so uncommon that people and women especially would hear it and think. 'what the heck is she talking about? I don't get it."

So here's to a better future where 'this is my rape' isn't a good rape joke.

Oh and here's to me have direct rape culture experience free decade. Hope and change.
posted by Jalliah at 7:50 AM on June 2, 2013 [14 favorites]


Well, there's no reasoning w/ guys that find rape jokes funny, is there? Either you have empathy or you're....someone normal people secretly think is an asshole.

I wish there was a way to tell what guys find rape jokes funny, so I can avoid them and tell other people to.
posted by discopolo at 8:33 AM on June 2, 2013


Justinian: "The thing is, virtually all of the comedians revered by Metafilterians have made rape jokes or misogynistic jokes and/or comments. But they tend to get a pass. So the rule really seems to be "if you're going to make these types of jokes you better be goddamn funny.""

At least someone of us realize that only way to avoid crying is laughing.

Rape is a terrible, terrible, horrible thing that can break people and destroy lives and it happens over and over and over every day.

Can I stop that?

No (despite the fact I am actually Batman).

So, how do I deal with that soul crushing inevitability?

I might laugh about it, in the right company.

That doesn't mean I don't think it is horrible. That doesn't mean I have any less empathy for rape victims. It just means this is Samizdata processing the horrors of the world however he can.
posted by Samizdata at 8:38 AM on June 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


There's a lot of rape jokes that could and should be done, but aren't.

If I were a comedian, I'd do a bit built around my experience in rape crisis. Something about how most of the women close to me (family, close friends) disclosed to me during that period that they were survivors of sexual violence. How mere acquaintances of mine, a couple of years later in college, would disclose this to me when they learned of my history. How male friends and acquaintances I knew would say questionable things to me and I'd suddenly wonder if they were a rapist. How, in working with rape survivors, I as a man had to be acutely aware of my maleness and my potential threat to survivors and explicitly discuss this with survivors and make sure they were comfortable talking with me.

All of this has potential for recounting absurd, surprising personal interactions that could evoke laughter and involve things that make an audience uncomfortable and, importantly, see things from a different perspective and think about things they'd possibly never considered. Both men and women, but especially men, underestimate how widespread is sexual violence against women.

And let's talk about aquaintance rape. "After you interview with me, you'll need to interview with the office rapist. Don't worry, he's a nice guy."
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 8:39 AM on June 2, 2013 [7 favorites]


The most commercially successful and respected comics over the last 20 years have been people like Chris Rock, Dave Chapelle, Jon Stewart and Louis C.K., none of whom particularly defend privilege and bigotry.

Unless you count homophobia and misogyny as bigotry: Louis "Palin Is a Cunt and Feminists Can't Take a Joke" CK; the incredibly homophobic bits of Chapelle's old act and his more recent trasphobic rant, Jon Stewart and the eternal boys club that is the Daily Show; Chris Rock's old material on women (don't have a transcript handy, but also his recent defense of Tracy Morgan's fucked up homophobic rants?)

Maybe this is a controversial stance considering how much goodwill a guy like CK has here—and frankly I love all those comics—but are people turning a blind eye to their shittier actions because of that goodwill? Do we invent explanations for why they might be telling a rape joke (or a sexist joke, or a homophobic joke) because their material is generally so good? I think so, but does good material trump bad taste? I don't feel qualified to answer, because I laughed at Norm Macdonald's bit on being a serial killer. Talk about dark.
posted by Lorin at 8:45 AM on June 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


Samizdata, I've heard that justification for rape jokes many times before, and I agree that black humor can be a great coping mechanism. Cracking jokes to cope with the horrors of the world as abstract concepts is still problematic when those same jokes are at the expense of those who have experienced the horrors of the world first hand, though.
posted by peppermind at 9:00 AM on June 2, 2013


All of this has potential for recounting absurd, surprising personal interactions that could evoke laughter and involve things that make an audience uncomfortable and, importantly, see things from a different perspective and think about things they'd possibly never considered. Both men and women, but especially men, underestimate how widespread is sexual violence against women.

Yes. This.

It is possible. I'm not a comedian at all but over the years and in the right situation I have recounted my own experiences to people in a way that evokes uncomfortable laughter by focusing on the absurd. Usually in response to some stupid comment about rape and sexual assault. I've found that couching it in black humor can as effective as just getting angry and arguing, maybe even more so in certain situations because in sense humor can turn the table and make whatever is being talked about and at times the person seem just wrong and dumb for saying it. Humor, even about really awful things can speak truth to things.
posted by Jalliah at 9:04 AM on June 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Let me suggest that possibly the important line to draw is that just as it's okay to laugh at things which are shocking or offensive, it is equally okay to criticize or condemn comedians who are genuinely talented and funny. I can like Louis CK and still think the dude's got some major issues with his content. And even after I say that I think he does some shitty things, I can keep on enjoying him.

It's like how Roman Polanski is an actual child rapist but also one of the most talented directors alive. You can appreciate Chinatown and still want Polanski locked up. You can listen to that Norwegian death metal band whose bassist killed and ate the old lead singer's brains and still be opposed to cannibalism. Compared to that, it seems to me like it shouldn't be hard to find a comedian funny while simultaneously thinking that their rape jokes are kind of awful and contribute to the worsening of our society.

The argument that comedy should get a pass on being offensive is the exact goddamn argument you hear about movies and books. And the response ought to be the same. There's more to a stand-up comic than a laugh every five seconds. Sure, the laugh is always the most fundamental part, but thanks to the fact that we are human beings with big ole human being-sized brains, we are capable of thinking about things for longer than five seconds at a time and that involves critiquing stand-up comics.
posted by Rory Marinich at 9:17 AM on June 2, 2013 [9 favorites]


seymourScagnetti: "The most commercially successful and respected comics over the last 20 years have been people like Chris Rock, Dave Chapelle, Jon Stewart and Louis C.K., none of whom particularly defend privilege and bigotry."

I'm not sure how one measures respect but the most commercially successful comics are, depending on how you want to measure, not those guys.
posted by Mitheral at 9:21 AM on June 2, 2013


Yea Russell Peters (#7 on that list) is hugely popular basically everywhere but the US where he's mostly unknown except among Indian people.
posted by sweetkid at 9:26 AM on June 2, 2013


peppermind: "Samizdata, I've heard that justification for rape jokes many times before, and I agree that black humor can be a great coping mechanism. Cracking jokes to cope with the horrors of the world as abstract concepts is still problematic when those same jokes are at the expense of those who have experienced the horrors of the world first hand, though."

Well, we are all different I suppose, and that's what makes life interesting (and dating sad for me). Other than that, I don't know what to say much about it, other than I almost never make rape culture jokes.

(And the very few times I do, it is generally with non-rape survivors who know me too well to take it seriously. And they are of the "Look, I'm not going to rape or kill you or anything." variety.)
posted by Samizdata at 9:36 AM on June 2, 2013


My favorite part is where Norton says that the market should decide what's funny, not people getting in touch with advertisers.
posted by naoko at 9:56 AM on June 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


If the invisible hand gives a thumbs-up, how does anyone know?
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 10:09 AM on June 2, 2013


I'm not sure how one measures respect but the most commercially successful comics are, depending on how you want to measure, not those guys.

Point taken. I probably should have said 'some of the most culturally relevant comics'. I was responding to assertion that 'subversive' comedy (Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor, etc.) had somehow been supplanted by mysogynist bullying which I don't think is true at all.
posted by seymourScagnetti at 10:26 AM on June 2, 2013


I'm a comedian and I consider comics who tell a bunch of rape jokes and sexist material to be completely goddamn bush league. I've been to enough open mics to know for sure that shock is what a hack papers weak material over with. Edgy is the new Boring.

There are a lot of points in this thread I'd like to respond to, but my frustration with standup's sexism already turned into this blog post a couple weeks ago.
posted by EatTheWeak at 10:45 AM on June 2, 2013 [8 favorites]


Rape jokes, then? I don't know. The woman I love most in the world was raped, so even the thought makes me think of her in pain. So no, I'd never personally do it and I don't find them funny. My sister killed herself. I don't like suicide jokes or even people saying "ugh, I want to kill myself." But, the world does not exist to coddle my little heart. So joke away, I just won't listen.
posted by nevercalm at 3:56 AM on June 2


This.

Also, this.
posted by Decani at 10:49 AM on June 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


EatTheWeak, I'm not done reading your blog post yet but when I got to

What we find funny collectively says something about the sort of collective we’re trying to be.

I had to come back over here and say YES. And thank you.
posted by rtha at 11:02 AM on June 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


Twenty years ago, Jim Norton, Daniel Tosh, and Greg Giraldo would have all needed day jobs.

Alright so- whether or not you find any of these guys funny, I couldn't let this comment go. As a caveat, when I'm not at my own day job, I do standup and sketch comedy. Doing what these people do is hard, hard work. It's not something any idiot could do in front of a camera; most people don't have the sense of timing and stage/camera presence necessary, and it takes talent and work to get there. I don't get around to seeing much Tosh or Norton, as they're not exactly my thing, but they've shown talent and comedic skill in everything I've seen them on. Jim Norton's a twenty-plus year veteran of the craft, Daniel Tosh has an excellent command for winning and retaining audience attention. Giraldo was a rare wit who went too soon, and I don't think belongs lumped with the other two at all.

I don't have any rapey jokes in my set. I have an ex-girlfriend who did, and it was pretty bad- I mean, objectively funny in the sense of subverting expectations, but rather more offensive than others I've heard, implying that being overweight means you don't get raped. I would never have told it, and have yet to contrive a funny rape joke. That's mostly because I don't write jokes about experiences I don't understand- not out of some sort of saintly restraint, I'm just not very funny unless I'm mining my own insecurities.

At the end of the day, that's what these guys are doing. It doesn't necessarily justify anything, but my wager is that these guys are uncomfortable and insecure about being labelled as rapists because of the type of dudes they are, or for whatever reason. And so they make jokes on the topic. I'm not a super-political comedian, but when I do jokes on religion or politics it comes from a place of growing up in a secular labor union household in the middle of a vast swath of religious bankers. And heck there really aren't any rules for this, but when a heckler is deeply offended by a comedian's jokes and lashes out, it strikes at not only the craft and art of the comic, but at his or her insecurities as well. So. The results are never pretty.

Whatever your politics or beliefs, I think criticizing stand-up comedians is something extremely difficult to do unless you've been behind the mic yourself.
posted by maus at 11:08 AM on June 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


EatTheWeak: Great blog post. I liked this part:
If you don’t believe standup has a sexism problem, go to any open mic and get back to me. Could be you’ll get lucky and go to a show that makes you wonder what the hell I’m talking about. More likely you’ll get to see a little something I like to call the Damaged Male Parade. Comedy is a very attractive artform to people who are in a lot of pain – the rate of catharsis one can achieve through writing and telling jokes is quite high. For my part, I can say I was pretty much a dead man walking when I got into standup. (In fact, that’s a good way to describe my vibe onstage those first few times). Men will vastly outnumber women and the male experience will be the one you hear the most about throughout the evening. A lot of these guys are hurting, a lot of them blame women and at the open mic, they’re working out material inspired by that.

All of which is totally valid, of course! But consider what that means in practice for your average open mic show: dude after dude slouching up to the microphone to say “bitches, amirite?” before extolling all the many ways women are horrible creatures who destroy lives and have silly wants and needs. Now, these are jokes and people should be able to laugh at themselves so “can’t you take a joke?” is a valid but somewhat misleading question. A better one would be “can’t you take an average of ninety jokes in a sitting, one after another?” Or, “can’t you take this protoform of what may one day be a joke but is presently just an intensely off-putting expression of my frustrated desires and unrealistic expectations?” Or, “can’t you take an alternating series of jokes and protoforms that undermine the humanity of your gender told in a dark room by a succession of dudes to dudes for dudes spread throughout an entire evening? Why aren’t you laughing?”
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 11:33 AM on June 2, 2013 [15 favorites]


Whatever your politics or beliefs, I think criticizing stand-up comedians is something extremely difficult to do unless you've been behind the mic yourself.

And yet we don't have to have been behind the mic for them to accept our laughter.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 1:01 PM on June 2, 2013 [10 favorites]


Thanks for the Ever Mainard link.

Rape Jokes as a buzzword, is bad usage. As the Mainard link indicates, you don't have to frame the idea (rape) as a polemic. Hers is skilled and incisive humor.

Which raises the question, why blame the asshole who made you laugh? What you laugh at is the issue.
posted by mule98J at 1:04 PM on June 2, 2013


Yea Russell Peters (#7 on that list) is hugely popular

One of the most overrated, milquetoast comedians out there. Which explains the popularity.
posted by anothermug at 1:15 PM on June 2, 2013


My favorite part is where Norton says that the market should decide what's funny, not people getting in touch with advertisers.

His point is that people that write angry letters are often taken too seriously. They can and should write letters (as we all should do) when we have a disagreement with some company, but that companies shouldn't be bullied into making changes *just* because a handful of loudmouths with green pens managed to buy a stamp. Because it seems, maybe just from his perspective, like a lot of the letter writers and professional TV tsk-tsk-ers are not and never would be consumers of whatever product is being sold.

It's the difference between a venue cancelling a completely sold out show because they are afraid of bad press, rather than because they disagree with the person putting on the show. Or because a bunch of people cancelled their tickets.

He probably goes to far with the point, but it's a valid point, I think. At least a valid discussion. Should alcohol, dancing, violent video games and pornography be effectively banned because a bunch of religious people can't stomach the idea of other people enjoying them, and the owners of the shops eventually tire of the protesters disrupting their business and give up? What about climate change deniers? A tiny minority of dedicated loudmouths are changing public opinion so effectively that they are getting their way. They have found a way to become much more powerful than just their "one vote" on the matter because most people get sick of fighting. It's a sort of tyranny of the loud minority.

Another comedy rule: if someone has to ask "can't you take a joke", they weren't funny enough.
posted by gjc at 1:19 PM on June 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


While that last comment appeared, I was watching this, which demonstrates the point, I think.
posted by Grangousier at 1:38 PM on June 2, 2013


Funny rape jokes are like magnetic monopoles: certain theories say they should exist, but no one has ever been able to find one.
posted by jamjam at 2:35 PM on June 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


mule, a couple of thoughts.

Think of some characteristics of birds.

Ok, got that in your mind? Did you think, "birds fly" at some point in your list? Maybe you didn't, but most people do. Flight is a useful way to think of birds, even though some birds (like penguins) do not fly. Similarly, "not funny" is a useful way to think of rape jokes. Because the funny rape joke is even harder to find than a penguin.

99.999% of rape jokes do not fall into the category of Ever's joke. The vast majority of rape jokes are not from the perspective of a victim or potential victim. Most are told from the vantage point of the rapist or an observer. Many rape jokes that do use the perspective of a potential victim employ homophobia - for instance, a man contemplating how gay he would (have to) become if he were to get sexually assaulted. Not funny.

I don't laugh at those 99.999% of rape jokes. I cringe and I sweat and I look for the fucking exits. Because these jokes are making terrible things that I experienced (at the hands of someone who at best just didn't care about me, at worst, intended to harm me) into a funny thing. Beyond that, they are making me a funny thing. They reinforce the notion that I am just a vessel. They give cover to the actual rapists in the room, add a layer of realness to the attitude that men just can't control themselves, sow a seed of doubt in the minds of rape survivors, potential victims, and the people that survivors have confided in. Rape jokes allow some people to continue to frame rape as "bad sexual etiquette," instead of as a crime.

It's the terrible standard I've mentioned before. If you are too bent out of shape when you talk about rape, then you're just an overemotional unreliable narrator who needn't be listened to because you aren't rational. If you are too forthright, too calm, in your recounting of the experience, then it must not bother you very much. Maybe you enjoyed it and are calling it rape because _insert any reason at all, no matter how absurd_ made you regret having sex with someone. Same with rape jokes. If you complain too loudly (ahem, at all), you're a humorless bitch who just can't take (or understand) a joke. If you say nothing then obviously you think it's fine and have no problem with the material. And god forbid your body emit anything like a laugh. Because then, see, you thought it was funny too! Maybe you harbor secret rape fantasies and just need someone to give you the right kind of rape experience and then you'll really see how funny it is. Except I've already had several rape experiences and not a single one of them is something I've figured out how to work into my standup act.

So in general. No, rape is not funny. It can be funny. Just like birds fly, but there are some birds that don't make it off the ground.
posted by bilabial at 3:10 PM on June 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


Monty Python's Life of Brian was initially very controversial because Christians were offended by they way in which the movie discussed what they perceived most sacred to them: their faith and God. So why exactly should rape jokes be singled out when something as subjective as being offended or hurt is at the core of the problem? Cause I'm pretty sure that there are lots of people who think that blasphemy (or whatever) is far worse than rape.

You left out an important detail: those people are wrong.
posted by uosuaq at 4:03 PM on June 2, 2013 [7 favorites]


This couple of minutes (it actually goes on a little longer after this segment) -- there is no greater threat to women than men -- from Louis CK's latest hour is about rape. Well, rape and murder. Of women, by men.

Is it offensive? Does it trivialize rape? I don't know, but I'm curious what the folks who reckon that rape jokes are unacceptable think about it.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:42 PM on June 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


I agree with Green Winnebago that "[the] most important thing is the underlying meaning of the joke".

In particular, "jokes promoting [or minimize terrible things]" should be protested, while ignoring, or even encouraging, jokes that deal with terrible things to discuss the "horrors and absurdity of the world".

If you squander your wider audience's attention attacking Tosh, C.K., etc., then they've less time and energy for harassing the advertisers supporting people like Glen Beck and Rush Limbaugh, who you know coined the term Feminazi.

That said, if you're audience is fairly specialized anyways, ala Jezebel, then you're not exactly detracting from anything more important, they already know Glenn Beck sucks, so whatever. Do mention DropFox though, if you get a chance.
posted by jeffburdges at 5:43 PM on June 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'd like to hear people's thoughts on this rape joke from Sarah Silverman.

I heard this live and I admit that I laughed but at the time I didn't make a cerebral calculation as to why it was okay to do so.

At first blush the butt of the joke appears to be rape victims, but I think what Silverman is highlighting is 1) The cowardliness of making a joke at the expense of the obviously dis-empowered victim (i.e. the majority of rape jokes aren't actually brave) and 2) The insidious pervasiveness of rape culture that would make a woman blame herself for her own victimization.

Some of the best jokes I've heard on racism are those where the comedian absurdly casts themselves into the role of the oppressor and exposes the ridiculousness of their mindset.
posted by smithsmith at 6:03 PM on June 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Is it offensive? Does it trivialize rape? I don't know, but I'm curious what the folks who reckon that rape jokes are unacceptable think about it.

1) This isn't a rape joke at the expense of rape victims. It is a joke about rape culture at the expense of men.
2) What he is saying, while stated in a occasionally absurdist manner, is absolutely true. Men are the greatest threat to women's personal safety.
3) He's also saying it in a humorous manner which also helps.
posted by smithsmith at 6:12 PM on June 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


Further, at my regular studio security is armed, wear bullet proof vests, are ex-military and take that shit seriously. There are larger issues. If you throw something, no one knows what you will throw next. You'd be tackled and in handcuffs before you could blink. That's assault. So now in addition to being a putz, you've put everyone around you in danger as they arrest you.

American security theater extends to lame stand-up comedy clubs? And all in defence of rape jokes? Because other customers have paid to hear rape jokes?
posted by KokuRyu at 6:24 PM on June 2, 2013


It seems like the generic term "rape jokes" is messing up this conversation by lumping together every joke that takes rape as a subject.
Take the Holocaust (please!)...I've seen good Holocaust jokes from e.g. Sarah Silverman and Ricky Gervais. It depends on how you treat the subject. If you tell a Holocaust joke that makes Larry David laugh, you're probably okay. If you tell a Holocaust joke that makes David Duke laugh, you may be a terrible person. Same thing with this issue. I appreciate the many links to "good" rape jokes that have been posted in this thread, but you're missing the point.
posted by uosuaq at 6:30 PM on June 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


So in general. No, rape is not funny. It can be funny. Just like birds fly, but there are some birds that don't make it off the ground.

On that note, Kate Harding blogged about this a while ago, and collected 15 rape jokes that she considered to actually be funny.

Provided without further comment.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 6:31 PM on June 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


Jokes about rape jokes and rape jokers might be funny and one step removed from the bad thing and provide a vehicle for making a social statement with humor about a serious topic often somewhat trivialized? I.e..... when trying to paint someone as socially clueless, suggesting that they find rape jokes funny kind of does that AND makes the point that it isn't.

Comedy doesn't just have to be about laughing. It can be entertaining. In between entertainment, it can plant some memes for later digestion. Compared to normal drama types of live entertainment, (theatre, opera, etc.), I'd bet there are many times more comedy wannabes than actor wannabes. Unexploited resource for social change and value injection?

Anyone know a comedian (m or f) who does anything like that? Essayists? Anyone?

( Serious question... I am a total dweeb and don't follow that much comedy unless it's accidental. )
posted by FauxScot at 7:03 PM on June 2, 2013


Would a 9/11 joke really have been hilarious on 9/12?
People made 9/11 jokes on 9/11.

People also make jokes about murder, robbery, drunk driving, etc, which happen all the time too. I don't see anyone calling for a prohibition on murder jokes.
If a comedian makes a joke you don't like, the social contract grants you the right to groan or to leave. If you escalate it beyond that, you're the one being the asshole, I'm afraid.
There's no law against being an asshole. If you keep heckling you might get removed. People have the right to make rape jokes, other people have the right to heckle people who do (Until they get thrown out I suppose) whether or not other people view them as 'assholes' isn't something they need to worry about.
If you want to rip the performer to shreds on your blog, have at it. If you want to call them inappropriate, disgusting, not funny, what-have-you, great, let it rip in your review of the performance. But to throw someone off in the middle of their routine? That simply counts as rude.
What is with all this pearl clutching about rudeness in defense of people who want to make rape jokes? It's just the most bizarre thing ever. Again, who says you can't be rude? People can be as rude as they want.
Not to watch you grind whatever your personal axe is. It's not about being polite to the performer, it's about being polite to the rest of the audience.
Why should they care about the rest of the audience? And yeah, like I said they might get hauled out. So? That's a choice they can make, if they feel like the amount of enjoyment they'll get out of heckling will be worth getting tossed out. It's not their responsibility to care or give a shit about anyone else.
I give a shit about the rest of the audience who I can only assume you're not planning to refund when you decide to take over the show.
Right, but why should the heckler care? If they're laughing at rape jokes then the heckler probably doesn't like them either.

The people attacking hecklers, or complaining about the people complaining about rape jokes or other offensive jokes always love to wave the flag of 'free speech' but somehow don't understand that free speech means the freedom to criticize other speech, it means the freedom to heckle (until you're removed)
I don't think this is really accurate. The most commercially successful and respected comics over the last 20 years have been people like Chris Rock, Dave Chapelle, Jon Stewart and Louis C.K.,
That's not really true either, except maybe Chapelle while he was on the air. The most successful comedians commercially are guys like Larry the Cable Guy, Jeff Dunham, Dane Cook. And more people watch Tosh.0 then the Daily Show.
posted by delmoi at 8:03 PM on June 2, 2013


I'd like to hear people's thoughts on this rape joke from Sarah Silverman.

I heard this live and I admit that I laughed but at the time I didn't make a cerebral calculation as to why it was okay to do so.

At first blush the butt of the joke appears to be rape victims


David Cross does this standup bit where he says that women are smarter than men. There are cheers from the women in the audience. Then he goes on to say that he also thinks that dogs are smarter than women. The requisite boos. "I'm not buyin that," one woman says. And then Cross brings the whole thing down, saying that he is admitting that he didn't mean what he just said. "It's what's described as 'a joke.' I'm going to be doing a lot of them here tonight."

The simple point is that just because you say something in comedy (or fiction or a movie or whatever), you don't necessarily mean it. There's no way that Silverman's joke is designed with rape victims as the butt of it.
posted by anothermug at 8:18 PM on June 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


Silverman's joke can have rape victims at the butt of it even if she harbors no ill will toward them. You just argued that the sentiments of the joke-teller and sentiments of a joke can come apart, so I'm surprised you wrote that last sentence.
posted by painquale at 8:32 PM on June 2, 2013


I think if people are having a hard time seeing the way jokes effect misogynistic culture and rape culture can both reflect people's minds (and that they are, if not pro-rape, certainly not anti), they should maybe think about a related rape issue, and that's prison rape.

There's a LOT of joking around about this, and a lot of people seem to think that rape is a standard part of punishment. People especially say this about sex offenders. They also think that other forms of assault or violence in prison is part of the punishment too: that child molesters who are raped or otherwise assaulted had it coming and deserved it, no matter what the law says about cruel and unusual punishment. And this attitude goes hand in hand with prison rape jokes, with people referring to federal "pound in the ass" prison, with people saying they're too pretty to go to jail, etc. I'm not sure if that's a part of mainstream rape culture or if we'd call it a different thing-- I'm sure different people would give you different answers-- but it's definitely a major phenomenon, and you can really tell people's opinions on prisoner's rights when they make jokes like that.

And every time people make jokes like that, it makes it harder for those prisoners to report that kind of institutionalized rape culture. It makes it harder for them to come out with stories, because the public will frequently say they deserve it. It makes it harder for them to fight against those who misuse power against them because as a criminal they are on a much lower power level than the wardens and other corrections officers who sometimes violently and sexually abuse them.

You're a lot less likely to have someone who's been a victim of prison rape in your audience than someone who's been raped outside of prison, but you're still looking at a group of people when you make that kind of joke and saying, hey, these people deserve that kind of treatment. Hey, the laws of this land and the guidelines of basic human decency don't apply to them, because we've decided that they are bad. And those people eventually go and vote for politicians who don't feel the need to emphasize humane treatment of prisoners.
posted by NoraReed at 8:48 PM on June 2, 2013 [5 favorites]


Prison rape comments/jokes are a measure of how incredibly, hugely morally corrupt our culture is with regard criminal justice. And it's related to wider issues, like people thinking it is acceptable to torture Abu Ghraib prisoners and then pose for smiling photos next to the victims. There is something very, very, wrong here and these little throwaway prison rape jokes are a socially acceptable expression of a deeper cultural fondness for barbaric cruelty.

And, as you wrote, this has a lot to do with rape culture because becoming ever-more visibly cruel, as punishment, is the typical response when a privileged class feels their privilege increasingly threatened. There is a increase in the visibility of rape jokes and sexist jokes in the public sphere because this is a backlash against female empowerment.

You wrote that we excuse the prison rape stuff because we think that prisoners deserve this — but, of course, the history of the public rhetoric about rape is that women who are raped also deserve it. This is no coincidence.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 9:07 PM on June 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


What kind of a solipsistic, self-righteous asshole goes to a standup comedy show and decides to get indignant and fight back when the comedian says something offensive? Do these people also stand up in front of a movie theater when the movie sucks and try to tell everyone that they're less enlightened for staying?
posted by hellslinger at 9:31 PM on June 2, 2013


What kind of a solipsistic, self-righteous asshole goes to a standup comedy show and decides to get indignant and fight back when the comedian says something offensive?

You know that people don't know everything the comedian is going to say before they see the show, right? Expecially with big name acts, some (many, even) people are seeing them for the first time.

Tracy Morgan recently toured Australia. Many members of his audience mostly knew him from his work on 30 Rock. However, his standup is massively misogynistic and homophobic. Do you think everyone who booed and walked out was a 'solipsistic, self-righteous asshole'?

In big comedy festivals, you might take a punt on small unknown acts that you know nothing about. Sometimes this works out, and you see something amazing. Sometimes, you see an awful rant about how all woman are slutty bitches who still won't sleep with the performer.

I don't approve of heckling, but there are legitimate reasons to walk out of a show.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:47 PM on June 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


What kind of a solipsistic, self-righteous asshole goes to a standup comedy show and decides to get indignant and fight back when the comedian says something offensive? Do these people also stand up in front of a movie theater when the movie sucks and try to tell everyone that they're less enlightened for staying?
posted by hellslinger at 9:31 PM on June 2 [+] [!]


Can I make a request?

Can you (not just you, hellslinger, but you as in everyone defending rape jokes), can you please stop pretending like this whole thing is just about us getting our feelers hurt because we're offended?

This is not about us. This is not about being offended. This is not about being uncomfortable. This is about the idea, and the surfacing proof that's been brought up in. this. thread. that rape jokes help cause rape. Which at least most of you seem to be ignoring. Instead, most of you are arguing "free speech!" You can argue free speech all you want. And when that speech most likely has a very real, concrete correlation to human beings getting raped, all I can hear from you is "my right to say this joke is more important than her right to not get raped".
posted by FirstMateKate at 10:05 PM on June 2, 2013 [12 favorites]


*also I'd like to add that I entended to re-write the last sentence to be gender neutral, but I got sidetracked and it missed the cut off, and I'm sorry because I feel that while, yes, most who are raped are women, the silencing and shaming of male-rape (including prison rape) is a whole 'nother problem that needs to be tackled. And referring to victims when just talking broadly bout rape in general with gender-neutral pronouns is a great place to start. Not to derail.
posted by FirstMateKate at 10:17 PM on June 2, 2013


this is the weirest thing to see people having serious discussions about and getting offended by stand up comedy. maybe go watch some steven wright videos or see a musical or something?
posted by averageamateur at 10:23 PM on June 2, 2013


A better one would be “can’t you take an average of ninety jokes in a sitting, one after another?” Or, “can’t you take this protoform of what may one day be a joke but is presently just an intensely off-putting expression of my frustrated desires and unrealistic expectations?” Or, “can’t you take an alternating series of jokes and protoforms that undermine the humanity of your gender told in a dark room by a succession of dudes to dudes for dudes spread throughout an entire evening? Why aren’t you laughing?”

Or an even better one, why can't you not go to a place where things you don't like might be said?
posted by averageamateur at 10:25 PM on June 2, 2013


That's not a derail, FirstMateKate, because the issues surrounding sexual violence against men heavily intersect sexism and patriarchy and misogynist rape culture. I say that as someone who worked with both female and male rape survivors. When you have direct experience with how male rape survivors deal with it and how other people think of them and the reasons why they are reluctant to disclose, it all is very apparent.

Not to mention the relatively-very-rare-but-nevertheless-real phenomenon of men being raped by women which almost everyone wrongly thinks is impossible and is joked about and, for both these reasons (the misconceptions about what is possible and how it is discussed) also demonstrate how deeply sexism is embedded in sexual violence and how we think about it.

So it's not really a whole other problem, it's the same problem but manifested differently. Underneath prison rape joking is (cultural) misogyny.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 10:31 PM on June 2, 2013


averageamateur, for fear of sounding like a broken record:
This isn't about what happens inside a comedy club, this isn't about "taking a joke", this isn't about being offended. I mean, come on. It's been said multiple times, and it's been said that it's been said. I'm not sure how else to lay it out.


Or an even better one, why can't you not go to a place where things you don't like might be said?
posted by averageamateur at 10:25 PM on June 2 [+] [!]


Ok, great. That solves the non-problem. Do you mind telling me where I can go where I won't get raped?
posted by FirstMateKate at 10:31 PM on June 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is not about us. This is not about being offended. This is not about being uncomfortable. This is about the idea, and the surfacing proof that's been brought up in. this. thread. that rape jokes help cause rape. Which at least most of you seem to be ignoring. Instead, most of you are arguing "free speech!" You can argue free speech all you want. And when that speech most likely has a very real, concrete correlation to human beings getting raped, all I can hear from you is "my right to say this joke is more important than her right to not get raped".

I can't tell if this is an elaborate troll or not.

You actually think rape jokes, which are almost all about how rape is wrong and unacceptable at core, cause rape?
posted by rr at 10:31 PM on June 2, 2013 [1 favorite]



I can't tell if this is an elaborate troll or not.

You actually think rape jokes, which are almost all about how rape is wrong and unacceptable at core, cause rape?
posted by rr at 10:31 PM on June 2 [+] [!]


Yes. It's an elaborate troll where I've provided links to someone else's comments which contains links to scientific evidence. It's the most elaborate troll of all. I've gamed the system.

Also, for the record, I said help cause rape. But still. Gamed the system.
posted by FirstMateKate at 10:35 PM on June 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


"You actually think rape jokes, which are almost all about how rape is wrong and unacceptable at core, cause rape?"

It's a very dubious assertion that rape jokes are "almost all" about how rape is wrong.

We were just now talking about prison rape jokes, which are a whole subgenre of rape jokes and are by no means "rare", and the whole point of them is that prison rape is right and acceptable.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 10:35 PM on June 2, 2013 [5 favorites]


From Lindy West's Twitter feed:

"Comics rallied around me when I called Gallagher a bigot. Guess it's only "censorship" when you stick up for women."

".@JimNorton Hey, just checking in--how many of my fans have threatened to rape you and roast you on a spit this weekend?"


I edited it because I hate urls in non-twitter contexts. Please do not hate me.
posted by NoraReed at 11:22 PM on June 2, 2013


Okay I've been thinking about this some more in terms of cost/benefit to not telling rape jokes. I'm gonna use another analogy here.

So, I really hate linguistic prescriptivism, and I really hate movements that are attempting to use new words. They drive me up a wall. New words come about naturally or not at all, in my opinion. A lot of people have opinions about third gender pronouns. I'm in the camp that says to use a singular "they", something that has often been appropriate in the past and which only has been made inappropriate recently as a result of linguistic prescriptivism. Some other people are in a different camp. They have made up new pronouns. Some of them prefer to be referred to as "ze". I am not a fan of this.

However, I call these people "ze" (or by their other preferred pronoun), despite the fact that I, personally, believe that this is a linguistically stupid thing to do. I bring up the dang gender neutral pronoun chart on Wikipedia if I have to so I get the right one. Why? Because if I do, the only thing that hurts me is that I'm not 100% standing by my linguistic principals. If I don't, my speech is part of an attempt to invalidate their/zer gender identity.

I mean, maybe it's a little thing. Maybe it's just one person using a bad pronoun on the internet. But if there's a chance that such a tiny bit of work can avoid making a person's day worse when that person is already struggling with bullshit (because having a non-binary gender identity is going to make a lot of people treat you like shit), that's worth it.

If you're a comedian onstage, you can make a call. You can say, I'm going to tell this joke, because I care more about my attempt to be edgy than the potential effect it might have on any rape victims in the audience. Or you can decide to tell a different joke, because that's really not a hard thing to do, and if you can definitely avoid making a rape victim's life worse, maybe that's worth giving a bit of thought to what you say.
posted by NoraReed at 12:27 AM on June 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


What kind of a solipsistic, self-righteous asshole goes to a standup comedy show and decides to get indignant and fight back when the comedian says something offensive?
Well, I think some jokes about rape make you an asshole, and some do not, and that's for each person to decide. There is also a question of what the underlying premise of the joke is. Sarah Silverman's joke was premised on the idea that women don't report rape very often, which is true. On the other hand Tosh's joke about how it would be funny if a bunch of guys raped his heckler had a fairly obvious premise.
You actually think rape jokes, which are almost all about how rape is wrong and unacceptable at core, cause rape?
A joke like "Wouldn't it be funny if that girl got raped by like, five guys right now?" is not at all about how rape is "wrong and unacceptable".

__
The problem I have is with this idea that comedians who make offensive jokes should be immune from criticism. Maybe you criticize them in a way that makes you 'an asshole', like heckling them.

But I don't really get why that's a problem, what's wrong with being an asshole to people who you think are being assholes? Both parties have the 'right' to be assholes. (again, they might get tossed out, but whatever)
So it's not really a whole other problem, it's the same problem but manifested differently. Underneath prison rape joking is (cultural) misogyny.
I agree that jokes about prison rape that basically condone it are bad, and are dehumanizing towards prisoners, but I don't really get how jokes about men raping other men is misogynistic.
posted by delmoi at 1:37 AM on June 3, 2013


rr - Do you not understand how rape culture works?
posted by EatTheWeak at 1:43 AM on June 3, 2013


I agree that jokes about prison rape that basically condone it are bad, and are dehumanizing towards prisoners, but I don't really get how jokes about men raping other men is misogynistic.

I phrased that badly, sorry-- I mean that there's another, related cultural narrative going on at the same time, and I'm not sure if I would always throw prison rape jokes in with the same cultural narrative that dismisses and encourages male-on-female rape.

Of course there are lots of intersections there-- the idea that the way to punish a man is to do something that feminizes him, because the worst he can be is feminine, is an expression of a patriarchal culture that not only devalues women but devalues anything that is in the "feminine" category. There's also some homophobia going on in there too.

But what I was trying (and failing) to do there was talk about that issue separately from other rape culture issues, and it was hard to do that because when people talk about rape culture they're talking about this big intersectional thing that effects a lot of different demographics differently and I wanted to separate out the specific stuff about prison rape for the sake of that discussion.
posted by NoraReed at 1:45 AM on June 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


averageamatuer - Yes, that's the point of that passage at the article - that the pervasive ugly sexism of open mics drives women away from the artform. This is not a desirable outcome and this idea that comedy MUST BE, is ALWAYS EVERY TIME, an inherently offensive thing is complete nonsense.
posted by EatTheWeak at 1:48 AM on June 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


Here's the problem with saying "Don't go see comedy if you can't handle hateful jokes." I went to see Maria Bamford and Jackie Kashian. These are incredibly funny comics who do not tell misogynist jokes. The local opener was the incomparable Shalewa Sharpe. She does not tell misogynist jokes. But the local "host comic" chosen by the theater told mostly misogynist jokes (and seemed shocked that the crowd who paid $30 per seat to see Maria Bamford didn't laugh at his jokes).

And of course, the comedy theater, the only place where these awesome comics could tell their awesome jokes, is inside what is basically a slightly more expensive Hooters, and an overall unpleasant place, which is well known for throwing people out (and firing employees) who complain about misogyny. So, I would like to support awesome comics telling awesome jokes of the kind I would like to hear more of, but misogyny is so entrenched in the US comedy scene that in the process I have to support a whole bunch of misogyny.
posted by hydropsyche at 4:22 AM on June 3, 2013 [8 favorites]


Incidentally, if anyone would like access to any of the research WidgetAlley has been citing please don't hesitate to email me with links to abstracts the papers of, an email address I can send a PDF to, and a promise not to distribute them further - for the purposes of this academic discussion we are currently having of course.
posted by Blasdelb at 10:23 AM on June 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


This couple of minutes (it actually goes on a little longer after this segment) -- there is no greater threat to women than men -- from Louis CK's latest hour is about rape. Well, rape and murder. Of women, by men.

Is it offensive? Does it trivialize rape? I don't know, but I'm curious what the folks who reckon that rape jokes are unacceptable think about it.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 8:42 PM on June 2 [1 favorite +] [!]


I'm not super into that bit because it makes rape and other violence against women into something women should just expect. And it takes away the agency from the men committing the violence. It's presented as "just what men dooooo." Which. No. You have self control. Use it. Do not fucking plead weakness on this shit.



Or an even better one, why can't you not go to a place where things you don't like might be said?
posted by averageamateur at 10:25 PM on June 2 [+] [!]


You know what's interesting? At some point in American History a group of people were told, how about you just go eat lunch in a place where people will be happy to serve you. We don't want to take your money here, so why can't you just go away? Which was wrong. And still, actually, happens in subtle and not so subtle ways to people of color. Why is the idea that I should be covering my ears so pervasive? I'll tell you why this idea is a problem. Because as a female rape survivor, I'm not the person who social research indicates is More Likely to Initiate Forcible Sex with Another Person after hearing jokes about rape. The people who are? Are men.

And also? Where is this place that things I might not like might not be said? Because I have heard rape jokes from men on dates, from coworkers, from college professors, from high school students, and once, from a police officer. So really? How am I supposed to even try to avoid this shit? Self imposed purdah?


but I don't really get how jokes about men raping other men is misogynistic.
posted by delmoi at 4:37 AM on June 3 [+] [!]

Male rape victims are considered to be emasculated, referred to using derogatory "female" language like "bitch" or "pussy," and/or are considered to become gay as a result of their assault or accused of being gay and thus encouraging the assault.

Men who do not live up to masculine ideals are just as hurt by misogyny as women. And then hey, we also make fun of men who are hypermasculine, because surely they must be compensating for something, right? Like maybe they have a tiny penis. Which means they're basically a woman.

A lot of gender stuff comes back around to "being a woman is awful, and so is being like a woman." Because rape is casually presented as something that "just happens" to women, that men "just naturally do," man is assaulted...the effects spread far and wide.
posted by bilabial at 12:59 PM on June 3, 2013 [14 favorites]


I'm not super into that bit because it makes rape and other violence against women into something women should just expect. And it takes away the agency from the men committing the violence. It's presented as "just what men dooooo." Which. No. You have self control. Use it. Do not fucking plead weakness on this shit.

It's obviously up for debate, but I think that is a gross misreading of that bit. He is absolutely not saying "That's what guys do so get used to it women." He is stating that both "historically" and "statistically" today - right now - the greatest threat to women's safety is men. That's simply true.

I think the only part of the bit that might be interpreted as you have interpreted it is the remark regarding "the half-lion, half-bear" but quite frankly I think it's simply a rhetorical device to get men to understand the prevailing threat that women feel all the time due to rape culture.

Believe me, as a male, I can confidently say that this is basic shit that men just don't think about EVER and it's good for men to be aware of it when they act like creeps or decide to approach a woman in a completely inappropriate context.
posted by smithsmith at 3:56 PM on June 3, 2013


smithsmith: “It's obviously up for debate, but I think that is a gross misreading of that bit.”

Well... it's here and there for me, really. (Here's a longer version of that bit, incidentally.) I gotta give Louis credit for actually saying this, for actually pointing up the dangers women face from men in the world, and for pointing up what we're responsible for as men in general. I can see feeling a little weird about it; there is the sort of almost making fun of the girl who goes on a date with a guy: "what are you, nuts?" I do also think that his entire description of the dating process is really unnecessarily gendered, too. But like I said, I give him credit for bringing this issue up with good will and for the right reasons, and at least he's progressive and thoughtful enough to indicate once or twice that he knows it's a gendered account he's giving (by modifying it with "well, traditionally...")

It's tough, because this stuff is complicated, and I grant that it isn't easy for a comedian to do it right. I do appreciate that. I don't think Louis CK is the most progressive, most advanced thinker on these subjects, and I still have some real problems with some of the things he's said and done (most specifically and recently the Tosh thing) but he's done some real good where comedy is concerned, so that's a thing.
posted by koeselitz at 4:28 PM on June 3, 2013


The most commercially successful and respected comics over the last 20 years have been people like Chris Rock, Dave Chapelle, Jon Stewart and Louis C.K., none of whom particularly defend privilege and bigotry.

Ironically, Chapelle left mainstream comedy when he realized an awful lot of Racist people were using his use of the word "Nigger" as an excuse to use it - both toward him and toward black people in general. In other words, he recognized his place in reinforcing culturally acceptable prejudice against himself, and it was part of why he isn't really part of media and entertainment anymore.

Also, much as I love a lot of his sketches, he has some pretty jawbreakingly sexist jokes and skits. The one where the joke is that without her breasts a woman shouldn't have her job, a boyfriend, or even the attention of anyone around her ever broke me in some profound ways.

I love and respect Chapelle, but I hate what he does sometimes.
posted by Deoridhe at 5:13 PM on June 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


Louis CK says that women are stupid and crazy to go on dates with men.

He's essentially saying, "hey ladies. This thing, this dating thing. It's really dangerous. You should know that by now because here are the historical facts. It's like you keep putting your hands on a hot stove even after you've watched 1/5 of your friends get burned by hot stoves! You keep making this decision to go on dates with men anyway," while pointing out that men would not do that. Sure, it can be read as "women are more brave than men, and men are cowardly and if we depended on men to carry humanity forward, we'd be whistling and tapping our toes for a while." Which is insulting to men. Men and women are both brave. And women and men both have skills that we can put to use in putting an end to rape. But calling rape victims stupid or crazy is not the way to go about that.

He is not saying "dudes, ladies would be a lot happier about going on dates if they weren't worried you'd rape and/or kill them. How can we work on that?"

He is not even saying "Life would be better for everyone if people didn't get raped."

Instead he's saying, women knowingly accept the risk of rape when they go on dates with men. If they don't realize there's a risk, they're idiots. Ha ha. If they didn't accept that risk, there would be no more humanity.

It's like victim blaming plus you don't even have a choice in the matter because we're all depending on your participation.
posted by bilabial at 6:49 PM on June 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


He is not saying "dudes, ladies would be a lot happier about going on dates if they weren't worried you'd rape and/or kill them. How can we work on that?"

He is not even saying "Life would be better for everyone if people didn't get raped."


Huh. Interesting. I think he's suggesting that precisely those two things are things that need saying, while, you know, being a comedian and trying to make people laugh.

But if that's what some folks take away from the bit, then that's what they take away, and that's fair enough.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:24 PM on June 3, 2013


I agree with stavros. The message of the joke isn't "Hey rape victims, you're crazy and stupid for trusting men" it's "Hey men, do you realize, given how dangerous the prevailing rape culture is for women, that it's almost absurd that women associate with you at all."

I think that interpretation is further reinforced by the fact that his audience is overwhelmingly male. I guarantee you that there are plenty of men in that audience who would never in a million years have autonomously considered the rudimentary notion that men are the #1 threat to women. Having someone they respect stand on a stage and make that claim is actually kinda a big deal.

If you're asking whether I'd rather live in a world where he simply doesn't address these sorts of issues or one where he does I would much prefer the latter, as occasionally problematic as it can be.
posted by smithsmith at 8:28 PM on June 3, 2013


I'm not arguing that the bit does not bring attention to the issue. I'm not arguing that the bit isn't helpful. I'm not saying that Louis CK is responsible for teaching men how not to rape.

I'm just saying, that there is part of it that suggests "aw shucks, this is way things are." I think it would be nice if the bit went the extra mile to obviously tell men to cut that shit out. To make it clear to women that if we get in a car with a date, we are not "asking for it."

And for super pony requests to Mr CK, less heteronormativity would be awesome.
posted by bilabial at 9:33 PM on June 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Do people really have to explicitly state the underlying implication of every comedic statement in their act? One of the amazing things about art and comedy alike is that it can cause in the viewer/listener an understanding of a previously unrecognized truth, without bludgeoning them over the head like a religious sermon.

Do we really want to live in a world where Louis CK feels compelled to end every joke on this topic with a finger-wag and a po-faced "Quick reminder, guys, stop raping women, please." I suppose you might claim he should do so in a funny manner as though he might be rejecting such material out of some misplaced sense of patriarchy. Trust me, if Louis CK thinks of a genuinely funny way to tell men to cut that shit out that material is going into his act.

I'm not saying he is a saint, but I am saying your original interpretation of his material and intentions are just flat out wrong.

Lindy West has already addressed this with regards to Louis CK and an even more borderline joke in her column on "How to Make a Rape Joke". The joke works, West says, because it exposes "the absurd and horrific sense of entitlement" of rapists. The joke wouldn't work, however, if Louis CK had to patronizingly state the interpretation that you seem to be demanding and that West, or quite frankly any astute listener, could easily make upon reflection.
posted by smithsmith at 11:29 PM on June 3, 2013


Do we really want to live in a world where Louis CK feels compelled to end every joke on this topic with a finger-wag and a po-faced "Quick reminder, guys, stop raping women, please."

I'd like a world where any comedian, or even random person making a joke, thought "Rape is bad" should be integral and unmistakable in any joke they make about rape, personally - and if confronted with the fact their joke looks a lot like, "Those people deserve to be raped / should have expected to be raped / etc..." to someone else, they had the response of "Oh shit, I totally didn't mean that, I am SO SORRY." and not, "Don't you have a sense of humor?" and "Stop trying to censor me."

And I'd love it if the people in the audience didn't automatically jump in with "You have no sense of humor" and "Stop trying to censor him" and "He's a really funny guy" and "Here, lets list a whole bunch of rape jokes and claim everyone finds them funny" and "If you disagree with me on humor you are unintelligent / not really understanding it / are simply wrong".

But I don't every time get what I want.
posted by Deoridhe at 12:46 AM on June 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


bilabial: "And for super pony requests to Mr CK, less heteronormativity would be awesome."

That's a pretty dangerous road for Mr CK to go down. I know if I was a white hetro male I wouldn't touch a joke involving GLBT people any more than I'd joke about minorities.
posted by Mitheral at 5:28 AM on June 4, 2013


Update from Lindy today: If Comedy Has No Lady Problem, Why Am I Getting So Many Rape Threats?

And how did they try and prove me wrong? How did they try to demonstrate that comedy, in general, doesn't have issues with women? By threatening to rape and kill me, telling me I'm just bitter because I'm too fat to get raped, and suggesting that the debate would have been better if it had just been Jim raping me.
posted by palomar at 2:24 PM on June 4, 2013 [10 favorites]


bilabial: “And for super pony requests to Mr CK, less heteronormativity would be awesome.”

Mitheral: “That's a pretty dangerous road for Mr CK to go down. I know if I was a white hetro male I wouldn't touch a joke involving GLBT people any more than I'd joke about minorities.”

Is that a road to go down, even? Having less heteronormativity doesn't necessarily mean making jokes about LGBT people. It just means not doing so much of the "men are like this, women are like this" stuff – or being clear that that's a societal thing, not a biological thing. I think that's all bilabial meant.
posted by koeselitz at 2:42 PM on June 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Do we really want to live in a world where Louis CK feels compelled to end every joke on this topic with a finger-wag and a po-faced "Quick reminder, guys, stop raping women, please."

It would definitely be superior to our current world where every female comedian feels compelled to end every routine with "please don't rape me".
posted by oneswellfoop at 4:23 PM on June 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


Do people really have to explicitly state the underlying implication of every comedic statement in their act? One of the amazing things about art and comedy alike is that it can cause in the viewer/listener an understanding of a previously unrecognized truth, without bludgeoning them over the head like a religious sermon.

People don't have to STATE the implications, no. But it's nice when they CONSIDER the implications and try to create their material around them.

Louis CK likes to explore problematic areas of human nature with his comedy, and I'm glad that he does so. His material is often problematic or uncomfortable, and I think it's really stupid that when somebody points out why it's problematic, the response is to say "Well this would suck a whole lot more if Louis CK was preaching to us!" Of course it would suck more. Louis is a comedian, not a preacher.

But there exist jokes, theoretically, which deal with the same material in a less problematic way. As I said above, I don't know comedians who specialize in telling those jokes. I suspect those comedians would make a lot of men uncomfortable, because the humor would have to come specifically from the fact that men choose to rape women and then place the blame on women for being raped. The laughter would be a mixture of "ha ha men are capable of being awful" and "ha ha rape culture sucks". In fact, some of the funniest things Lindy said in the FPP moved in that direction, and look at how pissed off men are at her.

It is a testament to how talented and even courageous Louis is that his jokes come from a place of enough nuance that the proper critique of them requires more than a surface reading of the humor. To say that Louis is surface-level critiquing men but implicitly forgiving their behavior/assuming their behavior is fixed compared to the behavior of the women who date them, that requires actually paying attention to the constructed logic behind Louis's humor, and it's neat that such a reading is necessary. It's proof that Louis is, even at his most flawed, beyond many of his contemporaries.

I'm glad that he searches for humor in places he finds difficult, but I suspect that Louis would also be the last person to tell somebody they were wrong for finding something tricky in his humor. I also suspect his advice would be that we should shrug and not take humor that seriously, and I would disagree with that advice if he chose to give it.

For what it's worth, I am a fucking blast at parties.
posted by Rory Marinich at 8:35 PM on June 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's his daughter who I want to meet.
posted by maryr at 10:11 PM on June 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


where every female comedian feels compelled to end every routine with "please don't rape me".

Remind me to never ever go to see a comedy show where you do, where 'rape' is constantly on the tip of everyone's tongue and women are constantly afraid for their safety. It sounds like a place where no one, man or woman, is really that safe.
posted by hellslinger at 10:18 PM on June 4, 2013


Do you think everyone who booed and walked out was a 'solipsistic, self-righteous asshole'?

Nope. Booing and walking out is the appropriate and respectable reaction, IMO. Writing a blog about how much Comedian A is a shithead is also an excellent idea.

Heckling, then getting humiliated by a professional humiliator, and retaliating by saying that this contributes to actual rape, and a greater culture of rape, is what I think is stupid.

And the thread is quibbling about what context it is OK to make such jokes? Ridiculous. Well now we have to put extra controls in place to make sure that highly-impressionable potential rapists, or people who may not have the capacity to differentiate jokes from mandates don't get the wrong idea!

And while we're at it, no jokes about burglary, armed robbery, murder, war, car accidents, or cancer because a lot of people have been hurt by those things in the past, so-off limits because the National Association of People who Advocate for Shit believes it contributes to those things -- unless of course you put it in the right context which THEY will instruct you on should you decide to have a few drinks and crack wise in front of an audience.
posted by hellslinger at 10:46 PM on June 4, 2013


Many women spend their whole lives wary, if not explicitly afraid of their own safety. I would suggest you look up rape culture, hellslinger, and maybe do some thinking about your own privilege, before you continue with this. And please keep in mind that those of us who pay attention to the public discourse on rape culture have heard everything you've said before hundreds of times.
posted by NoraReed at 11:28 PM on June 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm sure you have. I'm familiar with "rape culture" and the reactionary hyperbole that sometimes accompanies it -- I've heard it hundreds of times. Rape is not the only horrific crime a person can do to another, and it is terrible, I'm not trying to "normalize" here. And as other people here have pointed out, it does not only happen to women. So then why is rape something that sloppy comedians aren't allowed to joke about without being accused of hate speech?

I want to note, that I actively choose not to talk about this topic in the terms of "rape culture" because it is a ridiculous logical framework that, I believe, is actually harmful to the cause. By giving it this sacred status, you've giving those who want to do harm more power. But of course you'll proudly tell me that you've "heard this hundreds of times" while fighting on the front lines.

There is no evidence that a society that has jokes about crimes endorses those crimes, and I resent factions of "intellectuals" who would say that those who don't subscribe to their conjecture are ignorant.
posted by hellslinger at 1:56 AM on June 5, 2013


NoraReed : I would suggest you look up rape culture, hellslinger, and maybe do some thinking about your own privilege, before you continue with this.

If this very thread doesn't serve as a suitable intro to the topic, nothing will. That said...


And please keep in mind that those of us who pay attention to the public discourse on rape culture have heard everything you've said before hundreds of times.

On the flip side of that, those of us (in here, at least) defending humor-for-its-own-sake have heard all about rape culture and privilege, and would much rather listen to a crude comedian than another lecture on rape culture and privilege.

Sometimes, you need to make separate head-spaces for these ideas, or the world just always looks like a really shitty place. Yes, rape happens and doesn't count as even remotely funny. No, people can't live their lives constantly thinking about how much it sucks that rape exists.
posted by pla at 3:48 AM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


No, people can't live their lives constantly thinking about how much it sucks that rape exists.

That you say so is an expression of privilege. Some people don't have the option.
posted by shakespeherian at 6:18 AM on June 5, 2013 [10 favorites]


No, people can't live their lives constantly thinking about how much it sucks that rape exists.

That you say so is an expression of privilege. Some people don't have the option.


I don't understand what that means.

Are you saying that people have to live their lives constantly thinking about much it sucks that rape exists? Anyone who doesn't is privileged in some manner? Because that sets the bar so high that very people could ever reach it.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:41 AM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Being privileged is not bad.
posted by shakespeherian at 6:46 AM on June 5, 2013


Sure, but the framing is often portrayed as a negative, particularly in this case.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:58 AM on June 5, 2013


I don't think the bare fact of being privileged is being painted as negative here. What's negative is privilege without the awareness of being privileged, or more specifically privilege that says "why do you always have to go on and on about how tough this stuff can be? Move on and get over it already. I'm tired of hearing about it."

I mean, to take what I think is kind of a neutral example – some people have been robbed at knifepoint. Those people might be forgiven for having some sensitivity to knives and the wielding of knives in public. Some of them might spend a lot of time dealing with that. If I say to them, "just get over it – you can't spend your whole life being freaked out by knives," then someone could justifiably accuse me of not really knowing what I'm talking about. In that case, I'm speaking from a position of privilege – the privilege is a narrower one (the privilege of not having been traumatized by someone wielding a knife violently) but it is privilege nonetheless. I'm not a bad person for having that privilege. What I did wrong in that instance is I told people whose experience was different from mine how they ought to feel about exactly those experiences which are particular to them.
posted by koeselitz at 8:11 AM on June 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


I don't think that's it exactly, privilege was not being shown as a negative per se, NoraReed was trying to pull rank and suggest that it was the reason for my (and others who don't accept the authority of the "rape culture" analysis of our culture) ignorance. Because, obviously, anyone who disagrees with their (i.e. those who think "rape culture" is a valid framework) kind of thinking is surely ignorant!
posted by hellslinger at 8:54 AM on June 5, 2013


It wasn't really about you or NoraReed at all, hellslinger. shakes was responding to something pla said.
posted by koeselitz at 9:09 AM on June 5, 2013


Update from Lindy today: If Comedy Has No Lady Problem, Why Am I Getting So Many Rape Threats?

Damn her reading out the river of hate that is going her way in a flat monotone leads me to admire her greatly and wonder what the hell is wrong with people.
posted by angrycat at 12:20 PM on June 5, 2013


...and would much rather listen to a crude comedian than another lecture on rape culture and privilege.

Really? You'd rather listen to rape jokes then why they might not be such great things
posted by edgeways at 12:27 PM on June 5, 2013 [8 favorites]


koeselitz : It wasn't really about you or NoraReed at all, hellslinger. shakes was responding to something pla said.

I'd agree with the assessment, none-the-less, and in fact I'd say Brandon pretty much perfectly expressed why any arguments that involve the word "privilege" piss me off so much - They amount to nothing less than an "in" attempt to shut down further discussion. "Oh, you can't understand from your position of privilege". BS. I understand, I just don't agree. And while I may (thankfully) lack experiential knowledge of the topic at hand, any human on the planet can personally relate to "bad things happen to random people".


edgeways : Really? You'd rather listen to rape jokes then why they might not be such great things

Um, yes? Vastly? Without a second thought? Even an indefensibly "bad" rape joke.

You miss the real problem here - Not that some people don't see your POV through their "privilege", not that a victim in the audience might feel re-traumatized, not even that unfunny jokes might validate people in the audience who already consider rape cool (aka "lost causes"). Instead, you've missed that everyone in this discussion arguing against you on this one point plays for your side on the bigger point - We all consider rape reprehensible, we all consider the act worthy of death by slow torture (well, those of us who don't oppose the death penalty, anyway), we all really don't consider most such jokes actually "funny" (with a few rare exceptions). But some of us can accept the disconnect between "humor" and "reality"; nothing more, and nothing less.

When my pasta comes out undercooked in an otherwise perfect dinner, I don't let it ruin my whole evening. The same idea applies here. Now, if the whole dinner amounts to complete shit, hey, don't go back. But when you go to a fast food restaurant, don't complain that they served you low-grade beef practically dripping with grease and sparkling with salt.
posted by pla at 3:52 PM on June 5, 2013


When my pasta comes out undercooked in an otherwise perfect dinner, it doesn't send me back to a moment of helplessness and pain, but that may just be me.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 3:57 PM on June 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'd agree with the assessment, none-the-less, and in fact I'd say Brandon pretty much perfectly expressed why any arguments that involve the word "privilege" piss me off so much - They amount to nothing less than an "in" attempt to shut down further discussion. "Oh, you can't understand from your position of privilege". BS. I understand, I just don't agree. And while I may (thankfully) lack experiential knowledge of the topic at hand, any human on the planet can personally relate to "bad things happen to random people".

I was pushing back against your notion that people don't spend all their time thinking about how much rape sucks. Some people do, because they have to-- some people, because of their outward sexual characteristics or whathaveyou, cannot walk down their own street at night without worrying about rape. Rape isn't just an abstract thing to talk about when the issue comes up for a lot of people. That it is for you and for me is a privilege, and one that I am glad to have. But I also recognize that I'm privileged in that regard, and some people are not, so I try to bear it in mind and not assume that my experience is universal.
posted by shakespeherian at 4:57 PM on June 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


edgeways : Really? You'd rather listen to rape jokes then why they might not be such great things

Um, yes? Vastly? Without a second thought? Even an indefensibly "bad" rape joke.


Well, have fun with that. Many of us wouldn't, and I guess the question here is what sort of responses we are allowed.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 5:03 PM on June 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


But when you go to a fast food restaurant, don't complain that they served you low-grade beef practically dripping with grease and sparkling with salt.

Now imagine that the fast-food restaurant is every restaurant and that people, when told this, will insist that you go to the nice place downtown, which, it turns out, is a construction site.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 5:17 PM on June 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


It's like a vegetarian going to the Rib Shak and then getting all huffy that they sell meat.

Actually it's a bit more like a vegetarian going and paying for a dinner that is said to have vegetarian options and then it turns out they put some kind of meat broth in it and they end up kind of sick.


Actually it's more like a vegetarian concluding that because it tastes like meat, then it must be made from meat.
posted by anothermug at 5:54 PM on June 5, 2013


I think I'm losing where we are going with these food metaphors, but I find them oddly poetic.

The argument hellslinger was making was one I've heard a hundred times, most of them from willfully misogynists/sexists/"men's rights activists". And since that argument seems to be that people who are sensitive to rape jokes should get over it and go enjoy our evenings, I don't think I'm "pulling rank" by saying that your privilege is blinding those who make that argument to how other people respond to cheap jokes that dismiss or minimize their experiences. I think that is giving those people the benefit of the doubt by assuming that they are merely being ignorant and not intentionally encouraging a culture that is flagrantly hostile to women and/or utterly failing to empathize with people who have triggers related to rape jokes by, say, comparing the experience of having one's gender dismissed to undercooking a fucking pasta.
posted by NoraReed at 7:03 PM on June 5, 2013 [6 favorites]


pla: “I'd agree with the assessment, none-the-less, and in fact I'd say Brandon pretty much perfectly expressed why any arguments that involve the word 'privilege' piss me off so much - They amount to nothing less than an 'in' attempt to shut down further discussion.”

I think you're misunderstanding both myself and shakespeherian if you believe either of us are trying to shut down discussion. I wanted to underline this above, but I guess I didn't underline it quite enough; having privilege is not a terrible thing. It doesn't make you a bad person. Heck, it's what you're born with, generally, so it's not at all your fault. It's not anybody's fault. I'm a privileged white dude from a middle-class family who got to go to an expensive private school. I would be willing to bet that I'm more privileged than you. That doesn't make me better than you, but it also doesn't make me worse. The whole point of the concept of privilege is that it's not a sound basis for valuation of intelligence, moral worth, or correctness.

“'Oh, you can't understand from your position of privilege'. BS. I understand, I just don't agree. And while I may (thankfully) lack experiential knowledge of the topic at hand, any human on the planet can personally relate to 'bad things happen to random people'.”

Again, if shakespeherian or I – I hope he doesn't mind me lumping him in, but I think we agree – really thought privilege precluded all understanding, then we'd be the first ones who'd have to shut up forever and never say a word. Privilege absolutely doesn't mean you can't understand at all. It may mean you don't have certain experiences, but it's fine – you can always step back and accept that you don't have intimate knowledge of certain things, and still work from there.

All of this was solely about one thing you said. It wasn't an evil thing. It wasn't a terrible thing. It wasn't some kind of wicked, hateful, vicious thing. We just think it was incorrect:

“Sometimes, you need to make separate head-spaces for these ideas, or the world just always looks like a really shitty place. Yes, rape happens and doesn't count as even remotely funny. No, people can't live their lives constantly thinking about how much it sucks that rape exists.”

Now, while I totally get that sometimes it's better not to dwell on things, you made this kind of a general thing and applied it just to "people," and I don't think that makes sense. There are people who think constantly about how much it sucks that rape exists. Many of those people are rape victims or even people who have had to live in fear of rape. It's okay that they think or feel that way, and I don't think it's really fair to tell them that they just need to compartmentalize a little better and they'll get over it.

Again, there are a ton of situations where that advice might make sense. It makes sense for me a lot of the time, with a lot of things – sometimes I have to shut off the news, because I really don't think the constant barrage of shit from the world about people killing each other and all that is great for my general outlook. The thing is, when I shut off the news, I do so in the knowledge that there are a ton of people all over the world who can't shut off the barrage of shit, because it's right in front of them. That doesn't make me a bad person for wanting to shut it off; that's just fine for me, and if they were in my shoes they'd do the same damned thing. What would be bad is if I wrote a letter to those people in Syria or Afghanistan or wherever telling them that what they really needed to do is learn to ignore the violence because it's really a downer and they'll be happier people if they could just learn not to focus on it. That would be presumptuous of me. That would be me forgetting that I'm privileged, in that I don't have to face the shit they face every day. And really it's not the privilege itself that's the problem there; it's the presumptuousness.

Similarly, while I know you didn't mean any harm by it, your comment presumed that anybody (including rape victims) could forget about the downer that is rape and move on with their lives if only they tried a little harder. And that doesn't seem true to me.
posted by koeselitz at 7:27 PM on June 5, 2013 [6 favorites]


not even that unfunny jokes might validate people in the audience who already consider rape cool (aka "lost causes")
posted by pla at 3:52 PM on June 5 [+] [!]


This is where your assumption, and whole argument, is just flat-out wrong. These people are not "lost causes". These people were not born this way. Their position in the gray area between rape and "well it's not really" was established because we as a society foster a culture that promotes men's needs above women's, devalues women's agency when it comes to their bodies, shames women for taking control of their sexual life, dehumanizes, objectifies, and sexualizes women's bodies, mostly without consent, and fault, blame, and shame victims of sexual violence, because we don't want to have to deal with the horrific side effects of the culture we've created.

Your attitude of "oh well! might as well keep on keepin' on, cause there's nothing we can do!" is, quite frankly, fallacious and infuriating, because we're the ones who got us here in the first place.
posted by FirstMateKate at 8:31 PM on June 5, 2013 [6 favorites]


You miss the real problem here

yeah, somehow I don't think so.

You are accepting of the rape jokes and dismiss concerns over them as simply... 'well they aren't funny but at least they didn't ruin my day, and hey everyone just needs to lighten up'.
Seriously if that is not the quintessential definition of entitled isolationism I don't know what could be. Privileged doesn't start to approach it. What I hear you saying is essentially 'Don't talk to me about it because I'd much rather listen to unfunny jokes about violent traumatic events that threaten 1/2 our society then entertain that someone might have a valid concern about the prevalence of those jokes and how they might normalize attitudes about that'. If that is the case I'm not sure why you are even debating the issue rather than off hitting reload on rapejoke.com (or whatever, I hope to fucking hell that place does not exist but am not going to find out and really really don't want to know), because as unfunny as you find it, you said it is what you prefer to what we are talking about here.

Thing of it is... very few people are going to stand up and actually say "telling rape jokes should be banned", but plenty of people, myself included, will say telling rape jokes is most often pretty reprehensible and people who do so deserve to be called out for it, and perhaps be called an asshole, even during their show. It should not be written off with a shrug as 'well big deal, it's only a joke'. Consequences for acting like an asshole should include being called an asshole. Whether you're toshwhateverthehell or, Louis CK. Jon Steward or Dennis Miller.

We know we are not going to convince one another of the righteousness of our positions, the way you likely feel towards my position is probably analogous to the opposite. So.. I dunno, I guess this is where I let you have the last word.
posted by edgeways at 11:26 AM on June 6, 2013 [7 favorites]


Yeah, the "real problem" is Lindy West getting rape and death threats because of this interview. Anyone who says that we don't have a problem with rape culture or that these jokes don't perpetuate that is just wrong.
posted by sweetkid at 11:34 AM on June 6, 2013 [5 favorites]


Instead, you've missed that everyone in this discussion arguing against you on this one point plays for your side on the bigger point - We all consider rape reprehensible

Somewhere, someone did a study (possibly linked or alluded to in this thread, but if so, I can't find it). They asked men whether they had ever raped anyone. When the survey called it rape, none of the respondents said they had ever raped anyone. But when the survey flatly described varieties of rape without calling it such, some stark percentage of men said that yes, they had done that.

People may say they consider rape to be reprehensible, but the same people may not know what rape is, or worse, they may know exactly what it is and carry on with their crime.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 11:55 AM on June 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


Ah, I see WidgetAlley and tkfu, at least, already brought it up.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 11:58 AM on June 6, 2013


[comment removed - quit making it personal folks.]
posted by jessamyn at 1:29 PM on June 6, 2013


A Scientific Case Against Rape Jokes. This covers some of the points already made already but does a really good job of compiling research.
posted by NoraReed at 11:29 PM on June 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


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