Most people by now have probably heard about and discussed Daniel Tosh’s comments in response to an audience member speaking out against a rape joke Tosh had just made. If you haven’t, Tosh made “jokes” about rape and a woman spoke out and said she did not find rape jokes funny. According to the media and multiple accounts he responded with a comment along the lines of, “Wouldn’t it be funny if that girl got raped by like, 5 guys right now? Like right now? What if a bunch of guys just raped her…” The blog I have just linked to, Cookies for Breakfast, has a written account of the event by a friend of the woman who spoke out.
Since then, there have been several good blog posts and articles published explaining (as if it actually has to be explained) why rape is never funny. Underneath these posts there are, of course, the regular comments of people trying to justify why his jokes actually were funny and how people need to stop worrying about being “politically correct.”Other comedians have both spoken up in support of and against Tosh for these comments.
Stand-up comedian Phoebe Robinson has voiced her sympathy for Tosh in a blog and on CBC Radio’s The Current. She maintains that a joke simply being about rape does not make it funny, but argues that just because a joke is about rape does not mean it can’t be funny. In her post, “Newsflash: Any Joke Can Be Funny,” Robinson writes, “The attempt to be funny is key here in the Tosh situation. The fact is we don’t know if the rape joke he was attempting to do was going to be good or not because he was interrupted. It might have been hilarious. Or it might have been horrible. But thems the rules when you decide to do comedy/attend a comedy show.”
I’m not buying that argument. And luckily, neither are many others. One of my favourite and probably best articulated arguments in this conversation comes from Ivor Tossell, in his article for the Globe and Mail, “It’s time to raise the bar on tolerable humour.” He moves the discussion away from protests about freedom of speech and focuses, instead, on the audience. He argues that it is not simply being “offended” that is at issue here: ”Offensiveness is not the problem here. It’s a red herring. The problem is using it as a fig leaf that gives succour to trolls and exempts people from taking any responsibility for their words.”
Tossell writes, “Nobody’s talking about censorship here. What we’re talking about is raising the bar on what we’re willing to tolerate as an audience.”
Rape is not an opinion. It is not a joke. It is not a “freedom of speech” issue. It is violence and hate. It is oppression. There is nothing about it that can or should be defended.
I could write a lot more about this topic even though so many already have. Instead, I hope you take a look at Tossell’s article. Although the article is great, I will warn everyone that the comments underneath can be triggering.