Lately there has been a major communication breakdown between the people who write jokes and the people who are supposed to laugh at them.
The feminists have stopped laughing and started blogging. Comedians are left dangling limp microphones between their legs, faced with the ultimatum to either apologize or start trending on Twitter.
What once was an art form and a refuge for the counterculture is now turning into a service industry. Audience members demand 100% satisfaction or they’ll send your jokes back in the mail like slingback pumps from Zappos. Entertain them, or they’ll leave you a one-star Yelp! review for not having enough callbacks. Comedy-goers have done everything from throwing a wine glass in Tammy Pescatelli’s face to demanding that Daniel Tosh be fired from Comedy Central.
Says comedian Ted Alexandro, “Live comedy has a different dynamic in which people think of it as a conversation. If you go to a ballet or a play and you see a rape depicted, you’re not going to interrupt the performance. But comedy kind of breaks that wall, people think they’re in a one-on-one conversation.”
Take, for example, the infamous “cookie blogger“ whose friend heckled Daniel Tosh by yelling out “Rape jokes are never funny” and storming out of the club. Oddly, the blogger claims she and her friend had no idea who the comedian was before seeing his performance—presumably because he is not a cookie. She was not aware he was the host of the most popular show on Comedy Central, yet she still took it upon herself to later transcribe pieces of his act and present them for all the world to judge. The last time someone who knew nothing about comedy sat in an audience and wrote down what a comedian said, Lenny Bruce had to go to court for saying the word “tits.”
Daniel Tosh’s objectively unfunny rape joke, which no one could possibly laugh at.
“Being at a comedy club is really akin to looking at a painting or listening to a piece of music, it’s not for you to respond,” says Alexandro. “It’s something to be experienced in the moment. It’s supposed to make you feel. You should think to yourself: Why did I feel that? But don’t interrupt a person. You’re not going to a museum and yell out while looking at a painting ‘I can’t believe what I’m seeing in this painting!’ because someone else next to you is having their own experience.”
What has emerged here is a confusing three-pronged argument: Is it OK to heckle? Is it OK to tell a joke that offends women? Do rape jokes actually encourage rape?
While comedians are interested in preserving their art form, radical feminists are convinced that rape jokes cause rape.
“Every time a man tells a rape joke he is participating in and adding to a global ideology which states that sexual violence (and sexualizing violence) is normal, biological, acceptable, funny, or not that big of a deal. Every time a man hears a rape joke and says nothing, he is complicit – he is lending support to that culture.” (Excerpt from: “A Man Is A Rape Supporter If.”
What the feminists are missing in this scenario of “comedian as rape supporter” is that many standup comics are some of the most sensitive and empathetic people you’ll ever meet. That is, if a comedian is joking about rape, there’s a good chance he’s joking about it because he’s upset by the fact that it exists in the world.
But the main problem with this kind of stodgy, academic analysis of rape jokes is that it has absolutely nothing to do with what is actually happening on a comedy stage. Nor does it take into consideration why human beings like to tell each other jokes. In the end, the writer just comes off like some kind of retarded Vulcan with a pussy tighter than an unopened jar of gravy and a closet full of penises.
“It’s not cut and dry,” says comedian Jon Fisch. “These guys could very well be on your side.”
“When I joke about a difficult topic, I’m coming from a place of deep engagement with that topic,” says Alexandro. “It’s an exploration of: ‘How can I say something about this in an indirect way?’ In order for it to be funny it has to be an indirect route. We’re not giving a speech, but, hopefully—in a context that is funny—a perspective is revealed that, in some way, advocates for that issue.”
Ted Alexandro on abortion, because he hates babies and people and is an all-around bad guy.
“[Rape jokes] are not funny. They are about power, silencing, and privilege,” says Kim Rippere, who is probably also the kind of woman who attaches a creepy significance to blowjobs.
Meanwhile, blogger Martin S. Pribble, who in no way has a faggy name, claims: “By perpetuating things like “rape humour,” we are bringing rape up from “one of the many undesirable things humans do” to the realm of “acceptable”.
Somewhere along the line, people seem to have lost the ability to separate social commentary from advocacy and approval.
I asked Kurt Metzger if he’d ever joked about a painful topic. “Of course,” he said. “All jokes are based on pain. Even the clean ones.”
“Why did you choose to joke about something painful?” I asked him. “What was your motive?”
“So I won’t get depressed and kill myself,” he replied. “I remember the day my dad died. I called my friend Amy Schumer. I go “Amy, my dad’s dead.” She was quiet for a second, then she goes, “Jesus, really? That’s crazy. I’m at the zoo eating an ice cream cone and I just found a hundred dollars on the ground!” And it made me laugh so hard. That’s when I realized there is no such thing as too soon, there is only too late.”
Kurt Metzger on “The Nasty Show,” where he discussed only wholesome, proper topics such as Scrabble, knitting, and playing the flute.
* * *
Separate from the issue of appropriate material is the mode of communication the Tosh protester chose: heckling. And the fact that Tosh’s alleged comeback (I say ‘alleged’ because there is only one account of what he said, and it’s right above a recipe for Nutella cake) came as a direct response only after this woman chose to heckle him.
“I think to make it about you by yelling out and interrupting a performance really, to me, demonstrates more about the person and where you’re at,” says Alexandro. “Like, perhaps you’re still grieving something. But you’re really being disrespectful to a room full of people who are out for a communal experience.”
Says Fisch: “I looked up the definition of heckler: “Shouting to interrupt a speech with which you disagree.” There’s already two angry words in there: shouting and interrupt! As someone who has been heckled, this brings up a lot of stuff…being heckled, it can turn a switch on you. It flips a switch that makes you not a performer anymore, it makes you just a person up there. Maybe Tosh said something he regretted, maybe he didn’t.”
I asked Alexandro how he would feel if he knew he told a joke that had accidentally offended someone in the audience.
“It’s my hope that I’ve done enough work on myself that what I express on stage now is what I mean,” he told me. “It comes from a loving intent. Like, I’m introducing this because I care about it and I mean it. So, in that case, I don’t really care if someone is hurt by it, because that’s not my intent.”
Says Metzger: “I want people to laugh and I feel genuinely bad if I really hurt someone. However I have no mercy for phony political outrage, which is usually what it is.”
Blogger Elissa Bassist comes very close to almost understanding what’s happening in the mind of a comic, but stops short at actually connecting her final analysis to the creative process: “Tosh was more than “just kidding.” He was angry. His “joke” was reactive to the so-called heckler who called him out in front of an audience. He used humor to cut her down, to remind her of own vulnerability, to emphasize who was in control.”
True, you do need to remind the audience of who is in control. Only it has nothing to do with misogyny and everything to do with directing your environment as a performer.
Jon Fisch compares controlling your audience to an experience he had while working in a psych ward.
“I’d been working there for about a year and we were restraining one of the kids in the ‘quiet room’,” he recalls. “A visitor was coming in and clearly had never seen this before. And the look on that person’s face compared to the numbness that I felt — like, this is just part of my job, he’s out of control, so we had him restrained — it’s similar to how people are just looking at that rape comment. They have no idea about anything that is behind that. This is part of a comedy club. This is part of his act. This is part of an interaction where you don’t have all the facts.”
Jon Fisch offends feminists everywhere by discussing hairy backs.
While explaining how Tosh was “using his power to humiliate the woman,” Bassist admits that she, herself, knows a little bit about making funny rape jokes.
“I have a rape joke myself,” she reveals. “When I wrote about my sexual assault for a nonfiction workshop in my MFA program, I called the piece “rape-portage,” as in “reportage”… I’d laugh at my own joke, which I said aloud only to myself and a few close friends.”
Droll! Okay, let’s make a rule: You are not allowed to write anything about comedy until you know what constitutes a complete joke. That is, the secret nickname you had for your MFA paper is not a joke with a punchline, nor is attending a nonfiction workshop the same thing as being on stage and responding to a heckler.
If you want to see some more of Elissa’s killer comedy stylings and what makes her an expert in crowd control, she’s over here on YouTube yammering about Jews and adoring the utter shit out of herself.
The point is, if you’re going to set yourself up as a comedy expert and start telling other comics what they can and cannot say, then you really shouldn’t suck that fucking hard. There’s nothing about that performance that couldn’t be improved by putting her head in that “reverse bear trap” mask from Saw. Yet she, and so many others like her, have set themselves up as the gatekeepers of comedy. And people are listening.
Louis CK confronts a heckler both inside and outside of the comedy club (Easter egg: look for Kurt Metzger on the stairs outside the club).
That Tosh used his humor to “cut someone down” is echoed in the initial account from Cookies for Breakfast, where the blogger herself subtly admits that Tosh was only doing his job.
“It was humiliating…” she says, “Especially as the audience guffawed in response to Tosh, their eyes following us as we made our way out of there. I didn’t hear the rest of what he said about me.”
I wonder if maybe this ego-bruised young lass was actually more upset at being “cut down” by a professional comedian than she was about the initial rape joke.
“Did you hear what Chris Rock said about Tosh?” Fisch asks me. “He said ‘The Laugh Factory is our gym.’ It’s a workout space. You can’t hold a comedian accountable for something said in that environment.”
* * *
Perhaps this is where the argument that “rape jokes cause rape” comes in. If the comedian is just working out some new material, or—god forbid, if the comedian is actually a good person who, like Ted Alexandro, has “done enough work on himself” to know the intent behind his joke—then you’re left with nothing but your personal opinion. And no one cares about that.
But once this new ball is in play, the conversation changes. Rape jokes aren’t just unfunny or offensive, now they actually cause rape. And, as such, a new breed of women feel that they have a social responsibility to heckle you. They feel entitled, because they believe they are stopping a future rape.
“The problem with rape jokes is that guys who seem normal but are actually rapists hear the jokes and interpret them as a secret wink and nod that you approve of what they’re doing and that you would, or are, doing it too,” says blogger “Talkin’ Reckless.”
Unfortunately, this bold statement did not come accompanied with any references or footnotes, and I have yet to find any studies or interviews in which a rapist claims that he thought rape was OK because someone had joked about it. Is that the rapist’s version of “I’m sorry officer, I didn’t see that sign“?
“OK, you wanna discuss that?” asks Fisch, when I ask him if he thinks rape jokes contribute to rape. “That’s tough. I think there’s an understanding when you’re going into a comedy club that he’s making jokes about it. Like, Louis CKs joke was defended as being funny and appropriate, but, in essence it’s probably angrier than Daniel Tosh’s.”
“I don’t dismiss that all of these things are worthy of discussion,” says Alexandro. “But when the entree into the discussion is Daniel Tosh’s joke on a Tuesday night that one person left the room over, it’s disingenuous to me. But maybe that’s what starts the conversation.”
In the end, neither Ted or Jon proffer an answer. It’s a far cry from the evil, women-hating comic masterminds that many feminists have concocted in their blogs.
“Do you think you have ever encouraged anyone to act out in a violent way because of something you joked about? Do you think it’s possible?” I asked Kurt Metzger.
“If only I had that kind of power,” he says. “This is the old argument against comic books and video games and pornos dusted off once again for my medium.”
* * *
“I’m doing my act and a guy comes in. I know he’s a cop—I’ve had plenty of experience with them. He starts taking down as much of my act as he can. He doesn’t miss a dirty word; he doesn’t get too much of a rest. He arrests me. We go to court. Me and my lawyers have to defend the act he says I gave. All he says are the dirty words. His act is obscene… There’s something screwy about the whole thing.” —Lenny Bruce
* * *
Now, what if you’re a comedian who is determined to go on stage and tell your rape funnies, but you’re concerned you might be doing the comedies wrong? Do not be disheartened! Feminists are going to help you write your jokes!
Here is a handy flow chart that Talkin’ Reckless compiled to, quote: “help comedians decide whether a rape joke is a “good” one or a really terrible one.” She seems nice!
Wow! So much helpful advice in here! I especially related to “Go for it!” because that kind of thing is super inspiring for comedians. She’s like “Go for it!“ and I’m like “Yeah, let’s do this!“ and then we rock it! Also, don’t forget that if you offend someone from stage, you should always immediately “give a sincere apology” and then “move on”. I’m sure all the good comedians out there are already apologizing in the middle of their sets, but I think this is going to be a game changer for some people. Joan Rivers, I’m looking in your direction!
After reading this flowchart, you will not be surprised to learn that the feminist movement could be starting to fracture.
Lisa Kerr is a feminist blogger who recently wrote a post entitled “The Feminist Yawn.” Kerr says she has been slowly distancing herself from feminism, due, in part, to the Daniel Tosh controversy.
“Rape isn’t caused by comedians nor is rape encouraged by comedians,” she told me. “What the feminist bloggers did that really caused me to separate myself from them was to implicate Daniel Tosh for causing or encouraging rape. I think that’s negligent and irresponsible… They also wrongly assumed that Daniel Tosh’s audience was largely male and wholly misogynist, which is untrue. Daniel Tosh has over a million female viewers and fans. I’m one of them. We are women who love comedy, who love sex, and who love men”.
Unfortunately, the “women who love comedy” are quickly being eaten by their own. Even Jezebel darling Lindy West (who usually sticks to hyper-safe topics like “racism is bad”) dared to posit an actual human opinion when she insinuated in her article How To Make A Rape Joke that maybe, possibly, there are SOME rape jokes that are kinda funny sometimes, maybe…? Because of this, she garnered negative comments from feminists who actually disagreed with her. The weird thing is, she wasn’t even defending Daniel Tosh. She was just defending the idea of jokes.
With all this grandstanding, I wonder: is it possible that we need rape jokes now more than ever?
“Look,” Jon Fisch tells me. “Daniel Tosh did not say, “Hey America! Hey world! I want this person to be raped!”
“But people think he did,” I respond.
“Right,” he says. “And that’s the problem.”