There’s a reason why famous people get “roasted” once they have had a chance to develop a career. Roasting a venerable celebrity is funny, because the audience knows the person (or their persona) and it’s fun to see someone on high get taken down a few pegs in a jocular, agreed-upon-in-advance manner. If celebrities roasted some newcomer just getting their start, though, they’d just look like assholes.
Daniel Tosh, by all accounts, is quite an asshole.
I wrote a little while back that rape is not funny. I stand by that statement.
I also believe that, in comedy, nothing is definitively off limits, but it’s one person in a million that has the self-awareness and comic chops to pull off a joke about the most damaging, hurtful concepts. Daniel Tosh is with us among the 999,999 people who can’t pull it off.
– An anonymous woman writes of her experience watching Tosh at the Laugh Factory in Los Angeles:
So Tosh then starts making some very generalizing, declarative statements about rape jokes always being funny, how can a rape joke not be funny, rape is hilarious, etc. I don’t know why he was so repetitive about it but I felt provoked because I, for one, DON’T find them funny and never have. So I didnt appreciate Daniel Tosh (or anyone!) telling me I should find them funny. So I yelled out, “Actually, rape jokes are never funny!”
After I called out to him, Tosh paused for a moment. Then, he says, “Wouldn’t it be funny if that girl got raped by like, 5 guys right now? Like right now? What if a bunch of guys just raped her…” and I, completely stunned and finding it hard to process what was happening but knowing i needed to get out of there, immediately nudged my friend, who was also completely stunned, and we high-tailed it out of there. It was humiliating, of course, especially as the audience guffawed in response to Tosh, their eyes following us as we made our way out of there. I didn’t hear the rest of what he said about me.
– The proverbial shit hits the proverbial fan.
– Tosh apologizes, sort of, saying he was misquoted but not saying what he actually said.
– Other comedians defend Tosh for a variety of reasons.
– The Laugh Factory’s owner offers an account of what happened substantially at odds with the woman’s story.
– A few people make astute observations, but most people just sort of wail.
Meghan O’Keefe had some interesting observations, and she hit on how it might be possible for someone to successfully joke about rape: she mentions Sarah Silverman, of whom I’m not a particular fan, who has such jokes in some of her routines (click through to O’Keefe’s post, because I don’t want to quote them).
The difference between her jokes and what Tosh said, basically, is about who in the joke has the power. It is also about consent to being the subject of a joke. Sarah Silverman’s jokes, essentially, are about herself. Tosh’s joke was about someone else who, unlike the subject of a roast, had not consented. Sarah Silverman’s jokes portray an absurd scenario, where the audience’s only accessible reactions are shock or laughter. Tosh’s joke, with a simple shift in tone of voice, becomes a threat–to the list of possible reactions, add fear. If you accept no other reason for why rape jokes are not funny, accept that one.
Austin comic Curtis Luciani has an excellent response to the situation, explaining how these power dynamics determine the lines between funny, creepy, threatening, and downright fucking terrifying. Rape is very, very prevalent in our society, both as an actual act of violence and a cultural motif, far more so than most men realize. Luciani’s analogy is brilliant:
I ain’t buying any of that “If I can make jokes about genocide, why can’t I make jokes about rape?” Horseshit, unless you made those genocide jokes during a gig at the Srebrenica Funny Bone. You got away with making a joke about genocide because your odds of having a holocaust survivor’s kid in the audience were pretty fucking low.
Some extra reading for people who might have a hard time grasping the prevalence of rape in society: