THe Rape of the thought

Daniel Tosh
Daniel Tosh
Daniel Tosh
Daniel Dwight Tosh (born May 29, 1975) is an American stand-up comedian. He hosts the Comedy Central television show Tosh.0. Tosh has participated in several fundraising events, such as a show for the family of comedian Greg Giraldo and for Alabama disaster relief. | Photo: Getty Images | Daniel Tosh, Comedian, Comedy Central, Youtube, Skinny,

Are jokes about rape ever funny?

Daniel Tosh became the latest comedian to "get in trouble," for saying something on a comedy stage. The accusation came from an unnamed blogger telling a secondhand story. Other reports from the club owner and the comedian himself suggest that she has her facts wrong in this story, which brings up an entirely different issue about making statements such as this while remaining anonymous. Were any of your erstwhile AND Magazine correspondents covering this story initially, it would be incumbent upon us to not only fact-check our quotes but also stand by our statements by putting our names on it. One would hope that the story would have died here, but in today's politically-correct culture it seems (ironically) that the onus is on the accused to disprove the statements made against him. Rather than dismiss this story for its anonymity or inaccuracy, the internet embraced this and overnight Daniel Tosh has become the spokesperson for the "pro-rape," culture that anyone reasonable would agree does not exist outside of third-world countries.

However, for the sake of this article, let's just assume that the blogger who started all this was correct in her description of the events as they transpired. Many of the writers (like myself) who have decided to weigh-in on this topic are publishing their thoughts, with a byline. On Gawker, Max Read writes that Tosh is an unfunny comic and that he shouldn't make jokes about rape or racism or classism. Of course this is total malarkey. Funny is subjective and simply because Tosh isn't Max Read's preferred type of comic, does not mean that some do not find him funny. Comedy is an art form and, like all art, should not be subject to censorship of any kind. Andres Serrano's Piss Christ, American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis, and Oliver Stone & Brian De Palma's Scarface are controversial pieces of art, which were initially decried as tasteless, but ultimately stood the test of time.

Jim Norton, third-mike on Sirius/XM's Opie & Anthony (which has had its own share of trouble due to rape jokes) and whose new comedy special on Epix is entitled Please Be Offended, came to Tosh's defense on the air. Norton pointed out that drug dealers, from Americans to the Mexican cartels, adore the glamorous way in which Al Pacino portrayed the violent and maniacal Tony Montana. Yet, neither the actor nor the filmmakers have ever been called upon to apologize for it. In an interview I conducted with Norton via e-mail last September, he told me "A joke that misses its mark bombs and the penalty is that there is no laugh." Tosh, as an artist, should be afforded that freedom. The joke wasn't spectacular (as described by the unnamed blogger), but since humor is subjective, he shouldn't be reviled for simply missing the "funny" target.

Other writers such as Elissa Bassist for The Daily Beast, Meghan O'Keefe for The Huffington Post, and Lindy West for Jezebel, all acknowledge that some jokes about rape can be funny. They take Tosh to task for allegedly threatening the audience member by suggesting she be raped right there in the comedy club. Again, this is based upon an unverifiable quote written by an unnamed person hiding behind the anonymity of the internet. Bassist is the only one who makes a worthwhile point in her piece. If Tosh delivered the comment, as written by the unnamed blogger, he was, as Bassist puts it, asserting control over the show by directly contradicting the point made by the unnamed blogger's unnamed "friend." To determine why he said it ' beyond attempting to regain control of the performance ' is pure speculation. To Bassist I would suggest that she look at the way comedians deal with hecklers, which is often with vitriol and harsh words. George Carlin once said he hoped a heckler's (hypothetical) child died in a car fire. This type of over-the-top violent language is the go-to choice for most comics, and Bassist allows for the fact that Tosh maybe didn't consciously realize how this particular retort might have affected the heckler.

Lindy West, for Gawker, wrote an article about how to tell a good rape joke. She admits in the article that she's not a comic, but she has "done comedy." This leads me to believe the she may not respect the technical merits of comedy that separate the professionals from the amateurs. Stand-up (much like writing) is something that everyone thinks they could do just as well as the professionals. She suggests that male comics cannot even joke about rape because "this is not an issue of your oppression." The fact is males are also victims of rape (the vast majority of the perpetrators are male as well) and that the statistics of such attacks aren't even tracked reliably. It is safe to assume that the majority of male rape happens in prisons, and this is a subject that is joked about with little-to-no controversy. Also, the military'which has a horrible track-record when it comes to rape'didn't even consider soldier-on-soldier rape to be an offense until 1992, and even then the policy applied only to female victims. Males can be rape victims, too, so to suggest that women have some sort of exclusive right to rape jokes is the only laughable thing she wrote.
West rambles on almost incoherently (including a mechanical thresher analogy that falls apart almost immediately), but it boils down to a similar point to Bassist's, that rape jokes shouldn't seemingly be at the expense of the victim. She posts videos of four rape jokes she believes "works." In one of them, Louis C.K. talks about what he would do with a time machine. He suggests that he would go back in time to rape Hitler, in an effort to stop the Holocaust and World War II. He then says he doesn't condone rape, unless of course you want "to have sex with someone and they won't let you." Even though it's Hitler, that joke sounds like it is at the expense of the victim. Written out like that, it may not sound funny, but that's what happens when jokes are taken out of context. No one can accuse C.K. of being a hack or unfunny, but she affords him a consideration that logic dictates Tosh deserves as well.

Tosh's comedic persona is to say horribly offensive things with a smile. Yet, West forgives C.K. for his rape joke because his statement is so cartoonish in its offensiveness that only a truly crazy person would think that way. Again, to speculate on Tosh's motives is pointedly useless, but I think to say that the unnamed blogger's version of his comment takes that same kind of stance. No reasonable, rational person should think that Tosh finds gang-rape "hilarious," yet West and other writers would have us believe that he does.

O'Keefe engages in the same sort of double-talk. She simultaneously condemns Tosh, but venerates Anthony Jeselnik for making fun of the tragic. In her Huffington Post article, O'Keefe says that "If Tosh honestly thinks rape is funny... well, that's his opinion. That's his worldview." By this logic Tosh also thinks that we should sit on the toilet backwards, that athletes shouldn't retire and just die on the field, and that the best solution to homelessness is routine Febreezing.

The reason I am writing in defense of Tosh is not because I am a fan or think he is particularly funny. It's because he made the statement on the stage. Part of what makes stand-up so special is that it's seemingly one person coming up with amusing thoughts and points-of-view on-the-spot. However, that funny story that the comedian is telling us didn't really happen on the way to the show. It is a carefully crafted and written piece of material. Successful comedy is often laden with truth, but a lot of it is fictional or at least scripted. On Broadway, Trey Parker and Matt Stone's The Book of Mormon includes dozens of jokes about raping babies. The show won nine Tony Awards and was generally beloved by critics and not even condemned by The Church of Latter-Day Saints.

Tracy Morgan, another comedian known for absurdist comments, was in trouble last year for making jokes on stage that were then printed on the internet with no corroboration. Rather than rape, he was commenting on homophobic violence, poorly if the transcribed joke was accurately reported. The corporations behind comics like Morgan and Tosh (NBC Universal and Comedy Central, respectively) instruct their employees to avoid controversy and simply apologize. The late comedian Patrice O'Neal was never one to apologize and said that comedians who do so are feeling the tug of what he called "the golden handcuffs." Rather than stand by their jokes, they simply apologize to avoid losing their jobs. The apologies themselves are somewhat meaningless when viewed through that prism.

This dismissal represents a lost opportunity for those who realize the staggering and very real problem of rape throughout the world. Statistics vary (including no accurate statistics for men), but it is undeniable that even one rape is unacceptable. With all of the time and word-space that has been given to this story, the chance may have been missed to raise a new awareness about the problem. All of the actual facts about the prevalence of rape and how victims are treated in the culture are buried under a vilification of a comic beloved by young people and those who see this as a battle against censorship. Rape should be joked about, written about, and talked about, because for far too long it's just been a dirty secret hidden in whispers and shadows. Had Tosh just apologized on the spot and went into a joke about finding a turd in his cereal, far less people would be talking about sexual assault today. Even if it wasn't his intention, Tosh's comment has shed light on a troubling issue. Yet, he is neither responsible nor culpable in any of the heinous acts committed against men, women, and children. If Tosh is fired tomorrow and banned from ever doing comedy again, it will not stop one sexual assault. However, it will change the way we view freedom of expression outside of the realm of government interference. It's a justified but misplaced anger, that if directed properly could kickstart some actual change. No matter who is laughing.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not reflect the opinions of the staff of AND Magazine.

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Updated Aug 12, 2017 12:14 PM EDT | More details


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