G.L.Piggy [at] gmail.com
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The Daniel Tosh rape joke story has moved fast. One thing I find interesting about this – and something which I myself took to Twitter to find out – is that Louis CK is now the go-to point of reference for any controversy in the field of comedy (of which there’s been a lot of late as the Offended Class senses weakness and has transitioned into its death roll).
CK seemingly supported Tosh by telling him via Twitter that he laughed at his show every time and that he has pretty eyes. At least a couple of bloggers are now frustrated with Louis CK over this. Alyssa Rosenberg of Think Progress is now glad she didn’t buy tickets to CK’s upcoming show. Last week, though, CK was the Offended Class’ darling after his show has poked fun at the patriarchy and at conservative politics.
Amanda Marcotte pushed back against Tosh’s defenders who say that Tosh was responding to a heckler and, thus, fair game:
Tearing down hecklers, especially if you’re funny about it, is a venerable tradition in stand-up comedy and no one wants to see it go away. But there’s a good way to go about it and a bad way. By invoking rape to put down his heckler, Tosh reinforced broad cultural narratives that use the threat of rape or domestic violence to take away women’s rights as women. By saying rape is an appropriate response to women that are out of line, he’s borrowing from and contributing to a culture where juries let rapists off all the time because they disapprove of the victim’s actions, such as if she were drinking or wearing a short skirt.
Marcotte misses something big here. Tosh was already telling a joke about rape. He was on a bit about how rape jokes are always funny and the woman at the center of this controversy piped up and said she disagreed *right during the middle of a show which other people had paid to attend*. After the heckle (why are hecklers usually always women?) he attempted to apply the joke that he was heckled for to the heckler. He stayed with the joke but essentially brought her in as a prop. So for Marcotte to argue that Tosh’s response was out of line she’d have to establish that the entire bit was out of line. And she probably senses that most people don’t think that comics cross the line by making jokes about rape – especially if they aren’t actually out raping women.
To go back to the original Tumblr write-up which got this all started – another element of this story is that the woman at the center of the controversy knew nothing about comedy clubs or how the entire thing works before she and her friend went to the Laugh Factory in L.A. She starts her Tumblr tirade by pointing out that her and a friend were just looking to do something fun and yadda yadda they wanted to see what this comedy club thing is all about. So she’s a newbie; she thinks that stand-up comedy is interactive, and thinks that comics should face a Derrida-like deconstruction on stage even while they’re still in the middle of a bit. The woman writes:
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!”
I did it because, even though being “disruptive” is against my nature, I felt that sitting there and saying nothing, or leaving quietly, would have been against my values as a person and as a woman. I don’t sit there while someone tells me how I should feel about something as profound and damaging as rape.
The personal is political, we see. This neophyte thinks that comedy is about “someone telling” her how she should feel about something. That’s not what it’s about. It’s about a bunch of people paying someone to get up on stage and be funny or outrageous or entertaining and attempting to achieve those goals through different comedic means, one of which is absurdly flipping conventional wisdom or conventional belief on its head. In theory, the comedy club should be treated like a movie theater. Interaction is off the table unless the performer wants to bring the crowd into it. But if a movie is offensive, people just leave. They don’t shout at the screen, and even if they did it doesn’t mess up the actors or the projectionist. It’s obviously different with comedians as their act can be derailed by the crowd.