Daniel Tosh Jokes About Rape; Shockingly, No One Laughs. Is It Ever Okay To Be Funny About Rape?

Given my television junky tendencies and predilection for stupid viral videos, it’s surprising I’ve never gotten into Tosh.0, Comedy Central’s online-themed pop culture commentary hosted by comedian Daniel Tosh.

But thanks to this pretty stringent “rape jokes aren’t all that funny” policy I have in place, Tosh’s show probably won’t be making it onto my DVR list any time soon.

Quick recap: Tosh appeared at LA’s The Laugh Factory recently and according to an audience member who rehashed her experience on Tumblr, Tosh made “some very generalizing, declarative statements about rape jokes always being funny,” which prompted her to shout back at him, “Actually, rape jokes are never funny!”

The accounts of what transpired next are a bit different, but not entirely conflicting. The author of the Tumblr post claims Tosh responded, “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…”

Laugh Factory owner Jamie Masada, however, told Buzzfeed that Tosh actually didn’t make any of those “generalizing, declarative statements,” and instead asked the audience what they wanted to talk about, and someone suggested “rape.” That’s when Masada said the woman reacted, and “Daniel came in, and he said, ‘Well it sounds like she’s been raped by five guys’—something like that. I really didn’t hear properly.”

Whatever actual words were exchanged, Tosh took to Twitter and offered a pseudo-apology yesterday, tweeting, “all the out of context misquotes aside, i’d like to sincerely apologize.”

But before anyone could dare accuse him of being sensitive or sincere, Tosh quickly followed up with, “the point i was making before i was heckled is there are awful things in the world but you can still make jokes about them. #deadbabies.”

Okay, look. Some of my best friends appreciate a good dead baby joke (personally, I don’t, but to each his or her own). But I do respect dark, morbid humor when it’s done right. In my humble opinion, rape jokes can’t be done right. I understand Tosh’s point that there can be levity in even the most profound instances of human suffering, but there’s a difference between comedy and shock value, and it seems to me that taking on certain taboo topics is just a cheap shot.

That being said, Tosh isn’t the first (supposedly) funny person to try to find the humor in sexual assault. In 2008, Jezebel’s Megan Carpenter brilliantly broke down various comedian’s attempts at rape jokes. Notably cited, of course, is Sarah Silverman, who’s been toeing the line of tastefulness for most of her career.

Silverman’s one of my personal favorites. The juxtaposition of her sweet demeanor and ludicrously vulgar mouth is arguably what makes her such a success. But to be honest, I’m not sure I’ve ever cracked so much as a smile at her rape jokes. So should I feel guilty for laughing at any of her jokes, knowing she doesn’t shy away from making light of rape? And Is it only okay for women to make light of rape, given that they’re most often the victims? Is it an act of appropriation and reclamation that makes it acceptable, and even important for females to tackle this subject matter in comedy? Is that why we’re so appalled by men like Tosh?

Not so fast. Sofia Vergara caused a stir in 2009 when she made a rape joke that crashed and burned on The View. While explaining to the hosts how she, in all her youthful, gorgeous glory could possibly have an 18-year-old son, she laughed, saying she tells people she had him at 13 and, “I was raped!” Ha…ha? Let’s just say Whoopi was not amused.

But back to Tosh. This isn’t the first time he’s gotten in trouble for misogynistic douchebaggery. In May, Mike Pomranz, one of the Tosh.0 bloggers, took a photo from fat activist Substantia Jones and invited readers to submit scathing commentary in a “caption contest.” Hilarious.

So are we up in arms because Tosh is sexist, crude, or just plain unfunny? Are rape jokes a gendered issue, and only okay if someone like Silverman delivers them, or are they off the comedy table entirely?

They may be off my table, but my brand of funny certainly shouldn’t be representative of anyone else’s (not everyone still consistently laughs out loud to episodes of The Simpsons from circa 1993). I’m eager to read your comments, but in the mean time, I’m going to go seek out my own dumb viral videos since I probably won’t be catching them on Tosh.0.

  • http://www.facebook.com/tracilorraine Traci Walters

    I feel the same way when people make priest jokes. Can you really make light of the torture of young boys? I seem to be in the minority on this subject, though.

  • http://www.facebook.com/sara.farr1 Sara Farr

    To be honest, I never find rape jokes funny in any situation. The most disturbing part of the story, however, is how Tosh treated the girl when she had the courage to speak up.

    • http://www.facebook.com/lauren.bressette.9 Lauren Bressette

      On the subject of heckeling, if you’re going to dish it, you better be prepared to take it. People didn’t pay money for a date, they came for the show. If she didn’t like it, she should have just left. There’s plenty of humor out there I don’t like, but I don’t bitch about it. I just don’t listen to it.

      On the subject of rape jokes, if people are laughing, it’s fairgame.

  • http://www.facebook.com/adz323 Amy Diane Zuniga

    People get hurt over EVERYTHING. Lighten up and just ignore it if you don’t like it. Comedians make fun of race, dying animals, and other crude things. But if it’s not PHYSICALLY hurting anyone, just freakin’ relax. Geez.

    • http://www.facebook.com/vmars1 Jon Carpenter

      That’s exactly what I’m trying to say. It’s not personally hurting anyone, so why freak out about it? People just need to get a grip and look at the more important things in life.

    • http://www.facebook.com/catherine.green.902 Catherine Green

      So are you saying that as long as something isn’t physically painful, it isn’t painful? I will politely disagree.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1181111463 Bekaandthe GinHall Hustlers

      People who think rape jokes are funny really need to spend some time at a police station reading crime reports of sexual assault victims and listening to counselors work with the victims- some who are children, some who are elderly – and their families.

  • http://www.facebook.com/justuskats Katy Wolfe Brandes

    Rape jokes are never funny. I stopped watching “2 Broke Girls” at their first one. It was no more funny coming from a female than this ignorant guy.

  • http://www.facebook.com/vmars1 Jon Carpenter

    I honestly can’t see why people get so offended by anything. It’s just a joke, not something to be taken seriously. Also, the girl didn’t speak up, she heckled. Just because you don’t like something that someone says, doesn’t mean you need to express it right then and there. I’m not saying that rape jokes are funny, but they’re honestly no different than dead baby jokes. They’re crude and rude, but hardly offensive.

    • http://www.facebook.com/hannahcy Hannah Youngquist

      I don’t think it’s really your place to decide whether or not something is offensive to someone else. Just like it’s not my place to decide whether or not something is funny for someone else. But just because I don’t find something funny doesn’t mean it isn’t funny to someone else, or that something you don’t find offensive IS offensive to someone else.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mollsmcaleer Molly McAleer

    I personally think that absolutely anything can be funny if it’s done in the right way and there’s no one subject that should be off limits for all of human kind. I personally don’t find jokes about the homeless or the elderly to be funny, but it’s unfair for me to say that absolutely no one should ever touch on those subjects.

  • http://www.facebook.com/pgarcia413 Patricia Garcia

    As a rape survivor, I felt her pain while reading what Tosh responded to her. But than the shock quickly subsided. If I let those jokes affect me, does that mean I have not completely healed from the trauma? If I get to a point where I can laugh at it, does that mean I have truly let it go? Does holding on to it give me a victim card that allows me to censor others?

    What I have found is my silence is much more powerful than anything I could ever say. I am not sure I would have heckled him if he started on about rape. I may have just quietly left.

    There will always be crude people in this world. If not rape, they will find something else to talk about and someone else will be offended. Do we shut them up? Or do we just make a decision to walk away and let them go?

  • http://www.facebook.com/sara.farr1 Sara Farr

    I don’t think anyone is saying that people should not be allowed to tell rape jokes, because they should be able to joke about whatever they want whether if offends me or not. I do not, however, see how saying something to the extent of wouldn’t it be funny if 5 guys raped this girl right now as a joke. If you read the blog you’ll see she felt threatened and uncomfortable. In my opinion that is hurting someone and it is going too far. But like I said it’s just an opinion.

  • http://www.facebook.com/tara.tschillard Tara Van Rose

    When someone argues that a rape joke can be funny or done properly they always use Sarah Silverman as an example. Which makes me continue to think that rape jokes are just not funny and that Sarah Silverman is probably the only person capable of delivering a rape joke that could possibly even be considered funny. But even when I hear a rape joke from Sarah Silverman, I still don’t laugh, I still cringe. So maybe it is a gender thing. I will say that the only people who argue with me that rape jokes can be funny are men.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1181111463 Bekaandthe GinHall Hustlers

      Sarah Silverman’s lack of respect for sensitive subjects such as rape and 9/11 really pisses me off. I love to laugh, I watch South Park, for God’s sake- but somehow Sarah strikes me as sensationalizing touchy topics to further her career, respect for her fellow humans be damned.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ramou.sarr Ramou Sarr

    I agree with Molly that anything can be made into a joke if it’s done well, but I just don’t think that this was really a joke. And I guess I’m curious as to what the standard is. Did Tosh make a rape joke or did he just say the word rape and it’s supposed to be funny because he’s a comedian, bro?

  • http://www.facebook.com/laurenscharf Lauren Scharf

    “They may be off my table, but my brand of funny certainly shouldn’t be representative of anyone else’s”
    Very well put. I personally can’t bring myself to find rape jokes funny, but as a comedian, I understand why some stand up comics don’t want to feel that they should lighten their act or cater to bits to the more sensitive crowds. That said, Tosh’s comments to this woman were more like a direct attack than just a regular joke from his routine.

  • http://www.facebook.com/dconte13 Dayna Conte

    Tosh just isn’t funny. His comment was offensive and frankly stupid but that doesn’t mean that the subject of rape can’t be used in a comic situation. I don’t think anyone thinks of rape as funny but if you can take a dark subject and bring some light to it through comedy isn’t that a good thing? It just needs to be tackled in an intelligent manner.

  • Marianna

    The problem with speaking to this is that first, we must acknowledge that unless we were there and heard it for ourselves, we won’t 100% know the actual context of what Daniel Tosh said.
    Also, even if we were present to hear it, it would still be heard differently by each one of us. So first, we must acknowledge that as some kind of truth to the matter.
    With that said, we can choose whether we feel offended, victimized, or feel nothing at all when someone makes a joke that suggests rape is acceptable behavior.
    The thing about comedy is that it is meant to be cathartic for the audience and the comedian almost has to channel not just his or her own frustrations and concerns with the world, but also those of his or her peers. Comedians are there to say what we often cannot. Eddie Murphy used to do this in the 80’s when making crass observations about relationships and the way men and women behave with each other.
    Comedy hasn’t necessarily been as sophisticated as it used to be, but we also haven’t lost hope. I can sit through Louis C.K. and hear him say some really off the wall stuff about sex and homosexuality, and yet not find it offensive because he’s turning it around on himself instead of attacking a specific group of people.
    Lisa Lampanelli has a mouth on her as well and also speaks to groups of people who would normally feel outcasted and disrespected by the rest of society, but she takes those issues and reshapes them into jokes that mock the ridiculous nature of hate towards others.
    As for Tosh, well, I’ve never found anything relatable in his humor. He sounds like a kid who runs his mouth on and on like a bully and though now and then he’s made a clever remark on his show, the bulk of it has to do with being obnoxious to his colleagues and running around naked. He could be a funny guy and be someone who could use his talents to be the voice that people need. Instead, I’m not really sure what he’s trying to do with his misguided charisma.

  • http://www.facebook.com/maggiee.underwood Maggiee Underwood

    I think it depends on the joke. Sometimes people take it too far.Obviously no one should ever laugh at someone who was actually raped.It’s not funny if it actually happens.In a made up scenario, it’s nice to be able to laugh about something that might not be funny in ‘real life’. That’s how I see it at least.I take it as a joke and nothing more.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ellen.hofeling Ellen Hofeling

    This is just not good comedy. Period. Being negative, offensive, and tasteless is too easy.

  • http://www.facebook.com/vrfigueiredo Verónica Figueiredo

    Every person is entitled to their own opinion, and certainly comedians (and people in general) have a lot of them. Although I don’t normally mind rape jokes, there are certain ones that just don’t sit well, but I feel the same about other topics.
    We have the right to speak our mind, and there’s always someone who thinks differently than us. I get that the majority may get offended, and they have their own personal reasons, but we need to accept different opinions.
    It was a joke, probably misplaced. There’s no need to scrutinize everything that is said. The ones who like or don’t mind may listen to it, and the ones who hate and condone it don’t. It’s a grey area in comedy, and it ill probably remain that way.

  • http://www.facebook.com/marie.medina.739 Marie Medina

    I love comedy. I am a comedy nerd; Louis CK, Sarah Silverman, the raunchier and less PC the better. BUT after reading this I started to think about what I find funny within comedy acts. I never laugh at rape jokes, I don’t find them funny, and I don’t think they should be made. A lot of people are using racial/ethnic jokes as a comparison but I find this to be fundamentally inaccurate. Racial and group prejudice jokes, in my opinion (and when done well), illustrate how ridiculous and wrong stereotypes are. Rape jokes do not highlight this. When rape is used in joke form it desensitizes the audience. Rape shouldn’t be ridiculous. Rape is unfunny. Rape is serious. We live in a rape culture, 1 in 4 women have been the victim of an attempted or completed sexual assault. Of course, jokes are not causal. But our rape culture and our pop culture are directly linked.

  • http://www.facebook.com/shanna.hamilton.14 Shanna Hamilton

    Daniel Tosh is not funny. I have never found him funny. Mainly because he is not smart or unique or different. He goes for the easy jokes. How he still has his own show? I don’t know. I believe anything is fair game. As to whether you can pull it off… Well that’s up to your own skills and style. Daniel Tosh went for an easy, unintelligent joke, because that’s the kind of crappy comedian he is. “Hey, wouldn’t it be funny if like, right now, I just made a joke that was shocking? Like seriously, right now if I just said something so douchey and unclever, wouldn’t that be hilarious?” But to each their own. I personally am not offended when people make analogies out of it. Like when Johnny Depp compared intrusive photoshoots and paparazzi to rape. He didn’t threaten anyone. He didn’t intentionally make light of it. I think the backlash for him was too much and unfair. But yet a lot of people would disagree with me on that. There’s no tangible line so celebrities just need to proceed with caution and stand by their decision.

  • http://www.facebook.com/callie.leone Callie Leone

    It’s funny (not the jokes) because I read about this exact incident this morning, and my immediate thought after a slew of words I probably shouldn’t type was that this was EXACTLY something that would show up on HelloGiggles!

  • http://www.facebook.com/nat.grace.johnson Natalie Johnson

    like it or not, the deliverer (not necessarily delivery of the punchline) MANY times determine whether or not a joke is funny: we (or maybe I?) laugh at Chris Rock and Carlos Mencia. They both laugh and mock their own culture like nobody’s business and, honestly, a lot of the time, i do think it’s funny. But…somebody who isn’t Black or Mexican couldn’t deliver the same punchlines. If you want to call it a double standard, there’s an argument for that.

    However, my opinion is that we should examine why comedians have a job: to take something semi-serious or actually serious or something simply mundane and trivialize or hyperbolize it. It helps us deal with the damn copier that won’t work when Dane Cook spews his take on the situation. It’s easier to deal with bitchy girls when Tina Fey writes a movie about it.

    Laughing makes life easier to deal with – but only when said by someone with whom we can empathize…not when said by someone who might be creating the chaos. “Damn Copier” jokes really only work when everyone is annoyed by the constant breaking…not when the deviant somebody intentionally inconveniences everyone and breaks it.

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