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.”
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.