The Funny Thing About Rape

by Marinka on July 13, 2012

If you’re like most people, you love a good rape joke.

Come on, violence against women, how is that ever not funny?

Unless you’re one of those holdouts who prefers their humor without inflicting pain on people who have already suffered more than anyone should, of course.

So Daniel Tosh was telling some rape jokes, as comedians will from time to time, and when an audience member told him that rape jokes are never funny, (apparently women are allowed to speak in public these days) he responded that it would indeed be very funny if she got raped right now by a couple of guys.

We’d call this an intellectual disagreement, except, well, you know– Tosh. Although I obviously wasn’t there (sigh) it seems pretty clear that Tosh’s response came from a place of anger and not humor. A place of violence. And possibly from a place of being an asshole. He was heckled, he was called out and his response was a sophomoric variation of “no, YOU are!” And it wasn’t funny. It wasn’t funny to the people who heard it, it wasn’t funny to the people who read it, it wasn’t funny to anyone who doesn’t find humor in violence against women. It was a variation of “fuck the bitch!” and it’s offensive that someone who does comedy for a living gets away with something like that.

Which is why I was surprised by Jezebel’s post– How to Tell a Rape Joke.

Let’s get this out in the open right now– I think that it’s possible to tell a joke about any subject. Cancer, death, the Holocaust. It’s possible and I’ve seen it done, I’ve laughed at those jokes while thinking “that’s terrible, don’t ever repeat it!” But I did laugh. I recognized the humor and I recognized the schism between the humor and the outrage. (After September 11, when we were all broken, all asking ourselves, why, how could this happen, Papa read that Bin Laden had multiple wives and said “oh, well, that certainly clarifies everything.”)

But back to Jezebel. The post makes many excellent, excellent points and it’s worth reading.

But I take issue with the examples of rape jokes told well that it provides. Particularly Louis CK:

I’m not condoning rape, obviously—you should never rape anyone. Unless you have a reason, like if you want to fuck somebody and they won’t let you.

Did you giggle at his joke?

No shame: Did you think his joke was funny?

I think if I weren’t a woman, I may have. Because yes! No reason to steal that purse, no reason to commit a crime, unless you really, really like the purse and your credit card is maxed out. It’s a tough economy out there, people. Doesn’t mean we don’t want stuff.

He’s talking about something that we used to call date rape and it took a hell of a long time for it to be recognized as rape, without the quote marks.

And I find Jezebel’s analysis of why the joke is funny bullshit: “…it’s easy to give him the benefit of the doubt that this joke is making fun of rapists—specifically the absurd and horrific sense of entitlement that accompanies taking over someone else’s body like you’re hungry and it’s a delicious hoagie. The point is, only a fucking psychopath would think like that, and the simplicity of the joke lays that bare.”

I’m not so sure.

And I’m concerned that when certain audience members are laughing to this joke it’s in the “dude, I’ve so been there” sense of recognition. Because the recognition is what makes it funny, not the fact that there are psychopaths our there that think like that.

I don’t know. Maybe I’m oversensitive. I’ll check back with you once I get my period.

One year ago ...

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The Thing Everybody’s Missing About The Rape Joke | Selfish Mom
July 15, 2012 at 12:22 pm

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Sara July 13, 2012 at 8:04 pm

Marinka, you’re so right on with this. A-men.


Leslie @ The Bearded Iris July 13, 2012 at 8:15 pm

(Ha – on that last line!) PMS or not, I don’t think you’re oversensitive. Whenever I watch Daniel Tosh I vacillate between laughter and nausea. You’re right – anything can be made funny, but responding to a heckler with the threat of gang rape? Not funny.

I do admit though, I once saw Tosh tell a joke about a kid who died from a roller coaster, and I laughed. I laughed hard. And then I felt bad…like oh God, that was someone’s child…who died…and I’m laughing. It takes some pretty awesome comedic skill to pull that off (and/or a really sick audience.)


July 13, 2012 at 9:20 pm

That joke, if told by a woman? Could be funny (barely – I would still wince), because it’s making fun of a man’s stupidity in thinking that rape has anything whatsoever to do with sex, when really what it has to do with is power.

So maybe, if the joke is told by a potential victim, it changes the humor content? Jews can tell Holocaust jokes; Germans can’t. Something to think about…

Think about an old Paula Poundstone joke: “My mother told me I should never go out walking alone at night if I had my vagina on me.” Funny, makes fun of women’s perpetual vulnerability. But if a guy told it, it would sound downright threatening.


July 13, 2012 at 9:21 pm

And the joke told by your father? Could only be uttered by a New Yorker…


July 13, 2012 at 9:50 pm

Rant alert!

There’s this parody of the “Call Me Maybe” video on YouTube.

The original video is about a girl having a crush on a guy that she sees outside her window, so she watches him and works up the nerve to give him her number.

In the parody – it’s a guy singing and a sexy girl mowing the lawn and fixing her car, etc. It’s kinda crass and explicit, with the guy saying about how horny he is for the girl, etc., but it’s kinda funny.


At the end of the video, he ties her up, and the last shot is him lunging at her, implying that he’s now going to rape her for being such a fuckin’ cock tease.


When I saw it a couple weeks ago, it had over 8 million hits, and lots and lots of “likes”! (I’m sure this week there are even more.)

Outraged, I became sorta obsessed about what I was going write as a comment, because, you know, that whole YouTube crowd is just holding its collective breath to read what a 51-year-old gay man like me thinks about this video.


Part of me wants to believe that young women are so confident in their sexuality and their willingness to speak out against rape, that they CAN laugh about it.

But another part of me is worried that it’s part of some sort of new misogynistic backlash.

I don’t know. 🙁


C Smith July 14, 2012 at 12:05 am

I really do agree with a lot of what Jezebel writes, but it doesn’t make me like that kind of humor any better, it’s not the sort of thing I would listen to on purpose, for a good time. But really, all humor comes from pain, it’s just our way of “whistling in the darkness”, minimizing our fear.


Carinn @welcometothemotherhood
July 14, 2012 at 8:19 am

How the hello did you manage to make a ‘rape is not funny’ post funny? That last line was brilliant.

I totally agree about Tosh coming from a place of anger. That’s why all the pieces that say he shouldn’t have apologized infuriate me. It wasn’t a joke that flopped, it was just an angry, mean and violent thing to say. So many want to let that fact slide bc he happens to be a “comedian”. It is not ok.

I thought the Jez article had many good points and I tweeted it as the only one that got things right, but I admit the Louis CK thing didn’t sit with me 100%. I did buy their explanation but you raise some good counterpoints.

Great post – funny, insightful and shockingly original.


July 14, 2012 at 9:57 am

I think the part that Louis CKs joke misses is that he makes it about sex, when rape isn’t about sex any more than armed robbery is about the gun. Rape is about domination, asserting power and control and inducing fear and in getting off on that. Anyone who reasonably wanted to get off would just go home and wank in the absence of a willing sex partner. But rape isn’t about being sexually satisfied – it’s about receiving emotional satisfaction from terror. Maybe that’s why I find it hard to giggle at.


Kat July 14, 2012 at 11:14 am

I think I understand why it’s supposed to be funny…people as funny as you and I can usually spot what the funny person is trying to accomplish with their joke. That being said, I’ve become a bit of a prude with humor after becoming a mother of young daughters. Jokes about violence and control over women don’t tickle my funny bone like they used to.


Alexandra July 14, 2012 at 12:15 pm

So sad. Where I cried when I heard what that asshole Tosh said back to that woman.

The ability/the possibility of overpowering someone because YOU CAN and to make that funny is SICK.



Missy July 14, 2012 at 12:32 pm

The silver lining in Louis CK’s joke and retort to the heckler is that it opens up a dialogue about it. The lightning bolt, to me, is exactly what you said, Marinka in that last paragraph: “certain audience members are laughing to this joke it’s in the “dude, I’ve so been there” sense of recognition.” ” That makes the whole shebang unfunny to me.


anymommy July 14, 2012 at 12:35 pm

Tosh was an ass. CK, I’m not so sure. The problem with subtle humor is that where the joke falls depends on the intent of the comic (was he making fun of men who think it’s actually okay to force sex in a date situation?) and the reception of the audience (we’re all laughing together about how ASININE and horrible it is to assume that you can violate someone’s body because it’s what you want.) If CK wasn’t being subtle (which I believe he was based on watching him) or the audience member thinks he’s condoning the act instead of mocking it, the humor is sick. But that’s case by case. And you’re always going to have yucky people that think clever, ironic humor is straight up.


Rebecca July 14, 2012 at 4:45 pm

Sometimes a joke doesn’t work. Sometimes you don’t know if it’s going to be funny until you say out loud in an audience. I don’t want my comics looking over their shoulders, wondering who might be offended. I don’t know … I’m not a big fan of Tosh anyway, but I can’t get worked up about this one either.


Selfish Mom
July 14, 2012 at 6:37 pm

I don’t know. Everybody I’ve read so far – you, Jezebel, a couple others – have made excellent points, and I can see the sense and validity in all of them. But I think we may be overthinking this one just a tad.


SubWife July 15, 2012 at 1:45 pm

I also don’t think rape jokes are funny. I also question the need to push the boundaries of what’s acceptable all the time. I don’t know how Holocaust can be made funny, but I can accept that a joke about it could be. The question to me is, must we make this topic a butt of a joke? Personally, I don’t like feeling guilty after I laugh.


Megan July 16, 2012 at 10:33 am

Taken alone, Tosh’s comments are ugly and horrid. As I don’t know the context (and quite frankly can’t imagine a context that would make them funny) it’s hard to make a real judgement.

A lot of comedy is tone and inflection and it can make a huge difference in how something is perceived. I love Louis CK, and would hope that the way his joke was told made it clear that he is NOT a fan of rape.

Ultimately though, this may be one of those subjects that is only joke fodder for a certain group (women) until such a time that it’s no longer an issue. Guys, for the most part, can’t really understand the concept of being in danger simply because you’re you.


Jessica @ The Happy Monster
July 16, 2012 at 10:21 pm

I totally agree with all of this. Unless we see how he reacted with the tone of voice and see exactly ehat the heckler said, then we don’t really know what happened.

It’s Daniel Tosh… he makes jokes about every. thing. He crosses the line and then continues running. Obviously, most women won’t find him funny.

But from what I understand, there are several different versions of this story going around so right now it’s very he said/she said. I do admire him for apologizing after the incident.


Mexmom July 16, 2012 at 11:45 am

I understand that we can have jokes about bad things in life and not necessarily feel bad every time, but his response to the girl who spoke up was totally inacceptable in my opinion


Kendra July 16, 2012 at 2:47 pm

I was away so I got to this whole discussion late.

Stand up comedy is almost 90% in the delivery. A great delivery can make a bad joke/line funny and a poor delivery can make a funny joke unfunny. I believe I’ve seen Louis C.K.’s joke and, based on the delivery and his comedy in general, I agree with Jezebel’s interpretation. I genuinely don’t remember if I laughed but I do know that I wasn’t offended. I take rape seriously, but I imagine there are others who take it more seriously…who are always examining anything regarding rape and the effect it might have on society or a group of people. There’s nothing wrong with that. There are just some things that strike a nerve in us and will never be funny. That could be rape, animal abuse, death…etc. Sometimes what I consider funny will depend on my mood.

I didn’t see Tosh replying to a heckler the way he did so I can’t say for sure if I’d find what he said funny. Somehow, looking at it on paper, I can’t imagine anyone could make it funny. It’s not even a joke. There’s no structure there. But honestly, I’m more offended at its lack of cleverness than anything else.

I read the person’s first hand account and I can’t say I take anyone’s side here. One, it doesn’t sound like Tosh was actually telling rape jokes that weren’t funny, he was simply making the assertion that rape jokes could be funny. (George Carlin had a similar bit–that anything, including rape, could be funny.) The person in the audience (who, based on her account, read like a drama queen) said that no rape jokes were funny and got up to leave. I think a more effective comeback would have been to ask him to prove it and not redo a schtick that a more talented comedian did far better years before. And then he followed it up with a “joke” that I can’t imagine was funny in any way, even with perfect delivery.

But again, I wasn’t there. At this point, I have no love for Tosh and I do think the person in the audience was right for being offended. But I also don’t think he’s wrong about rape jokes, I just don’t think he’s capable of understanding what would make a rape joke funny whereas I do think more nuanced comedians like Louis C.K. do even if there is disagreement about whether or not he pulled it off.


The Flying Chalupa
July 17, 2012 at 11:37 pm

Agreed. And no, I didn’t even giggle.

Only you could write this post, Marinka. Thank you for making such a good point with your trademark style (no, not “universally adored” – your other trademark).


Mom of A and a July 20, 2012 at 1:50 am

Hi, I linked your post to my latest Friday post!


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