I’m up late, having had to use my inhalator on an empty stomach, so it seems like the perfect time to talk about something that unites and never divides: rape jokes.
Recently, Lindy West, a comedy blogger, sat down with Jim Norton, a shock comedian on FX show, Totally Biased with Kamau Bell to discuss their different viewpoints on rape jokes. Everyone was civil and agreed to disagree and it was good. Fans of Lindy West were annoyed with Jim Norton; fans of Jim Norton have taken to Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, and all the other places where people who have far more lube than condoms go and said that Lindy West is too fat to get raped, deserves to get raped, and wishes she would get raped for daring to say that there may be some misogyny in comedy.
Um, guys? There is misogyny in comedy. I know a million awesome, funny, feminist men through improv. But I don’t have to journey far to find the sexism: An off-handed comment about having to tell a white lie to one’s wife, because you know how women are. Dudes who play women in scenes with a sibilant lisp and a perpetual bevel. That it is notable for a theater-sponsored team to be equally comprised of women and men. Important people are working to change this, which makes this kind of latent sexism all the more unpleasant; requiring the noticer of sexism to wonder if she’s being overly sensitive.
Nothing is off limits in comedy. Even rape jokes. But, but, BUT. But. There are topics more delicate than others. And if you want to be the comic to tackle them, be it in print, stand-up, improv or mime, you have to work extra hard to find a universal grain of comedic truth here. If you’re just saying the “n” word for shock value or saying that someone deserves to be raped to cater to the dregs of society, you are not funny and you suck as a comic and you’re lazy and I hope your shitty show gets cancelled on Comedy Central, Tosh.O, except that it won’t because there are a lot of angry, shitty dudes out there who laugh at violence against women because they are sheep in a culture that promotes violence against women which is a culture that lazy, shitty rape jokes perpetuate*.
Tonight, this controversy found its way into my mostly male improv class. We’re all comedians and surely most to all of us have said something onstage in the moment we wish we could take back. Some guys were mad because they felt like people have always laughed at these jokes and now this blogger is leading a witch hunt against tried and true comedy. Some guys were horrified at all the things that internet people have said against Lindy West. I mentioned that it’s different for female comedians to make rape jokes because those jokes come from the place that almost every woman has wondered if she’s about to have the rape she’s been anticipating since the first time a man angrily called her a whore for ignoring his wolf-whistle on the street. Women live in a world where we never get to fully feel safe. In the minds of angry men, we are always asking for it. We are whores for taking birth control pills and prudes for holding out and teases for wearing a short skirt and cunts for having the opinion that rape jokes aren’t funny. These are messages that confront a woman every day; it’s no wonder that women make up half the patriarchy**.
My teacher, a comedy expert himself, made the point, “Nothing should be off-limits in comedy. But you always need to be aware of who you’re representing onstage and what you’re saying. And you don’t want to be the person whose fans are the ones to take to the internet en masse to say that a woman deserves to be raped. ”***
*Swearing is another form of comedic laziness.
**Anecdotally stolen from a male comedian.
***This is the most liberal paraphrasing ever.