Daniel Tosh Rape Jokes

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Austin Comedian Curtis Luciani writes about Daniel Tosh’s rape joke incident at the Laugh Factory.

My concise interpretation of his points:
1) Rape is far more prevalent than men think it is: imagine having your dick cut off and being emasculated by a comedian.
2) There is a difference between doing comedy and bringing pain and hurting someone.

In order for #2 to happen, the comic’s words must be presented as very real and outside the realm of comedy. The offensiveness has nothing to do with it; the comedian has stepped outside of art and is doing whatever he/she can to hurt someone else: in this case, the closest weapon Tosh picked up was remarking how funny rape would be.
If my interpretation of Curtis’s argument is correct, then how prevalent rape is or how much trauma a rape victim undergoes is no longer a variable in the equation if the comic stops his act with the intent on destroying someone.
So if this is the case, if Daniel Tosh did indeed step outside of the realm of art to hurt someone else, and his behavior is wrong.
As far as deciding whether material is untouchable or not? That isn’t for the audience or other comics to decide; When you step into the comic’s arena, you are free to choose what you think about the material; you can hate it, you can hate him, but you can’t say that the material is off limits.

More at Reddit under the username MackyTrajan.

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24 Responses to Daniel Tosh Rape Jokes

  1. Let me point out the missing piece in the discussion:

    In basic terms, Tosh offended someone, and she blogged about it. Nothing unusual there.

    But then the media picked up the story. It was that step, not the first two, that caused the “firestorm” and the debate. Comics offend people all the time. People are offended all the time, and they have the right and luxury of writing about it.

    Only when the media chooses a specific episode of offense do we take note, as if it was the ONLY episode, a marked deviation from ordinary life.

    Simply put: the media decided if there should be a controversy, and people lined up on their respective binary sides.

    • vandal says:

      It didn’t seem like “the media” (or any man or company or organized method of the old media) picked up the story as much as the specific tumblr-mind picked it up. They are particularly known for their social justice and love of The Hunger Games reblogs. Whatever yahoo or newsstation further picking up on it did it based on and because of their responses. The old media is starting to take cues from the new, as clearly exampled by Toshs’ show even existing.

      If you found out about this story from the television I take it you’re at least over 35.

    • SpectacularViews says:

      The people arguing against this type of humor are using the Tosh incident as a springboard to create dialogue around the entire history of misogyny in comedy. Your interpretation doesn’t properly consider this.

  2. Minerva says:

    and people lined up on their respective binary sides.

    Ok, I’ll go first: Dammit, why can’t we bring Benny Hill back?

  3. SpectacularViews says:

    What does it mean to “declare material off limits”? No one is suggesting he go to prison, they’re just saying “this kind of material deserves to be met with intense social pressure.” Social pressure is not the same as censorship, and it’s a legitimate form of policing behavior. Tosh himself recognizes it, whether he realizes it or not. I guarantee you there are lines (mostly racial) he does not approve of crossing.

    • MarcusB says:

      People are declaring that there are some subjects that are to not be talked about at all, because it offends the audience.

      The comic Curtis Luciani who wrote the article I was discussing above was saying that

      a)It’s wrong to step outside of comedy to try to hurt someone
      b)Some topics are not to be touched because they can hurt someone

      Whether or not Tosh actually tried to hurt the feelings of the audience member, I don’t know; I wasn’t there. If people want to place social pressure on him, then so be it. I explained why b) doesn’t work in the Reddit comment.

      Tosh did not recognize that he crossed the line; he apologized after people got pissed. That’s why he apologized on Twitter and why Kramer apologized on the David Letterman Show.

      They were essentially apologizing to us; Alone described it perfectly above.

      Plenty of people have had material about rape, George Carlin had a whole segment dedicated to it, called Rape CAN be Funny

      People just choose what to get mad at when it’s in the news.

      • sunshinefiasco says:

        Very few people who care/know anything about comedy outside of when Daniel Tosh or Tracy Morgan are in the news are suggesting that topics be made of limits.

        “a)It’s wrong to step outside of comedy to try to hurt someone
        b)Some topics are not to be touched because they can hurt someone”

        I don’t think that these rules are relevant to what occured in the club– I don’t think he was conciously “stepping outside comedy”, he was knee-jerk reacting to a heckler, badly.
        The relevant facts as I understand them:
        a) Tosh was riffing, and came upon the topic of rape
        b) Lady spoke out (whether you think heckling is a universal evil or not, we can be sure he percieved it as a heckle)
        c) Tosh reacted poorly, responded with the “Wouldn’t it be funny if she got raped by 5 guys right now”
        d) Tosh didn’t apologize because screw her, she’s a heckler.

        What we know: 1)When faced with any unexpected crowd interaction, be it WHOO/You Suck/Don’t talk about rape, tons of comedians overheat/react poorly. PARTICULARLY when they don’t have a bit to fall back on, they’re in a club, riffing.

        2) Other comics are always going to defend offensive stuff that comes out while they’re riffing– because material comes from riffing, and having bits on serious topics requires riffing.

        The problem with his joke: it was really insensitive, contained no insight/depth/understanding, appealed to the lowest brow of humor on the topic, and it wasn’t funny at all. People have a right to react strongly to that. If he gets the short end of the media stick, that’s just too damn bad. He’s gotten tons of cheap ratings on TV by being a sensationalist bro outside his stand-up, and now he’s getting screwed on the cheap. It’s a volatile issue– feel free to talk about it, but don’t blame me if you can’t tread lightly.

        Lessons Learned:
        1) Don’t talk about rape if you can’t do it well and be funny. If you do it anyway, be ready for the consequences.
        2) Have set responses to hecklers.

      • Brucenstein says:

        I don’t think that Curtis Luciani was saying that anything should be specifically off-limits regardless. In fact he goes to pains to say that these topics *can* be funny, but that as your approach ever-more taboo subjects you have to handle it with ever-increasing finesse.

        His main complaint was that Tosh didn’t do this – he didn’t really even make a joke. If the, “Wouldn’t it be funny if this lady were raped?!” line is to be believed, all he did was basically insult someone. Insulting someone who insulted him, sure, but that’s not a very good defense.

      • SpectacularViews says:

        I think you’re misinterpreting the arguments against Tosh. An article on Jezebel said that the general rule should be that the victim is not the butt of the joke, which is probably what George Carlin meant in the video you linked when he says you need to construct the joke properly.

        As for people “just choosing to get mad at what’s in the news,” that’s a disingenuous statement meant to discredit anyone saying anything feminist. Many, many think about these issues every day. What Alone was describing is basically “fair-weather feminism.” It’s an interesting phenomenon, but it has no bearing on whether or not Tosh’s jokes were a harmful contribution to rape culture, and it does not describe everyone criticizing Tosh.

        • sunshinefiasco says:

          To be fair, though, a balanced judgement doesn’t just consist of thinking about feminism everyday– it also requires some knowledge of how comedy is made. By necessity, for the large number of comedians, it involves standing up and thinking on your feet without much more than a premise. Sometimes you get a joke, sometimes it bombs, and sometimes I think you say things you didn’t plan to.

          It’s a straight-male dominated medium. While that doesn’t mean we should except misogny/homophobia, acting stunned that some exists seems like a distraction from actually working against those things. It’s like the people who think Louis CK is anti-women. I don’t think he truly is, maybe a tiny bit backward, but as a woman, I don’t usually look to men-in-their-late-40s-from-Boston-who-appear-white as my barometers for feminism.

          • SpectacularViews says:

            Definitely. A balanced judgement requires an open mind. But this “No one actually cares, they just pretend to because it was on the news” stuff is both wrong and irrelevant.

          • sunshinefiasco says:

            I was referring to a specific sub-set of people. The people who say “there should be hard limits for what things people can joke about”, are people who only care about stand-up comedy when Tracy/Richards are in the news. That’s all I was saying, not that people don’t care.

  4. AnonymousAtLarge says:

    A symptom of our society.

    We have an emotional cardiac arrest over a few words, meanwhile, all sorts of exploitation and human rights violations occur under our noses and we fail to GIVE A SHIT because no one beat a war drum for us to follow.

    That’s the magic word, kids. A recipe for faux outrage:
    WOMAN, RAPE, FUNNY. <—congrats, angry mob at your door. Older female reporter covering the play by play events, shaming tone in voice. Tons of unemployed 17-22 year old netizens mostly females are now up in arms.

    …but when some guy goes to jail and gets raped, no one cares. This is because if a young man who sold weed happens to get raped in jail, there isn't any social/ political angle to exploit here. Most prison rape is a black on white crime, so there isn't a racial angle. There isn't a gender angle either. There is no youth exploitation involved, no inequity of rich/poor, or any of the common themes championed by the media / social groups. In fact, if anyone pipes up about prison rape, it is possible if not likely the feminists will criticize that individual for downplaying the fact that rape is traditionally a male on female crime, therefore it is misogynist to focus on prison rape to the exclusion of the more common forms of rape.

    And that's just the way it is. No on REALLY cares about morality, right and wrong. All we care about is our group affiliations and being properly enraged at the right time for everyone to see so we can go to sleep knowing we really ARE good people.

    • MarcusB says:

      Wow, you hit the nail on the head, especially prison rape. I don’t think there’s anything I could add to that.

    • sunshinefiasco says:

      AAL, you’re missing the point.

      1) Rape is, 91% of the reported time, a male-on-female crime, and 99% of reported rapists are male. Prison rape, while an extremely serious, under-addressed issue, is a miniscule percentage of that (yes, I know, it’s under-reported, so is regular rape). Treating the two (91% vs. 9%), as directly comprable does sound like an indicator of issues with gender to me (Please note the intentionally measured language in that sentence). It is the equivalent of someone lighting your house on fire, and you worrying about the linen closet. Also, your foray into race is weird here.

      2) Prison rape is unnecessarily trivialized in our society. True. But this: “In fact, if anyone pipes up about prison rape, it is possible if not likely the feminists will criticize that individual…” being used as evidence is absurd. It is possible feminists will criticize, if not likely? Jesus.

      3) Seriously, it’s the feminists trivializing prison rape? Not dudebros and comics with a bit of a vicious/trashy streak, like Daniel Tosh and Anthony Jeselnik (comics I both enjoy, in fact, (well, Tosh’s early standup if not his later nightmares))? You might not believe it, but it’s actually feminists who are fighting against prison assaults, rather than pretending they aren’t happening (http://www.feministe.us/blog/archives/2010/04/21/prison-rape-assault-shouldnt-be-a-part-of-the-sentence/)

      4) The reason a lot of women get upset when you equate the two is that, in these discussions, men often use prison rape as a way to defuse tension when we talk about rape as a gendered issue (the same way that lots white people with race issues all have a story about a white kid that couldn’t get a job/into college thanks to affirmative action). To claim that rape is not a gendered crime is absurd.

      It doesn’t make the issue itself less serious, but a lot of the people who bring it up are seriously misinformed about the commonality of male-on-female rape and are scraping for something that makes them seem like a fellow victimized group. I think, as a woman, you know that rape/the possibility of rape is a bigger part of your life than it is for an un-incarcerated male.

      • AnonymousAtLarge says:

        ^^^Case in point

      • mtowle says:

        >Treating the two (91% vs. 9%), as directly comprable does sound like an indicator of issues with gender to me (Please note the intentionally measured language in that sentence). It is the equivalent of someone lighting your house on fire, and you worrying about the linen clothing.

        Which would hit you harder, your mom dying, or seeing on the news that 15,000 people died in an earthquake in Iran?

        • sunshinefiasco says:

          If you or someone close is a victim, go ahead and be an activist, make your whole life around the cause of stopping male rape. But, you know, try to have perspective. What happened to you/your close person is rare and a minuscule part of the number of sexual assaults occurring every day– something that your/our attention/funding/understanding/whatever to the issue of sexual assault should reflect.

          If you’re upset about that idea due to trauma, bummer, try to work on it, but putting things in perspective, you probably have other stuff to work on. If you’re like that because you’re like that, you’re probably an asshole.

          To answer your question (by the way, congratulations on accidentally comparing rape with an accepted and expected part of our life cycle, thus rendering your comparison useless!):

          Yeah, I’d be bummed, but upon seeing coverage of the earthquake on TV, my reaction wouldn’t be “This is bullshit, they never did a story about my mom on there… I mean, I know people died and stuff, but this was my mom and seriously, I don’t know why they don’t divert more resources to helping people like me. I mean, grieving is a serious issue!” (Jesus christ, I sound like AJ Soprano.)

          • johnnycoconut says:

            Jesus Christ, you’ve made some good points here, and AAL could’ve worded some things better, but she’s completely right. There is genius with her madness, as another commenter said somewhere on an earlier post.

  5. Neex says:

    What I’m curious is who among people who say and laugh about rape jokes actually have their hands outstretched to people who are damaged by rape in an ongoing way. Who among you that laugh are laughing with me? Who among you have your hand held out to listen to what my life is like living with complex PTSD, dissociation, abnormal temporal/parietal lobe activity in response to triggering behaviors from males who register as predatory (whether they are or aren’t) and the continued attacks I’ve experienced because in order to stay sane I often have to turn of ALL fear of predatory behaviors making my ability to assess whether I’m in danger completely fucked meaning I have to hide from people because I can’t tell whether I should be running away screaming or being calm and friendly and accomodating, and I can’t afford any kind of in depth therapy or treatment because I have disorientation, confution, and cognitive impairment– all of which WORSENS with meds which are the only option available to people without money because they are too fucked up to work.

    So who among you actually cares about all that enough to claim you laugh while also truly being empathetic? You laugh because you don’t care. Because you know you won’t do anything to help people like me. You aren’t laughing with me, and you aren’t available for people who have been truly broken by rape and ongoing sexual abuse. You laugh because you have the luxury of choosing whether you want to think about/care about/be aware of the damage rape does because you don’t have to see those affects and suffer them every day.

    I’m not saying there aren’t people who actually take action to be there for people who have been raped, for people dealing with long term complex trauma and impairment as a result, or who take intitiative to stop rape in the community who might need to relax and dark humor is a helpful coping mechanism WHILE they do good things. But that’s not why most people laugh at these jokes. Show me what you actually do for rape victims, and show me how you are laughing “with” us, and then I will believe you aren’t intentionally othering us without caring how it damages us or empowers people who genuinely think rape is funny because they are sadistic and emotionally cruel and have no emotion or feel humor when they hear about others suffering. You laugh because you think “Ha, yeah everyone has a bit of sadism in there somewhere, don’t we, isn’t that funny? Because lot’s of us don’t want to give a shit about rape victims and we can support each others insecurity about the fact that might be shitty by laughing and diffusing the idea that maybe we should actually take the time to have an empathetic response, but we don’t feel like it” And truly, I am all for showing compassion to everyone and we all have weird ways of thinking and responding to things. But initial internal instinctual reactions can also be challenged internally. You’re using humor to become LESS compassionate about what rape does to people and to buffer yourself from challenging that decision by being part of a group that reinforces it’s ok to do that.

    Which is fine, people make crappy choices all the time and humor is often a space to see things that suck about ourselves and be more ok with those things (even if those things hurt people around us). Just don’t pretend that it’s inherently morally nuetral to use humor for this purpose. You probably shouldn’t be using humor to care less about what rape victims go through, even though that might make your world just a little better. Alleviating the discomfort of how people who haven’t been raped feel about it, is not the same thing as caring about the often life long affects many people experience after being raped. Perhaps it would be better to alleviate the discomfort you feel knowing there is rape in the world by actually doing something about preventing or responding to the after effects of rape better. Because right now, it happens all the fucking time and we haven’t fixed the problem.

    A lot of humor is about people getting together in groups and being really mean and empowering individuals to feel comfortable being as mean as they want. I do think some people can use this to get more compassion for their kind of fucked up inner parts with the goal of NOT enabling those parts to take over. But I think sometimes we get a little too “kind” to the realities of how we hurt/other/disenfranchise others– at the expense of others to make ourselves more comfortable shutting down empathy.

    Rape victims- “Actually rape jokes really hurt a lot of us”
    Non rape victims- “Ha! That’s funny! Now don’t you see we’re on your side? That’s what humor is and stuff! Hahahaha! Wouldn’t if be funny if every HA made you hurt more!? HA!!! That’s REALLY funny! Don’t challenge the idea we’re empathetic good people while we do this!”

    Um… yeah. Laugh all you want. I’ll damn straight challenge the integrity of your character for that. But then again I do in fact find mean comedy to often do more damage than good in the world. So maybe it’s an issue of directly seeing that people who routinely laugh to cruel and sadistic humor are often the people in my work environments who say “COOL this ladies car exploded outside, OMG that is so awesome I want to go watch. There’s a fire! Holy shit, cool, it looks like she’s getting her kid our of the car!” and justifying it as “humor”. Mmhmm. I see how that works. Sadists love humor that validates their cruelty. And I truly think that feeding and enabling and “making ok” your cruelest thoughts can help them grow.

    The men I know who make mysogenistic jokes regularly? Oh yeah, I thought they were joking. They say they are joking. But how do they live their lives and actually think about and treat and interact with women? They make jokes because they are processing that on a regular basis they actually do think really shitty mysogenistic thoughts- not because the concept is alien and therefore humorous.

    But really I think the conversation has more to do with how people use humor in general, whether there should be responsibility to make ethical choices about it’s use, and how it impacts future behavior and others who get made fun of more than whether rape jokes- specifically– should be what is under attack. And yes knee jerk “rape is bad! Therefore rape jokes must stop!” doesn’t actually facilitate that conversation very well. That doesn’t mean the convo can’t be had anyway though.

  6. Neex says:

    Then again I would never in a million years set foot in a comedy club and I think all violent/cruel/tragic forms of entertainment are totally inappropriate. You barbarians! Shape up or I shall shake my finger at you a second time-uh!! If only I can convince the populace that pre-school programming is the only ethical form of television entertainment…. perhaps we could start getting somewhere….

    Won’t you all hold hands and sing I love you songs with me? What is wrong with you people SRSLY.

  7. rawford says:

    “Your job as a comedian is to take us through pain, transcend pain, transform pain.”
    I’m not buying this. Or at least not the way he means it.

    A really great stand up is someone who can get up on stage and talk about more or less whatever they want in a way that is totally impossible ordinarily, except they have this skill set. Luciani describes a cost benefit analysis between funniness and hurtful material as though it were a moral calculation. It’s not. It’s about ego and survival.

    I once heard Louis C.K. describe comedy as a Darwinian business. You are allowed your off nights or episodes, but if they aren’t laughing over any significant stretch, you’re gone. You start talking about rape? Yeah, you’re taking a sizable risk, probably a dumb one, because you’re starting in a dark, dark place. The guy who chooses not to talk about certain things is probably being risk averse, not necessarily more moral.

    Taking on a taboo or a painful topic or even a hard truth, is the prerogative of the skillful comedian not because they are capable of “inviting dialogue” where others cannot, but simply because they can make people laugh (a largely involuntary response) where others can’t. They are not invoking a painful topic to have the audience transcend it. They are usually doing it for the joy of getting away with it. It’s the thrill of slapping a tiger in the face and swinging back into the trees before it can eat you, and if you understand the terror of facing a room full of staring strangers with their i-phones, then maybe you can understand how apt that comparison really is. There’s a certain daring to it, and it can be just as thrilling for others to watch. That dare devil act becomes part of certain comedians draw, and a testament to their prowess. Until they slip, or the tiger simply catches up. Then it’s all ugly. Ask Lenny Bruce.

    On the flip side, I can totally understand how frustrating it must be for people who don’t find it funny, just hurtful, and therefore want this person censured like the rest of us would be. But you should realize that feeling you have, that anger, is one half of the act.