The truth is rape is arguably the most despicable, and disgusting thing you can ever do to a person short of forcing them to reenact Human Centipede 2 or forcing them to watch Human Centipede 2. Being terrible doesn’t mean you can’t joke about it. Humour for many people is the best way to deal with horrible situations. Humour can also help promote a dialog about uncomfortable subject matter. Rape is a sensitive, heavy topic that can be intimidating for people to tackle. A joke made in the right way can deflate some of the stigma or in some cases cause offence to get the ball rolling. Rape is a serious issue and something that everyone needs to talk about. If it takes a few insensitive jokes to get people talking so be it.
That being said, there are right ways and wrong ways to go about making a rape joke. That’s why Amy Poehler and Tina Fey can be praised for making a rape joke at the Golden Globes and Bill Cosby’s attempt to make light of his accusations is decidedly distasteful and anyone who rewarded it with an applause should be deeply ashamed of themselves and might as well walk around wearing buttons that say “Proud Supporter of Rape Culture”.
As a humorist, a feminist, and what many call an”unfeeling and gross individual” I am exactly the person to tell you the difference between a good rape joke and a bad rape joke. I’ve compiled a little guide to help you learn how to make a proper rape joke that will inspire nervous laughter rather than outright rage… hopefully.
Understanding Rape Culture
Before you can even think about cracking wise about sexual assault or any other sensitive subject you have to understand the gravity of the matter. Lately you’ve probably heard the term rape culture tossed around a lot but do you know what it means? Do you even believe it is an actual thing?
Rape culture is a term used to refer to what is perceived as a normalization of sexual violence by society due to attitudes about gender and sexuality. Rape culture is things like victim blaming, misinterpreting of consent, and ignoring sexual harassment. Rape culture very much exists and it’s bad for everyone. It not only dehumanizes women but perpetuates myths that men can’t be victims of rape and that men are testosterone fuelled animals ruled by their libidos. Rape culture doesn’t benefit anyone except sexual predators.
If you don’t understand an issue then you have no business making jokes about it. People can tell the difference between pleading ignorance for comic effect and just being straight up ignorant. If you honestly believe that sexism doesn’t exist, that some people are “asking for it”, that rape itself is funny, or that people have no right to get offended when you make a rape joke, then you need to quietly remove yourself from society and stop holding back the rest of the human race.
Assessing Your Audience
Now that all of the jerk offs have stopped reading to focus on their angry comments the rest of us well meaning and educated, but twisted, sons of bitches can get back constructing our informed and tasteful quips about sexual assault.
Before you break out your carefully crafted rape joke, take a moment to take a look around you. Where are you? On public transit or at a women’s shelter? Maybe you should put it away. Who are you with? Co-workers or complete strangers? It’s probably best to hold off. Are you at home surrounded by your closest friends? Go for it.
When it comes to making offensive jokes of any kind you have really pay attention to those around you. There is a time and a place for politically incorrect humour and it can take a lot of years of missteps before you can learn to identify when the time is right. Be warned, more often than not the time is wrong.
Other things you should take into account include: How politically charged is my joke? Are these people smart enough to realize that it’s a joke and I’m not a heinous human being? Is my joke a reference to a specific incident? Has enough time passed where it’s acceptable to joke about this incident?
That last one is very important. If the shock of a current news story is still hanging in the air it’s usually better to not go there. Take the other night for instance, I was watching Team America: World Police with a couple other people. During the opening sequences when terrorists attack Paris I stopped myself short of saying “They can’t all be cartoonists” because it was a terrible, terrible, thought to have and I didn’t need to spend the rest of the night averting my roommate’s judging eyes. Even sharing it now I’m not sure how it’s going to go over.
The truth is there’s no way to know for sure if your joke will be received positively. You have to play it by ear and use your better judgment. If you’re immediately met with appalled looks from those around you it’s best to start apologizing profusely.
Can You Get Away With It?
I hate being exclusionary as much as the next guy but there are simply some people who are allowed to make rape jokes and some who should never utter the world in a public place. I don’t make the rules.
I was born with a vagina so I already have an advantage when it comes to kidding around about sexual violence. Gentlemen, this is one the few things in life where you’ll find your penis is actually a hindrance. I know, I know, “but that’s misandry”, sorry guys but for the same reasons it’s more acceptable for a black guy to make jokes about black culture it’s more acceptable for women to make jokes about rape culture. Our day to day lives tend to be more impacted by the threat of rape then yours so we get more leeway to talk and joke about it. Same goes for domestic abuse, and the C word.
Being a guy doesn’t mean you have to give up rape jokes all together. Some of my favourite rape jokes have been made by men. You just have to know how to approach it. How comfortable people feel around you is a big part of it. If you’re a relatable and nonthreatening kind of guy you can probably pull it off. If you’re more on the aggressive side it’s gonna be more difficult. If you’re joking about yourself getting raped you should be in the clear but if you’re joking about doing the raping you may want to approach with caution. The exception to this bit is that you’re naturally so creepy that it becomes an uncomfortably kind funny but only when in a room full of people, never in a one on one situation. If your a comedian you’re pretty much golden as long as you don’t pull a Daniel Tosh.
If you have ever committed rape, threatened rape, or been accused of rape it should go without saying that under no circumstances should you ever make a rape joke. It’s not cool and I hope the authorities have been alerted.
Being Conscious Of Who The Butt Of The Joke Is
Above I mentioned Daniel Tosh. If you can remember he got in some hot water a couple years back for a joke he made at the expense of a heckler. During a bit where tosh voiced his affinity for rape jokes a woman in the audience cut in “Actually, rape is never funny” to which tosh responded “Wouldn’t it be funny if that girl got raped by, like, five guys right now? Like right now? What if a bunch of guys just raped her…”
Also as mentioned earlier Amy Poehler and Tiny Fey made a pretty great example of a well executed rape joke at this year’s Golden Globes.
The is one big difference between the two jokes. No it’s not the gender of the person telling them. The biggest and most important distinction between them is who the joke was mocking. The target of Poehler and Fey’s joke was the rapist where as Tosh’s was the, hypothetical, victim.
Poehler and Fey’s goal was to mock and shame those who commit rape in this case accused rapist Bill Cosby who, lets be honest, is almost definitely guilty. Due to statute of limitations he’ll likely never be found guilty in a court of law but when 20+ women come forward with eerily similar stories and nothing to gain, over the course of decades there’s little doubt that he did it.
In Tosh’s case he made a very poor choice in how to take down a heckler. Heckling is a shitty thing to do, but you know what is an even shittier thing to do? Telling someone you hope they get gang raped in front of an audience for interrupting you. There were a hundred responses he could have given, even other rape jokes he could have made, like: “tell that to my rapist”, or “clearly you’ve never seen Sixteen Candles“. He could have followed up but he picked the absolute worst joke by making her a subject of sexual assault.
Accepting The Repercussions
When the incident happened it became an argument of comedic freedom vs common decency. As a comedian you should be allowed to joke about what you like. I firmly believe that. No topic should ever be off limits. That said, when you pick a topic like rape you do it knowing it’s a trigger topic. You know that you’re joke is going to shock and offend people and that’s why you do it. You want someone to be offended whether it’s for publicity, to start a dialog, to make a point, or because you just like to shock people. To fire back at the offence an audience member has taken, as if they have no right to be offended, is wrong.
For example: On my last period, which some of you may know was a particularly bad one, while eating dinner with my roommate I got into a monologue about having a hysterectomy. The gist was if I just had it removed than I wouldn’t have to worry about cramps anymore and would save so much money on feminine hygiene products. Of course the only way to have medic care cover this would be if I had cervical cancer. Exactly how long would I have to stand with my lady parts in front of the microwave to get cervical cancer? My roommate’s face became twisted in an enduring cringe; when I asked her why she exclaimed, “you’re joking about cancer!”, and that was a totally reasonable response. I share this with you now knowing that it has the potential to offend people with cervical cancer or with loved ones who have cervical cancer. Knowing that If someone leaves me a comment that “cervical cancer isn’t funny” and that I’m “an insensitive asshole” I brought that upon myself and I don’t not deserve it.
You do have freedom of speech. You have the right to say what you like but other people also have to right to tell you when they don’t like what you’re saying.
I leave you with a good rape joke.