Daniel Tosh, Rape Jokes and Hecklers

Photo: Ian White/Comedy Central

Notorious misogynist Daniel Tosh lived up to his reputation this week during a set at L.A.’s Laugh Factory. According to one audience member, his set included “some very generalizing, declarative statements about rape jokes always being funny, how can a rape joke not be funny, rape is hilarious,” she wrote on her blog.

… I didnt appreciate Daniel Tosh (or anyone!) telling me I should find them funny. So I yelled out, “Actually, rape jokes are never funny!”

I did it because, even though being “disruptive” is against my nature, I felt that sitting there and saying nothing, or leaving quietly, would have been against my values as a person and as a woman. I don’t sit there while someone tells me how I should feel about something as profound and damaging as rape.

After I called out to him, Tosh paused for a moment. Then, he says, “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…” and I, completely stunned and finding it hard to process what was happening but knowing i needed to get out of there, immediately nudged my friend, who was also completely stunned, and we high-tailed it out of there. It was humiliating, of course, especially as the audience guffawed in response to Tosh, their eyes following us as we made our way out of there. I didn’t hear the rest of what he said about me.

“All the out of context misquotes aside, I’d like to sincerely apologize,” Tosh tweeted last night. “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,” he wrote.

And now Louis C.K. has offered Tosh his support, because that always follows a comedian saying offensive things, as thunder follows lightning. (Tosh also has the support of the Laugh Factory’s owner, who says he’s “one of the funniest comics alive.”)

First, let’s get a few quick things out of the way: (1) This is totally in keeping with Daniel Tosh’s humor and style. He’s a lousy Reddit thread come to life, which is why he is so popular! (Just ask Jeff Dunham.) (2) Don’t heckle comedians, no matter how offensive and crappy you think their material is. (3) There’s no such thing as off-limits in comedy, and comedians are always — always — entitled to make jokes about whatever they want. But “entitled to” and “obligated to” are not the same thing, and comedy is not immune to criticism.

Now we can revisit the always fun, always enlightening conversation of are rape jokes funny? Maybe! We have not heard every rape joke in the whole world — though it sure feels like we have, because we have heard so many goddamn rape jokes. They are constant. In stand-up sets, improv sets, sketches, sitcoms, movies, on pretty much the entire Internet, in conversation, at bars, at parties. Rape rape rape, har har har.

Are there hilarious rape jokes out there, twinkling and waiting to be discovered in the dusty old joke mines? Sure, that’s possible, and we’ll let you know when we hear one. Instead, when I hear a rape joke, what I hear is, “I don’t care about women.” I hear, “I want to laugh at women’s concerns, and I want you to laugh with me.” Rape jokes reinforce the idea that male identity is neutral and normal, and female identity is marginal and laughable. Terrorizing and marginalizing women is hilarious, and you just can’t take a joke.

Daniel Tosh, Rape Jokes & Hecklers