Are you havin’ a laugh?
Depending where you fall on the Finding-Daniel-Tosh-Funny spectrum (which ranges from “Oh, isn’t it hilarious how straight guys don’t get turned on by the same things gay guys do?!” to “Oh, the humanity!”), the firestorm that erupted on the Internet regarding a joke he made about rape has elicited strong reactions from both sides.
This week, while performing at Los Angeles comedy club The Laugh Factory (home of Michael Richards‘ notorious, career-killing racist tirade), Tosh’s routine apparently struck an uncomfortable nerve with a female audience member, as well as her friend, who documented the account that has since gone viral. According to the blogger, who wrote on behalf of her friend who was the butt of Tosh’s jokes, Tosh was “making some very generalizing, declarative statements about rape jokes always being funny, how can a rape joke not be funny, rape is hilarious, etc.” during his routine.
After feeling compelled to break the golden comedy club rule, the female audience shouted to Tosh, “Actually, rape jokes are never funny!” Like most comedians in this kind of situation, Tosh fired back at the heckler. Only this time, what he responded with has now caught the attention of those well outside of the comedy club. According to the post, Tosh joked, “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?” Get it? Because she would be raped.
While Tosh’s comedy M.O. has always been to be unapologetic (as evidenced by his wildly popular Comedy Central show Tosh.0, which regularly pushes the boundaries of taste and sensitivity), the outrage and response to the story made the comedian re-examine his choice of words. Well, kind of. Tosh tweeted on Tuesday, “all the out of context misquotes aside, i’d like to sincerely apologize…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.”
Funnily enough, Tosh’s sentiment in his quasi-apology on Twitter actually gets right to the core of the controversy here. The 37-year-old assures that his routine was done to laugh in the face of some of the unforgivable ugliness in the world. After all, if we couldn’t at least have a laugh about all the terrible things that happen out there, we’d be a world comprised of some seriously depressed people. That’s why we love comedians in the first place: They can expertly pinpoint the misery and absurdities of life.
The problem here isn’t with the the “joke” itself, however, but with the tone behind Tosh’s particular brand of humor. After all, this is someone who oversaw a segment on his show that encouraged men to touch women against their will. When Richards flew off the handle during his infamous set, his reaction didn’t come from a place of comedy, but pure hate. So is Tosh really trying to make a statement about societal horrors, or does Tosh, whose comedy has some unquestionably misogynistic tones, simply just get a kick out of some pretty degrading stuff?
Then again, the audience member that cried to Tosh that “rape jokes are never funny” brings up another facet of this controversy. To many, rape jokes (which seem to be used at an excessive rate in comedy, not just Tosh’s, to begin with) will never be funny, in the same way that some people will never be able to laugh at a 9/11 joke or an abortion joke or a Holocaust joke. But some of the best, most well-respected comedians out there have unabashedly made jokes at those very sensitive subjects, haven’t they?
A clip from the Emmy-nominated FX series Louie, which features a female heckler and rape jokes, has been making the rounds in response to the Tosh controversy. So why do comics like the critically beloved Louis C.K., who tweeted his support to Tosh, “get away with it”? While no truly daring comedian can ever stray away from topics that might make people uncomfortable, there has to be a unspoken trust between the comic and the audience that what they’re saying is coming from a place of the knowledge and respect that things like rape are, at their core, truly disgraceful. Louis C.K. has earned his audience’s trust to say these things, not only because he acknowledges he says some outrageous things, but because, at his core, he exudes that he is a loving father of two girls. Tosh’s persona, however, exudes that of a privileged, mean-spirited frat boy.
But this really doesn’t come down to whether or not you Tosh funny. To each his own. For every person that disregards Dane Cook or Carlos Mencia‘s brand of comedy, disregards the enjoyment their fans get from them. For every person that gets that the “offensive” things that Louis C.K. and South Park deliver are actually rooted in intellect, there are just as many horrified, upset detractors. As well there should be: If you’re inviting a response, it means you’re doing something right. But if Tosh isn’t making light of rape to make sense of it all and is instead cracking a joke at the expense of it, is a sign that something is wrong.
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[Photo credit: Ian White/Comedy Central]