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He Said, She Said: Are Rape Jokes Ever Acceptable?

Did standup comedian Daniel Tosh go too far in making a joke about rape in response to a heckler?

This past week, standup comedian and television show host Daniel Tosh landed himself in the middle of an Internet fiasco when he made an inappropriate comment in response to a heckler. Tosh reportedly made a joke about sexual assault during a set at a Hollywood comedy club, to which a woman in the audience called out, ‘Actually, rape jokes are never funny!’

After pausing for a moment, Tosh replied, ‘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 …’ The woman left the club terrified and shaken and wrote about her experience in a blog post, which went viral.

Tosh eventually apologized via his Twitter feed, but added, “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.” 

Everyone, from the ladies of "The View" to countless comedians on Twitter, weighed in on Tosh’s comment. Some leapt to his defense, arguing that Tosh treated the woman like a comedian would treat any other heckler, which is to say whatever is necessary to quiet them and resume your standup act. Others derided Tosh for crossing a line and belittling a subject rife with trauma—completely unconcerned with who he might be upsetting with his comments.

In a well thought-out piece for the feminist pop culture website Jezebel entitled "How To Make A Rape Joke," Lindy West suggested Tosh went wrong when he made rape victims the butt of his joke. She asserted rape jokes can be successful and funny if done “in a responsible, thoughtful way.”

Her article cites standup routines from comedians like Louis CK and Ever Mainard, who joke about rape culture and their own experiences. According to West, there is a big difference between observing the sexist atmosphere we live in today and directly suggesting an individual be raped.

Hopefully Tosh will learn from this experience and be more careful about his act in the future. But considering his television show "Tosh.0" on Comedy Central is usually an amalgam of racist, sexist, classist and ableist comments, this does not seem very likely.

Editor's note: Here's an interesting article in the Wednesday New York Times that gives a lot of interesting context, without attempting to justify what was said: "Toe-to-Toe at the Edge of the Comedy Club Stage"

Siwanoy July 18, 2012 at 02:45 PM
So if his show on comedy central is, "usually an amalgam of racist, sexist, classist and ableist comments" Why would someone be surprised he would make a rape joke at his own comedy show? You go a comedy show of a comedian who makes jokes like that on his show, and then you're surprised he does it in his stand up routine.... come on...

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