Thursday, July 12, 2012

Your Rape Joke Sucks

I am a comedian.  I’m also a lady.  Though I can by all accounts with absolute certainty call myself a lady (it’s genetically true), I always have a slight trepidation when it comes to calling myself a comedian.  It’s not because I really suck at it (I kind of do), but because I hesitate using that term when I’m not in any way a working comedian.  It’s the same sort of feeling I have when some twenty-something tells me they’re an ‘artist.’  I have performed at several places and festivals and I’ve even managed to do feature sets for notable actual comedians, but the fact remains, I can still end up being bumped from an open mic list or relegated to a less than ten minute set at a show produced by friends of mine.  Point being, I have a couple of years of stand-up experience under my belt, but I tend to stay out of conversations about comedy and comedians with other comedians for the sole purpose that although I have an opinion, I know that it may be written off by those people based mostly on my lack of experience in their eyes.  I don’t agree, but I get it.  Comedians are, not surprisingly, a weird group of people.  I suppose I shouldn’t say ALL comedians are weird, because that probably isn’t true, but I can definitely say most of the ones I know (including myself) are in one way or another.  Maybe even more surprisingly, (depending on your views regarding the element of surprise) most comedians are also SUPER SENSITIVE.  I have heard several comics countless times say something along the lines of, “No topics are off limits.”  Agreed.  Yet, those same people will then turn around and tell you that discussing those “topics” they mentioned in their set is in fact, off limits.  Thus, this is where the discussion of shitty jokes involving sensitive topics like sexual orientation, sexism, race or rape gets complicated/hypocritical.

As a lover of comedy and as a comedian, I agree that we should have freedom onstage to say and joke about whatever we want.  I will defend that right to my grave (unless it involves being shot).  It’s something called the First Amendment.  In my pointless pre-law course days of college, I defended the Ku Klux Klan’s right to burn crosses on their property as a protected First Amendment right of free “symbolic” speech in a mock Supreme Court trial.  I won.  I’m still proud of that.  When it comes to freedoms, we must allow the bad in order to protect the good.  If we start to restrict rights based on opinions, this could lead to the restrictions of all of us and freedom becomes lost.  That being said, what I don’t understand, is the idea that you can say whatever you want, but you shouldn’t have to be held accountable for it.  I understand comedy is an art to some degree, but it is an art form laced with opinions and statements.  A racist person has the freedom to say racist things.  In the same vein, a person of color has every right to tell that person what a racist piece of shit they are.  Turns out, this freedom of speech thing works both ways.                 

I mentioned earlier that I was a lady.  That is still true.  It may have seemed pointless at the time, but I mentioned it for a reason.  As a woman, rape is a regular fear and anxiety of my existence.  That doesn’t mean that I look over my shoulder every minute expecting to be raped, but it’s a palpable fear that I will experience in certain scenarios for the remainder of my life.  Rape and sexual assault have practically become a part of puberty for most women.   You’re hyper aware that statistically, it may one day happen to you, if sadly, it hasn’t already.  I have more female friends that are rape victims than not and I myself have experienced different forms of sexual  assault throughout my pre and post adolescence and have fended off what may have lead to rape at least twice.  I don’t mean to say that in any way I’m a courageous person (I honestly found my way out of situations based largely on circumstances that involved another person entering the room) I mention this because since I’ve managed to escape a full on sexual assault up until now, I still feel this feeling of foreboding that it could still be on the horizon for me.  It is a depressing, disgusting and horrifying truth for most women.

Now, that being said, for men, this fear is slight if not non-existent.  Because women fear rape regularly and men may not, this doesn’t mean women are better people or that men haven’t been raped or can’t fathom the fear of being raped or can’t understand how terrifying brutal sexual assault is in all its forms.  What this does mean is that as women, women who have sadly experienced the horror that is sexual assault by a stranger or perceived loved one or carry the traumatizing story of a family member or friend who has experienced it or live with the constant burden of expecting it, DO NOT LIKE TO BE MOCKED ABOUT BEING RAPED, PERIOD.  Rape is NOT FUNNY.   How many fucking times does someone have to say this?  RAPE IS NOT FUNNY.  Somehow, this seems to be lost on people.  There are rape jokes that are funny, but RAPE ITSELF IS NOT FUNNY.
I’ll attempt to explain further.  What you are missing here in your hacky, dated act, comedian, is that the butt of the joke should not be the act of rape or how serious people take the act of rape.  Those jokes are not funny because those things are not funny.  Every time you say shit like, “Well, Carlin or Louis C.K. would disagree,” YOU ARE MISSING THE ENTIRE POINT OF EVERYTHING THEY WERE TRYING TO DO!  Smart comedy takes a political topic or social taboo and makes light of that topic or taboo.  Meaning, if you are attempting to make light of the horrors in the world, which is so possible and the entire purpose of great comedy as opposed to generic jokes, make fun of the actual horrible thing.  You are not making fun of rape by making fun of rape victims or how serious people take rape.  Since when should rape not be taken seriously?  What you are doing in both scenarios is mocking women for being raped or fearing rape.  How is this making light of a horrible thing?  If you didn’t know, women not only have to deal with the fear or the act of rape, but also have to deal with this shitty sexist culture that tells us it’s no big deal or that it was somehow our fault.  You know how you actually make people feel better about horrible things like rape and sexist rape culture?  You mock the rapist.  You mock the very idea that rape isn’t a big deal.  That’s how.  You attack the social norms that rape is the fault of the victim and that women should just relax about the whole rape thing.  You know who could really use a laugh about something as controversial and heavy as rape?  WOMEN.  Women are the ones that need you to make light of something so dark for them.  So keep that in mind when you tell your rape joke onstage because honestly, do you want to tell a joke mocking rape victims where the only ones in the crowd laughing are men that agree that rape isn’t a big deal or that women had that shit coming?

I have some rape jokes in my act.  Some I used to tell and some I still do.  Recently I wrote a bit that was based on something that really happened to me.  I was working a late shift at work and had walked over to a local sandwich place on my lunch break.  On the way back to work, a truck started driving really slow beside me as I walked on the sidewalk.  The guy on the passenger side rolled down his window and shouted at me, “You’re so fucking lucky, bitch!  You’re so fucking lucky!”  Then they slowly drove by.  This experience, especially in the moments leading up to him rolling down the window and pausing before they drove away, was FUCKING TERRIFYING.  In that moment, I had that thought most women have in scenarios such as these which was, “These guys are going to rape me.”  The joke I wrote based off the experience went like this:

“…Then, the guy in the passenger side (who is clearly a scrub) rolls down the window and shouts at me, ‘You’re so fucking lucky, bitch! You’re so fucking lucky!’ and they proceed to just…drive off.   So then of course I thought to myself…what did I win?  It couldn’t have been the sandwich I was carrying because I paid for that shit.  Did I win NOT getting sexually assaulted by these gentlemen in this truck?  Like, were they up the street saying to themselves, ‘Oh, we’re totally going to rape this person’ and then when they rolled up thought ‘Wow, you’re so fucking lucky you’re ugly in the face because this rape was IMMINENT from a block away!”

My point to mention that joke isn’t to promote it, I’m not necessarily proud of it or anything, I’m just making the point that I make rape jokes too.  I’m not saying this is an example of a good rape joke, I’m not even saying it’s a good joke.  What I am saying is I made a joke about it because this is a common experience women have and I wanted to make light of something we all fear.  The good news is, it didn’t happen.  The bad news is, we live in a society where that was my first thought.  Jokes involving rape are not in any way off limits in my mind to women OR MEN.  But people have to be responsible for what they say, while still being allowed to say it.  Comedy is in no way, above this.  All I ask, all any decent person asks from your rape jokes is one thing, be smart, but most of all BE FUNNY.