Misogyny and rape jokes: Ha ha ha bonk!

ComedyThat’s the sound of me laughing my head off.

I’ve done some reviews of the comedy festival this year. Quite a number in fact. Some of them have been good, some have been less good, some have been bad. Really there have only been two bad ones so far. And both of them were because thematically they offended me.

I was talking with a friend of mine who does standup comedy and he objected to my reviewing of Brendhan and Reginald because he thought I was trying to dictate what comedians could and couldn’t make jokes about. So I’ve been mulling over this for the last couple of days. Is there subject matter you cannot make jokes about?

No. I think I may have addressed this in an earlier post. You can make jokes about anything you like. You just have to be cognisant of your audience.

When you perform standup comedy you are taking on a position of responsibility. The comedian is in an empowered position that regular folk do not experience. He/she is standing on a stage with a microphone and talking to people who have paid to hear them talk. Their words thus take on more importance than a regular conversation’s. This doesn’t mean that the comedian has be clean, or not offensive or shy away from nasty things but it does mean that the comedian should use his or her power responsibly.

Because, if they don’t, then people won’t laugh.

That’s right. The comedian’s job is to be funny. FUNNY. And having this power means we expect them to be funny. And if they’re not funny then we have the right to react to them however we bloody well want. And this can include being offended. Because if you don’t make a rape joke funny, then chances are it’s going to be offensive. This is your paradigm comedians. Work within it.

So how do you make a rape joke funny? Well I’m not a comedy expert by a long shot, however I could give you some tips. First off, don’t make the punchline revictimising the victim. The major issue I had with Reginald D Hunter’s rape material was he was isolating the victim of rape, and asking us to laugh at her predicament. Not cool.

Had Reginald done a piece about the thought process behind the rapist, that could have been a different gag. Because there we’re not being asked to laugh at the victim.

“Oh but Dave” comedians might say, “if people were so sensitive they shouldn’t go to comedy clubs.”

Actually turn that on its head. Why are YOU being so sensitive to people’s reactions? This is what comedy is. People reacting emotionally to your words. Your desired outcome is laughter but you won’t always get it. And so people’s right to be offended is just as sacrosanct as your right to be offensive.

Another comedian said that it’s unfair that I criticised misogynist jokes because he hears women comedians ripping into men all the time. And so I’m being SEXIST by saying that not all genders are equal. And you know what? Not all genders are equal. Men have so much more power than women, we are in such a privileged position that it’s embarrassing. I actively try to undermine my own powerbase.

So when a man makes jokes about women that are nasty or misogynistic it is far worse than when a woman makes a joke in the reverse.

Just like when you’re in the changing rooms of your rugby club, you may call your mates fuckwits or somesuch, but if you walked into a retirement home you wouldn’t call them fuckwits. Because the power dynamic has shifted. The power dynamic is far more equal in a rugby changing room, and then less so in a retirement home, so you adapt. That’s the same with jokes. If your joke is able to make a joke at the expense of the misogyny, then great! If your joke is that women are bitches, that’s not great.

And then my final point is one that I’ve been thinking of a lot. Why are there so few women voices in comedy? It’s not because women are shit at comedy. Maybe it’s because comedy doesn’t really seem like a safe space for women. If I was a woman considering doing standup comedy and I sat in Reginald D Hunter’s show, or Brendhan Lovegrove’s show and heard how standup comics view women, I’d think “fuck this. I’m not going into this bearpit”. And men, that’s our fault. So hey, if you’re going to be a male standup comic, don’t be an asshole.

 

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9 Comments

  1. Next, an article where I lambast watercolour landscape paintings as being dull and why everyone should stick to art as being pretty and not confronting.

    • And next up a confusing ‘slippery slope’ argument about painting.

    • Jennifer O'Sullivan says:

      I love when people assume that a distaste for comedy that is offensive and oppressive is the same as wanting comedy to not confront an audience. As if it’s impossible to confront an audience without being a raging douchenozzle.

  2. I’m just gonna leave these here because I like louis ck and they say what I think without me saying it. And I’m lazy.

    http://nymag.com/thecut/2013/04/louis-ck-told-a-feminist-rape-joke.html

    http://jezebel.com/5925186/how-to-make-a-rape-joke

    Personally, I think comedy is a powerful tool for exposing problems in a culture and changing people’s ideas/worldviews etc so I would never want to say anything is off limits especially not rape. But gosh darn it, we still get to tell you that you’re a shitty comedian if you can’t be clever or even actually funny about it. And making a rape victim the object of ridicule is a really shitty thing to do plus rape culture.

  3. Christobal says:

    “raging douchenozzle” that’s class

  4. Rachel Rouge says:

    I saw both those shows. Maybe Reginald told a different rape joke on the night I saw it (I doubt it) or maybe you just weren’t listening. The joke way beautifully written and superbly executed, the butt of the joke was in no way a rape victim. Perhaps you just heard ‘rape’ and stopped listening to the actual joke.

    I go to comedy shows to laugh, I also like to think, and I also like to be challenged. Reginald’s show does all these things.

    What I find worse than a well written joke about rape that doesn’t victim blame, much worse and very prominent in the 2014 comedy festival is the amount of comedians who are now buffering their jokes in apologies about possible offence, or comedians who have to justify their material by telling us they are edgy. Comedians seem to be fearing bad reviews from tackling controversial topics. Fearful comedy is not funny.

    And my last point.. did you not know who you were going to see!? I got my comedy guide, I googled Reginald D. Hunter, I watched some Youtube videos and I really liked his work, so I booked tickets to his show. If you didn’t want to hear eloquent observations on society made in a wonderful Georgia accent then don’t go. Not all comedy is for everyone. If you don’t like pop don’t book tickets to see Katy Perry. If you don’t want to hear a different and interesting perspective on societal ills then don’t see Reginald D. Hunter.

    • **Major trigger warnings in this comment**

      Hi Rachel, thanks for your comment.

      I try to avoid spoiling jokes from comedians because, well that’s their entire craft. But now that Reg’s season has finished I can put it in. The joke we heard detailed a story from Reg’s friend that she had been raped.

      She explained to Reg that she didn’t call the police because of victim blaming. Reg then apologised for all men, and his friend said he didn’t have to apologise because she knew he wasn’t a rapist.

      Reg says “Yeah but that was before I knew you wouldn’t go to the cops.”

      That was the punchline. And what we were being asked to laugh at was the fact that Reg may now rape this woman. That to me is re-victimisation. It doesn’t say anything clever or insightful about sexual assault, it just flat out asks us to laugh at the prospect of rape.

      I don’t mind confrontational comedy, in fact I love it. I love it when a comic gets dark, however there are still some good rules around it. And on the night I went to, the audience didn’t go for Reg’s act at all. There was a lot of nervous stuttered laughter. And isn’t a comic’s job primarily to make us laugh?

  5. As a male comic and a natural contraries, I guess I’ll take your advice and just be an asshole

  6. Pingback: The Ruminator :: Comedy Fest Review: Adrienne Truscott in Adrienne Truscott’s Asking for It (trigger warnings)

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