Okay, let’s get this bit out of the way quickly. Yes, Daniel Tosh is a dick. Yes, he has the absolute right to express his dickishness. Yes, comedians are allowed to make fun of anything, including terrible things like rape. And even yes, it’s possible — and sometimes even healthy — to make fun of terrible things, including rape.
BUT…. And I’ll come back to this ‘but’ in a bit.
If you’re not aware of Tosh or this incident, here’s a brief synopsis. Tosh is a comedian of the Fart and Puke School. He’s a proponent of the notion that it’s okay to say any offensive thing you want so long as you say it with a boyish grin. During a recent stand-up routine, according to a woman who attended the set, he began “making some very generalizing, declarative statements about rape jokes always being funny, how can a rape joke not be funny.” The woman, understandably offended, shouted out “Actually, rape jokes are never funny!” Tosh then started telling the audience how hilarious it would be if that woman was gang-raped. The woman wrote about the experience in her blog, which received a lot of attention — and rightly so.
Tosh has since issued a standard non-apology apology on Twitter, saying: “All the out of context misquotes aside, i’d like to sincerely apologize” and “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.”
And that brings me back to that BUT….
But an apology is meaningful only if you recognize you’ve done something wrong or that the person to whom you’re apologizing has a legitimate reason to be offended. Neither of those conditions apply here. Tosh seems to think the issue isn’t that he behaved like a complete asshole, but that the people who were (and still are) offended don’t understand his position on rape jokes. He doesn’t acknowledge that it’s just fundamentally, unconditionally, and totally fucking wrong to suggest anybody ought to be raped.
Any ‘joke’ that suggests rape is funny isn’t a joke. Any ‘joke’ that suggests somebody should be raped isn’t a joke. That’s just so blatantly obvious it shouldn’t need to be pointed out to anybody.
That said, the woman was wrong when she claimed ‘rape jokes are never funny.’ I understand her point, and I completely agreed with her until I heard comedian Elayne Boosler defend the claim that anything can be the subject of humor. Sometimes humor comes out of righteous anger. Boosler spoke about a news report of a man who was acquited of rape because his victim wasn’t wearing any panties. The defense was the woman ‘was asking for it.’ Boosler then said “Now when I go out, I wear two pairs of underwear so that they know, not only am I not asking for it, I’m not even thinking about it.”
That’s a sad and angry sort of humor, but it’s a perfect example of the proper way to use humor to address a horrible subject. Boosler wasn’t making light of rape, the way Tosh did. She was pointing out how fucked up it is to have a legal system and a culture that teaches women “don’t get raped” instead of teaching men “don’t rape.” Tosh, intentionally or not, perpetuates the idea that rape is acceptable and that women who don’t find that amusing are ‘overly sensitive.’
Sad to say, I doubt this controversy will hurt Tosh, any more than Rush Limbaugh’s tirade against Sandra Fluke hurt Limbaugh. These people know their audience; they know they’re addressing a demographic that enjoys demeaning people. We can either choose to ignore them (which they won’t notice) or we can keep pointing out their dickish behavior. That might be equally futile, but sometimes — like woman who interrupted Tosh’s routine — it’s important to just get up, make a righteous noise and point your finger at assholes like Daniel Tosh.