I’ve seen a few comedians pull off this seemingly impossible task from time to time. Louis CK has managed it (is there anything he can’t do?). Glenn Wool did it earlier this year at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, and he was one of my favourite acts.
However, the vast majority of the time, comedians who attempt humour around this particular topic get it horribly, horribly wrong.
This is the poster for a now-cancelled event that was due to take place at Station 59. And yes, you’re reading it right: it was going to be called There’s Nothing Funny About Rape: A Comedy Debate, and it was going to feature an all-dude lineup.
Social media existed, people pointed out how FUCKING OFFENSIVE THIS IS, and the event was cancelled.
Enter one of the aspiring comedians who was going to be on the bill: Alan Driscoll.
Station 59’s management had posted on their Facebook page about the event’s cancellation, and amongst the clamour, Alan decided to voice his disappointment that the debate was no longer going ahead. You see, he’s different, guys. His rape jokes would have been awesome.
Yep. They would totally have been awesome. Even though they were being presented by an all-male panel consisting of emerging comedians who put their hand up in order to get a spot on a stage, as opposed to being chosen because they were equipped to argue the topic well. Even though the event was being promoted with a poster that screamed “trivialising rape! Yay!”
Obviously, this whole thing was starting to sound like a recipe for a big ol’ bowl of disaster. Hence the event’s cancellation and the apology from most involved.
Alan, however, doesn’t feel the need to apologise. His rape comedy would have been a “powerful healing thing”:
In truth, I’ve not seen Alan’s comedy. However, the only comedians I’ve seen who have included actually funny material about rape in their routines have been remarkably skilled, nuanced and so empathetic. I have a hard time believing that a dude who won’t even say “sorry, the event I agreed to appear in was, in retrospect, not the best idea” will be fitting into that category anytime soon.
I’m not writing this blog post just to rip into Alan. It may have started out that way, but that’s not what I actually want to do here. I’ve engaged with him a fair bit in the relevant thread and I’m not sure we’re getting anywhere (last I checked, he was off to do his laundry and urged those trying to engage with him to “have fun with [their] LOLcats” – he got really riled up about the term “mainsplaining” for some reason, and now he hates memes). But for anyone else who may pass this way, particularly if they’re a comedic hopeful who thinks they could pull off a rape joke, the rest of this post is for you.
I can’t speak for everyone, and certainly not every woman. But here’s why rape jokes are problematic for me.
Rape is terrifying in its uniqueness. It’s most often committed by those closest to the victims, who hold a position of trust. It’s a terrifying abuse of power. It’s a reduction of the victim to their most dehumanised self. Think about it – our bodies are supposed to be completely ours. They are the one thing that we bring into the world with us. We are supposed to be able to decide how and when we use them – and rapists take that away. It is violent. It violates. To have your body abused inside itself – can you imagine it? Can you?
Basically, there’s a reason that it makes so many of us feel squicky.
Furthermore, we live in a culture where what rape is still seems to be up for debate. Everything from “legitimate rape” to the fact that a disturbing proportion of men will admit to rape (as long as you don’t call it that) supports this. We live in a culture that blames the victim. We live in a culture where, if you get raped, it was probably, sort of, mostly your fault. We live in a culture where victims believe this.
To top it all off, we live in a culture where women are at higher risk of rape than men. We live in a culture where access to a woman’s vagina is likened to her leaving the keys in her car.
We live in a culture where many women – too many – must constantly fear Schrodinger’s rapist. We live in a culture where too many women met Schrodinger’s rapist. We live in a culture where far, far too many women have been abused, and hurt, and then told that if they just hadn’t worn that skirt, or sent those mixed messages, or, or, or…
So, comedians: you seriously want to joke about that? You seriously have a special insight into how it might feel to have your body violated? You seriously think you have something really fucking special to say about how it feels when someone in whom you’ve placed the ultimate trust abuses it?
You seriously think that, given the prevalence of rape in our society, your joke isn’t going to add to the trauma of audience members who came to see you in the hopes of enjoying a goddamn laugh?
You seriously think you can make rape funny in a way that is empathetic, respectful and won’t traumatise or shame victims of this hideous crime?
You seriously think you’re as good as Louis CK?
I didn’t think so.
Stick to fart jokes.
P.S. I would like to big-up Rob Caruana, the maker of the poster that started this whole thing. He posted a pretty amazing apology that showed that he’d listened to what people had to say about the event and had taken it on board. This is progress, folks. Listening to each other, accepting apologies when they are made and helping everyone understand the points of view of others – this is good stuff.
P.P.S. I’ve seen some pretty interesting stuff written about me (and to me) in the last few days, and if anyone comes across this post from here on out, maybe just note the following:
- I am well aware that women are not the only victims of sexual assault, and my heart goes out to the many men who have undergone this horrible experience. I simply said in my post that most victims of rape are women (a statistically true statement) and I drew attention to certain aspects of rape and rape culture, such as Schrodinger’s rapist, that have a greater impact on women. When I wrote the paragraph about rape being terrifying in its uniqueness, I deliberately avoided mentioning women versus men because I am all too aware that people from both genders can be affected.
- No, I do not think I should get to “decide” what is “funny”. But I do see a disproportionately high amount of comedy, and I have seen a lot of comedians tackle controversial topics and promptly fail, because they are too caught up in the “I can say whatever I like on stage” mentality and haven’t thought through exactly how troubling the subject might be. This post was meant to try and get aspiring comics thinking about that a little more carefully. If you do, and your joke is still funny, GO NUTS. Please. I could use a laugh.
- I am not affiliated with the management at Station 59 and had no hand in the debate’s cancellation. I am glad it was cancelled because it didn’t look like it was being well thought through, as evidenced by the all-male lineup and troubling poster. That’s not to say that debates of this nature should never, ever happen again or some shit. I am not against free speech.
- I am also not okay with people calling up Station 59’s management and abusing them or making threats. A mistake was made, an event was cancelled, and as far as Station 59 goes, let’s move on. As far as rape and comedy go, debate is a good, healthy thing. But the manager of Station 59 doesn’t need to hear any more about it, okay? It’s a beautiful day outside. Go have some fun.