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Anonymous said: Hi Eva, how do you feel about rape/sexual assault jokes. I am an avid comedy fan and often find comedians getting flack for making these comments. I understand that people are entitled to their own opinions but vocal advocates often call for the comedians sponsors to drop them and go after their business interests. Do you support the intent to create 'funny', or find that some topics are off limits.
I understand the lack of understanding of why rape jokes aren’t okay, sometimes it seems that almost nothing is off limits in comedy and that’s very much tied in with censorship etc.
But there are some things that are off limits in comedy. When was the last time you heard an able comedian make a joke about mental disabilities? Or about a physical disability like cerebal palsy? When was the last time you thought a really racist joke was funny when performed by a white guy - did it sound like a joke or did it just sound like a racist opinion?
I don’t think there is anything wrong with holding comedians to a certain standard of tact. I have seen some very funny comedy about some very sensitive issues, but I have also seen some people just being arseholes on stage with a mouthpiece. As part of the comedy community do comedians really want arseholes with bigoted or offensive opinions to be considered their equals, or do they feel that a certain level of tact and artistry is required for people to be taken seriously?
Some things are always in poor taste. There is good comedy about WWII, there is even possibly funny material about gas chambers and gold teeth – but is it good comedy when someone makes a joke about men, women and children being sorted into groups to be slaughtered according to age and sex? About infants being incinerated while their parent watch from gas chamber lines? Or is that just offensive? Or is it only offensive if there are Jews and Germans in the room? I have laughed at a lot of very offensive comedy, but I’ve never laughed at a pedophile joke. And in that case, the word pedophile is often used in material, but no one is telling jokes about the physical rape of toddlers – they might throw around very crass ‘dead baby’ jokes, but no one is describing the physical trauma of a small child being forcibly penetrated and torn apart by a vicious abuser enjoying their pleas for help.
Arguably some topics are only considered in good taste when they are performed by someone who the issue pertains to. Black comedians making black jokes, Arabs making racist jokes, gays, alcoholics, mentally ill, disabled etc.
Does that mean a rape victim could make good comedy about their assault? Would they ever? Could it be alright as a passing reference, but the line is crossed when descriptives begin? Can anything funny ever be made out of rectal tearing and bloodied nipples that have been half ripped off?
You hear a lot of prison humour about men who ‘can’t walk the next day’ or ‘walk with their backs against the wall’ – well that’s just an nice easy way of saying men who’ve been penetrated so forcefully that they’ve literally had their insides torn open so that now they will be in vicious pain for weeks, bleeding uncontrollably and unable to shit without excruciating pain or risk of infection while reliving the terror of anticipation of that pain every time they have their back turned to someone.
Is that funny? I don’t find it funny. I don’t see any situation where it could be funny.
When you use trauma as comedy material you are making light of a situation. I think it can possibly be appropriate to make light of awful events and periods of time when some time as passed - like wars or plagues or terrorist attacks. Those things DO affect some individuals who were part of them but they are targeting the community experience of them in an unpersonal way. I think there’s an argument to be made that that’s’ not okay, but we’re talking about comedy and that is not the philosophy behind it.
The reason people say that rape jokes are never okay is two-fold.
1. It’s always personal. There is no ‘community experience’ of rape to focus on. You are referencing an act of violence against one person and the individual nature cannot be avoided. You are calling upon the physical and psychological trauma of that person.
2. The global community is currently trying to change attitudes about rape, they are campaigning for it to be taken seriously, for people to recognize its validity and give both victims and would-be victims power against it. Making jokes about it damages that campaign not just by making light of it, but by directly contradicting the message that rape is real and serious. It’s difficult to have a conversation about how rape is very real when people are
making jokes about how it isn’t.