Ten Scattered Thoughts on the Daniel Tosh/Rape Joke Controversy

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Daniel Tosh

Just a few disconnected observations on the ongoing cultural brouhaha:

1. I’m not an especially huge fan of Daniel Tosh as a comedian. I don’t hate the guy or anything, and don’t recoil at his comedy the way I would at, say, Dane Cook or Larry the Cable Guy. But whether doing standup or his Comedy Central show, he’s just not my cup of tea. Make of that what you will.

2. Heckling of comedians isn’t something that I generally find defensible. But telling a woman it would be funny if she were gang-raped is considerably less defensible than heckling.

3. That said, I’m fairly certain Tosh doesn’t really want that woman to be raped, and his reaction fell more under the “you pissed me off, so I’m going to say the most hurtful thing I possibly can” defense. If the incident happened the way the original report says it did, Tosh is certainly guilty of being a tremendous jerk, but probably not guilty of, say, inciting rape.

4. I don’t agree with the notion, as stated by the woman in question, that “rape jokes are never funny.” While rape isn’t an especially humorous subject in and of itself, it’s helpful to approach this question with some nuance. George Carlin’s old “Porky Pig raping Elmer Fudd” bit was hilarious for its sheer absurdity. Referring to a windowless van as a “rape van” is funny because the joke is at the expense of the van owner/rapist, as if to say “the owner of that van is so shady that he’s probably a rapist or something.” But making a victim or potential victim the butt of the joke, as Tosh did, is considerably more problematic.

5. However, few things in comedy are more painful than when a comic swings for the fences on a shocking subject- AIDS, 9/11, the Holocaust, rape, etc.- and misses.

6. I’m very much opposed to censorship of comedy and other art forms. I just don’t see where any censorship, in regards to the Tosh incident, has taken place, either of the woman or Tosh himself. And no, “you’re trying to shut me up!” doesn’t count as censorship. “Creating a chill”- due to excessive criticism- doesn’t either.

To those calling this incident “the death of free speech,” look what happened: Tosh said something, it was widely reported on, and as a result people criticized him. That’s it. Tosh wasn’t arrested. He wasn’t banned from the comedy club. He didn’t lose his TV show, and despite an ongoing petition drive, it doesn’t appear he’s going to.    When Adam Carolla spouted off about women not being funny? Same thing. All either incident did to either comedian was give them more notoriety and make their own fans love them more than they did already. This reminds me of Sarah Palin believing her First Amendment rights have been violated every time someone criticizes her.

7. As more than one person on Twitter has pointed out, having a problem with a comic telling a woman it would be funny if she got raped is not an especially strong argument for the idea that feminists don’t have a sense of humor.

8. A few thoughts on the notion of political correctness: This concept has been with us for about two decades now, and in those two decades I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who says “yes, I’m in favor of political correctness,” or “I’m politically correct.” Instead, about 99.9 percent of the world has the same internal position on the matter: “I’m against political correctness in all its forms, until the moment that someone says something shocking about something I care about. At that point, it’s offensive.”

9. Lindy West, as is frequently the case these days, had the best take on this:

 This fetishization of not censoring yourself, of being an “equal-opportunity offender,” is bizarre and bad for comedy. When did “not censoring yourself” become a good thing? We censor ourselves all the time, because we are not entitled, sociopathic fucks. Your girlfriend is censoring herself when she says she’s okay with you playing Xbox all day. In a way, comedy is censoring yourself—comedy is picking the right words to say to make people laugh. A comic who doesn’t censor himself is just a dude yelling. And being an “equal opportunity offender”—as in, “It’s okay, because Daniel Tosh makes fun of ALL people: women, men, AIDS victims, dead babies, gay guys, blah blah blah”—falls apart when you remember (as so many of us are forced to all the time) that all people are not in equal positions of power. “Oh, don’t worry—I punch everyone in the face! People, baby ducks, a lion, this Easter Island statue, the ocean…” Okay, well that baby duck is dead now. And you’re a duck-murderer. It’s really easy to believe that “nothing is sacred” when the sanctity of your body and your freedom are never legitimately threatened.

10. I love Louis C.K., he’s my favorite comedian alive and his TV show rises to new heights of brilliance just about every week. But I don’t buy his explanation for his pro-Tosh tweet for a second. 



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