The Thing Everybody’s Missing About The Rape Joke

So there’s this comedian, Daniel Tosh. He has a show on Comedy Central, Tosh.0, in which he makes fun of internet videos. I’ve seen it, since I’m basically married to a twelve-year-old boy when it comes to shows about fart jokes and drunk people doing stupid things. I don’t find the show funny, I don’t find him funny, and I would never go see him in a comedy club.

And I’m no comedy elitist: I love Family Guy, South Park, Louis CK, and a site I came across last night that shows pictures of cats looking bored while their owners record amateur porn in the background (or, sometimes, the foreground). I laugh my ass off at Comedy Central roasts, no matter how wrong they get. I don’t get offended easily.

But when I heard that Tosh had told a woman in his audience at the Laugh Factory that it would be funny if she were gang raped, my gut reaction was “What an asshole. That’s just wrong.” Which confused me, because normally I stand up for a comedian’s right to say whatever.

Basically, what happened was that Tosh made a comment that even rape jokes can be funny, and a woman in the audience got offended and yelled back that actually, no they can’t. And according to this woman, Tosh responded with the following:

Wouldn’t it be funny if that girl got raped by like, 5 guys right now? Like right now? What if a bunch of guys just raped her…

And I watched as blog posts popped up about it. There are basically two key points being argued: Can rape jokes be funny, and do comedians get a pass just because they’re comedians? I watched as people took sides on both issues, and I got more confused. I agreed with all of them.

Some defend the concept that yes, even rape jokes can be funny. Lindy West – who will go down in history as having written the funniest review ever of a bad movie – picked apart some rape jokes and analyzed why they were funny. While I don’t agree with all of her examples, I do agree with her overall premise that as long as the rape victim is not the butt of the joke, the joke has a shot. It’s like when Kate Winslet said on Extras that she was only playing a nun in a holocaust movie so that she could finally win an Oscar. She wasn’t making dead Jews the butt of the joke, she was making fun of Hollywood and her own ambitions. Hilarious.

This collection of tweets from women makes the point that there is a “rape culture” that demeans women and makes violence seem OK by making a joke out of it. I think that’s true. It’s obvious from the threats these women got that some men still think women should shut up, and that if raping them is the only way to make that happen, then go for it. Does that mean that comedians shouldn’t be able to make jokes about rape? I don’t agree with that.

It’s like saying that video games make kids violent, so we have to ban violent video games, when the real issue is why some kids would let video games influence them, instead of thinking for themselves. I suspect that some people are just born assholes and don’t need much encouragement to flourish, and thinking you can stop rape by not letting people make jokes about it is like saying you can stop violence by not letting kids play cops and robbers.

Some claim that while comedians are entitled to make fun of any subject, they are not obligated to. And to this I say, only do it if you’re sure it’s funny. If you’re joking about rape or the holocaust or September 11th or whatever, and you’re doing it to be “edgy” or because you think it’s “brave” to go there, then you’re an attention whore and probably not funny. But I do believe that yes, a skilled comedian and writer can make a funny joke out of ANY subject, and if they’re good at it they should go for it.

See, that made me chuckle.

The owner of the club made this statement:

I understand where she is coming from, but Daniel Tosh did not attack this young lady. I feel bad for her and I apologize to her. If you are a member of the audience and you start dishing out something to a comic and try to be funny, you better be able to take it.

And this one:

[Jamie] Masada says Tosh asked the audience, “What you guys want to talk about?” After someone in the front said “rape,” a woman in the audience started screaming, “No, rape is painful, don’t talk about it.” Then, Masada says, “Daniel came in, and he said, ‘Well it sounds like she’s been raped by five guys’ — something like that. I really didn’t hear properly.”

He continues, “It was a comment — it wasn’t a joke at the expense of this girl.”

If Jamie Masada is right (and he says he didn’t hear properly), I completely fail to see how on any level that comment wasn’t at the expense of the woman in the audience. It’s no better than the comment the woman claims Tosh made. So the owner really doesn’t have much credibility with me at this point.

The club owner went on to compare it to the last really big incident at his club, when Michael Richards went off on a racist rant:

Michael Richards came from hatred. Daniel Tosh did not — it was a joke and that’s what comedians do.

And that’s when the light bulb went off for me. Why all of those other blog posts were missing the point of what happened.

My blogging friend Marinka’s post came closest to arguing the point I’m about to make, when she said that Tosh’s comment came from a place of anger, not humor. But she spent most of the post talking about jokes, and that’s the main problem with the arguments being made for and against what Tosh said. Everybody’s talking about jokes, and what comedians should and shouldn’t do, and what’s funny.

And that completely misses the point.

I am convinced, 100%, that Daniel Tosh was not making a joke. Yes, he was in a comedy club, in front of an audience, being paid to make jokes. But in that moment, when he talked about an actual, specific member of his audience being gang raped, he wasn’t joking.

I don’t mean that he actually wanted five guys to go over to her and rape her. I mean that he felt threatened, and was threatening her back to make her shut up.

Going up on a stage trying to get people to laugh has to be one of the most terrifying things you can do to yourself that doesn’t involve heights or toddlers. And having someone in the audience yell something at you that’s basically saying “You’re not being funny! I came here to be entertained!” has to make a person panic, whether the audience member is offended or drunk or just hard to entertain.

And I think in that moment, Tosh left his comedian self and reverted back to a scared little boy, and let loose the nastiest, fiercest threat he could think of.

So let’s not let this argument be about jokes. Tosh wasn’t trying to make a joke. He was trying to threaten a woman into shutting up. And there’s nothing at all funny about that.

Originally posted on Selfish Mom. All opinions expressed on this website come straight from Amy unless otherwise noted. This post has a Compensation Level of 0. Please visit Amy’s Full Disclosure page for more information.


  1. says

    Wow. Quite well done, lady. I’ve watched (unfortunately) a lot of Tosh and he steps across the line a lot in his comedy, but i agree with you. Doesn’t sound like this was a joke and was not even remotely funny or appropriate.

  2. says

    I agree with a lot of this, but not that being on stage telling jokes is one of the most terrifying things you can do. I mean, for some people, sure, but I would bet that people who choose that professional route.

    Also when heckled, Tosh didn’t revert to a scared little boy. He reverted to a misogynist.

  3. says

    Or, is it OK when a woman makes the joke?
    Sarah Silverman has a funny one,,involving herself and a Jewish doctor.
    His “joke” was said out of anger and is then to me not comedy. But I am not ready to call any subjects taboo, I fear for the first ammendment as is in this country.

  4. says

    Excellent point.

    For me, what always gets lost in these debates is that there’s free speech for the first party, sure, but there’s free speech of the person reacting too. In other words, sure the comedian has every right to make that joke. And I have every right to say he’s an asshole for doing so.

    I agree with Aaron Sorkin when he wrote in “The American President”, “You want free speech? Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours.” So yes, I defend that comedian’s right to say what he wants. But I will then exercise my same right to say that I think he’s a scared little misogynistic prick.

  5. says

    I think you nailed it, Amy. It’s not so much about the joke as the person being focused on. While I don’t think rape is a joking matter and consider it tasteless to joke about it, “joking” about a woman being raped and pinpointing it to a woman in the audience? That’s not a joke. That’s total insecurity. That’s bullying for laughs.

    Glad to say I don’t watch Tosh and hadn’t heard of him before.

  6. Jessica says

    There’s an old Hebrew saying that loosely translates to: “you learn the true character of a person by how he uses his money, how he behaves when he is drunk and how he behaves when he is angry.” I agree with you that is sounds like Tosh probably had a knee-jerk response and spit out a verbal attack to shut his heckler up. But isn’t part of being comic handling hecklers?! I keep trying to think if there was any way that he could’ve made this funny and I’m coming up empty…

  7. says

    I don’t think comedians get a ‘free pass’ … I agree with your perspective but as a person – immature, funny/ not-funny… what he said was totally inappropriate… PERIOD – some things are not funny – no matter how you spin in – they are in fact just mean

  8. MJC says

    I’d be interested to see how many of the tweeting women decrying that this propagates “rape culture” are indignant on one hand but have a certain E.L. James novel open at their elbow and a Pin board full of Christian Grey hopefuls.

  9. Stephanie says

    O/T- MJC- I am reading the Grey trilogy right now, and fail to see the comparison. I haven’t read rape. Some of the sexual activity is violent, and does involve him displaying power over her-but it’s all consensual. It’s not against her will. That is not rape. And it’s not threatening, like the described comments from the comedian were.

  10. MJC says

    Stephanie – if it was consensual, I would agree with you, but it’s not. It’s coercion. Some food for thought here.

    Of special note is the comment from the woman in an abusive relationship who’s husband bought the book for her. I should also note that I know several Doms in my real life, and their subs. All of them decry the book as abusive. Grey is a sadist with issues that would send any experienced sub running. He gets off on causing pain, on beating her. Doms don’t cause pain for their own pleasure – they cause pain for their subs pleasure. A fine line and one Ms. James missed entirely, and might have discovered had she researched the lifestyle at all before posting to

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