Sunday, July 15, 2012

Daniel Tosh, the "Limits" of Humor, and the Concept of Rape

Before I begin, I would like you to read this Facebook post from internet phenomenon and musical genius Brent "brentalfloss" Black, as it will provide the structure of my post.  Also linked is the blog post, which has created the controversy surrounding Daniel Tosh.

In response to the recently viral Tosh controversy...A lot of people have been circulating a blog post about Daniel Tosh being a big jerk and making jokes about rape. A lot of people will share the post with the phrase "Rape is NEVER funny."

As a smalltime comedian and a bigtime fan of comedy, that phrase irks me a little. See, people deal with things in different ways. Comedy is sometimes ironic and always subjective. Sometimes comedy is about subversion, e.g. "I'm going to do this thing that no one is ever supposed to do in public!"

I have multiple friends who are rape victims. I myself was sexually abused when I was younger (yes really). So you don't have to tell me that rape is horrible and should never happen. Duhhhhh.

But at the same time, an attitude of "____ IS NEVER FUNNY" is kind of like wanting to rid the world of all guns: once you do that, the one dude with a gun has tremendous, disproportionate power. Same deal with rape jokes... or racist, sexist, or homophobic jokes for that matter. If your kindergarten teacher says "We don't talk about potty activities at lunch," there's gonna be a kid who really wants to yell out "POOOOOOOOP!"

You can't just decree that something isn't funny.
It doesn't work that way. However, here's what you can do if a comedian has a joke that really offends you:
*Don't laugh.
*Groan loudly.
*Yell "boo."
*Leave the venue.
*Don't see or support that comedian again.

Yes, comedy is subjective, but it's also democratic. If a comic always gets booed when she says a certain joke, she probably won't keep it in her act unless she actually WANTS to get booed there. If people stop coming to her shows because of her humor, she will likely change her act.

Some people will say that you have to squash certain kinds of humor because they contribute to a "rape culture." That is a noble, well-intentioned idea, but if you want to change our humor culture, you can't do it from the top down. You have to just BE the change you want to see in society.

Ultimately, when you decide that any and all humorous insight on a certain subject is off-limits, you're just feeding the trolls.

Just my two cents. Please don't rape me.

Link to the infamous blog post:

Now, I must admit, I am indeed a fan of Mr. Tosh's stand up act.  His humor is cruel and pitch black and full of deadpan and ironic racism and misogyny.  And you know what?  That's funny to me.  As a person who feels that modern society and the ever crushing weight of political correctness is creating an even greater social barrier between different people (maybe a post for another time; depending on how this post goes), Mr. Tosh's willingness to just say whatever the hell he goddamn pleases makes me laugh.  I must admit I'm not a fan of his show Tosh.0, but I do applaud his success.  He found a niche audience and rakes in the benefits.  He should not be hated for just finding a formula that works.  

But, I must also admit that Mr. Tosh's humor can of course rub people the wrong way.  Some people (including the blogger who made the post) who are unfamiliar with Mr. Tosh's act, might not be ready for his deadpan and will most likely take his antics seriously or not find the same humor as others might.  Sometimes, what's funny for some people is not funny for others.  And that becomes the crux of this post and the main point of Mr. Black's quote above.  Humor is SUBJECTIVE.  What one finds funny can be horrifying for another.

And, when one thinks about it, even tragedy and a proper response to a tragedy can be subjective.  Let me explain.  My grandfather was working in a hospital on the day of the September 11th attacks.  When asked about this day, he cannot reminisce about it without coming to tears.  This is a moment that has forever imprinted itself in his mind, and he will always treat it as a somber occasion.  And that will be his reaction to it, and that is perfectly natural and acceptable.  But if someone made a joke about those attacks, or made a .gif of Aladdin riding his flying carpet into the Twin Towers, would I freak out and throw a fit, chastising them and reminding them of the countless people who died that day?  Of course not.  Some people deal with tragedy through humor.  Sometimes, just being able to laugh at something can take the overwhelming burden of sadness off.  Maybe seeing Aladdin take a magic carpet jihad just takes their mind off of the true horror of that day, and I think it's wrong to say that it is wrong to let them deal with tragedy as they wish.

So, the question I guess I am asking here is: why should we put off anything to humor or discussion?  Why can't some of us crack a joke about the September 11th attacks, or even the Holocaust?  Yes, these were tragic, horrific events, but if we all just moped in sadness over them, we would never move on from them.  I think we should let people treat tragedy as they wish.  If some would like to keep a moment somber and respectful, then I respect that.  If they snicker about how Hitler's gas bill was simply reich-diculous...well, I'll probably snicker at it too.  Sometimes, comedy just eases the pain of the tragedies and atrocities that surround us.  

But then we come to the issue of rape, which is much more complicated.  Some, including the Reviews Editor of, Jim Sterling, have claimed that rape can be considered worse than murder, since rape always has an unwilling victim that is forced to face lifelong psychological damage, while murder can be justified and even morally correct.  (Think every action movie you've ever seen.)  And I agree with this 100%.  But, as horrible and horrific as rape is, I do not think we can truly advance as a society if we refuse to talk about it and every mention of it in any medium is met with immediate revulsion and scorn.  Yes, rape is a horrific event, but does that mean I can't laugh at a line from Bo Burnham's "Ironic" song, where he sings "I always used to cry when I laughed, but then I was raped by a clown"? Yes, I realize that rape is wrong, but doesn't the absurdity of this statement just seem too funny to pass a laugh at, simply because of one word?  Granted, one word with a large weight behind it, but it's still a word.

I think Mr. Black makes the point very clear.  You can't just limit what a person wants to talk about, or crack jokes about.  You can simply walk away, or boo a comedian so he changes his act, or just simply not support the comedian and his behavior.  But to jump down his throat and declare that all jokes relating to a certain subject matter are "not funny" is just creating another pointless social taboo and creating an even bigger wall of political correctness, and that just makes everything even more complicated, especially when a new comedian comes around and wants to tear up those taboos.  God help the next comedian who makes a rape joke.

All in all, I would say life is tragic.  Horrible things happen to good people and a lot of times, bad people get away with their evil ways.  But if we simply mulled and brooded over everything bad that happens to us, we probably wouldn't last long as a species.  We need to laugh.  We need to laugh at things that are taboo.  We need to allow people to crack jokes about the most horrific of things.  And if you get offended, open up a dialogue with friends about why it offended you, and maybe you can create a better understanding.  Don't just fly into a rage.  That just makes people defensive and radical, and that solves nothing.  That's just how we get this proclamations of "X is never funny."  And, really, how someone can think Holocaust jokes are not Hitlerious is beyond me!

FINAL NOTE: As much as I think Tosh was an idiot for the way he responded to the heckler's shout, I find it kind of silly of how people who don't like Tosh's comedy are using this opportunity to try and bring him down and get him fired and sabotage his career.  I mean, Jesus Christ, I get it: you don't find him funny.  But to try and get a guy fired and to go on a personal vendetta against a person you've never met before because YOU don't like his material strikes me as a bit absurd.  It's like people who claim to want Justin Bieber dead.  For Heaven's sake, the kid is an 18 year old pop singer, not a pedophile who clubs baby seals in his free time.  You don't like his music, don't listen to it.  To be honest, it's most likely not for you.  He has a specific audience and it doesn't include you.  And if Mr. Tosh and Mr. Bieber reap the benefits of a specific audience, all the power to them.

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