Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Dear comedians... we need to talk about rape.

Cross posted from my usual blogging spot... Well behaved women rarely make history.

Dear Comedians,  

I just wanted to have a wee chat about rape jokes. It’s the end of the NZ comedy festival for 2012, but it’s not too late to improve in time for next year.
As a basic rule of thumb, comedy thrives on taking awkward social situations and twisting them to make people laugh. Rape is not an awkward social situation. It’s a violent crime.
Some of the best comedians I have seen have told jokes about their own awful life experiences… I’m yet to see someone get up and do an anecdotal bit on rape. Possibly because of the fear that every time we make light of it, another person thinks what they did was ok. Possibly because most people never get to the point where it is a laughing matter and remain un-medicated.
Humor is one of the best survival techniques to trauma that I know of. Generally this is for stuff like, falling down, embarrassment, “stupid shit I have done while drunk”, self-destructive behaviour due to youth, addiction, stupidity etc. Not so much, stabbings, rape, domestic violence.
Also, I get to laugh at my trauma when I'm ready. What the fuck makes someone qualified to tell a room full of people that you know they should be desensitised enough to laugh at something as awful as rape.

Here are some basic rules of thumb about what is and isn’t funny.

If someone did something harmful to themselves, it might be funny.
If someone was hurt by someone else, it probably isn’t.

If someone tells a story themselves, to strangers. It’s probably funny.
If no one tells it in the first person, it probably isn’t.

If you wouldn’t use the phrase at a dinner party “go on tell the one about when you were raped”
Then don’t stand on stage and tell “the one about someone being raped.”

Because (and here is the bit where I get serious) every time you tell a joke about rape, rapists, rape victims, or just use the word rape to explain how hard your life is (it isn’t, shut the fuck up), someone in your audience got chills. Someone felt the hair stand up all over their body. Someone felt bile rising. That person who walked out, they probably needed to be sick.
One in about 7 people in your theatre would have been trying not to cry, or trying to remember to breath. Some would have been using self-talk to stop a panic attach. Some would have felt the urge to scream when the man behind them laughed throatily at your rape joke because… why? Why would someone laugh at a rape joke? Because they have done it and got away with it?
Because they knew someone who got away with it? Because they hate women/men so much they think they ASKED for it?
Every time you tell a joke with rape as a punch line or story thread, you are hurting survivors all over again.

So go on, tell the rape joke. And look and I mean REALLY LOOK at your audience. Look at who is laughing. But more importantly, look at who isn’t. And choose to never do that again.

And a big shout out to Rabon Kan, who not only had walk outs in his shows, but didn't learn from it, apologise for it, or indeed respect the complainants. 
I used to find you funny. Now you make me feel physically sick, and unwilling to be alone with you.


Alex said...

Sorry, can you elaborate on the Raybon Kan thing? Was he making rape jokes?
I recall seeing a rape joke go down terribly at a comedy festival event a few years ago, not sure who the comedian was but they had a NZ accent. It was good to see some audiences are discerning.

Scuba Nurse said...

Alex, I don't have any links to his material (nor would I give him the clicks by putting them up here), but QoT also covered his show specifically, if that helps at all.

Muerk said...

Yeah, well said.

Anna S said...

My sister and I did a walk out on Friday night at a comedy show in Wellington.

There was a 'hilarious' joke about how a 'female stripper lost her teeth'.

I feel wrong writing it! It was just wrong, and the opposite of funny.

LudditeJourno said...

Awesome Scube. I have some Raybon unfunny to share, from a show three years ago, jokes about child trafficking for prostitution and how hard it was for men (including himself, it was like a first person joke) to say no. I've never felt the same about him since.

Anna S said...

Also, thanks for describing how some people in the audience will be experiencing chills, and a desire to be sick, at some of the fare that's being offered up for laughs. I hope the comedians hear this.

It will be very hard for them to accept that they're wrong, and they'll be lashing out in shame rage as the only way of dealing with the idea that they're making a huge arse of themselves.

Puzzled said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
LudditeJourno said...

Puzzled, before I watch that link, I'd like you to describe the joke. Because if it's one apologising for rape culture and legitimising forced, coerced and unwanted sex, I will be deleting the link. If it's a joke which destabilises supports for rapes and isn't triggering, I'll check it out. The intro you've given it so far is not reassuring me. Thanks, LJ

Acid Queen said...

Anything that mentions rape is triggering by definition, LJ, so I think it's safe to say it's triggering.

Tamara said...

Last year I saw a comedian do a lengthy bit about beating children annoying him in public places. I was appalled and everyone was laughing, including the friend I saw it with and I had to walk out. How is violence against children funny?

Anonymous said...

The link Puzzled offers is a great example of how rape gets used as humour, for the benefit of the comedians, and how audiences participate in that really isn't funny. i.e. it's not transgressive, LudditeJourno and I wouldn't direct clicks in that direction. I stopped watching after he used Porky Pig raping Elmer Fudd as a proof that rape is funny. 'Nuff said?

Bonus points George Carlin (whose work I was almost interested in before this)for managing to use the criticism that 'it's not funny' to suggest that comedians have a fundamental right to determine what is funny - as if their work isn't entirely dependent on people authorising it. And look - you've got people joining you in that process ipso facto you must be right...or...perhaps you're just not the only idiot out there. Go figure: you're not unique in your bigotry.

Thanks so much for the post Scuba Nurse.
_ Iris

LudditeJourno said...

Thanks Iris for watching this despite the lack of description I asked for from Puzzled. I'm going to delete the link - hope that's ok Scube - I'm not happy with THM being used to promote rape jokes.

Scuba Nurse said...

Totally ok, I appreciate you stepping up while I was offline.
Thanks LJ

Hugh said...

I can't say I'm really surprised at this. Raybon Kan has always dealt in really crude racial stereotypes. Most of his jokes, even the ones that aren't actually derogatory, just deal in lazy-arse caricatures that really don't show any sort of engagement with the cultures he's talking about without watching them on TV.

I mean, leaving aside the moral factor of making holocaust jokes when you're not gay/a gypsy/a socialist/a disabled person/jewish, it's kind of pathetic that his biting observations about cultural differences are based on stuff that happened nearly seventy years ago, before he and most of his audience was born. It kind of undermines the "observational" side of "observational humour".

So, while I won't say that I always knew Raybon would get up to this kind of crap, I certainly never saw any signs that his comedic ethos would prevent him from going there.

I do wish New Zealanders in particular, and the world in general, could get beyond "Hey, did you ever notice that this group of people differ from this other group of people in a certain way and ISN'T THAT HILARIOUS?!!?!?!?!"

Lenore said...

Hence I don't bother going to their shows or watching them on TV - boring, offensive and not funny

Scar said...

Last comedy event like this one that I went to, every one of the comedians made a tranny joke (or several).
My friend from highschool who had invited me along (and therefore obviously knows my trans history) was cringing and I felt like a piece of shit - while everyone else was laughing their asses off.
And you know what?
I've never seen anyone, anywhere in NZ complain about tranny jokes from NZ commedians.
Probably because you're all tittering and guffawing in the audience because it's so far removed from you that you don't care.

So I've had to get over it. I now laugh along with everyone else, because it's either laugh or go home and hang myself.
And I'd rather live.