Tuesday, May 7, 2013

In Defense of Rape Loving Comedians....

My response to John Knefel’s response to Sam Morril’s response to Sady Doyle’s  response to Sam Morril’s "rape jokes":

To begin, I’ve known John Knefel for several years of doing standup, and I’d like to think we can both say we’re friendly acquaintances with some similar interests and perspectives (and others that we part ways on). This is one of those in which we part ways.  I’m not criticizing John personally, just the perspective that he seems to represent on this matter.

Now, I think John’s doing a fair job of representing the mindset of people who tend to have issues with Sam Morril as well as previous comedians who have engaged in “rape humor” and why that displeases them. However, I think he’s doing an inaccurate job of portraying the perspective of those defending Sam and their reasons.  There is no winner in this as it’s all subjective beliefs, but there are a couple things that strike me as perplexing about this issue.

“The comics I do know personally who have actively circled the wagons – not to mention the hundreds, both male and female, who have “liked” his response to Doyle – should be criticized for their collective defensiveness in the face of good-faith criticism,” writes John Knefel. What makes Sady’s criticism have “good-faith” any more than what Sam wrote? To categorize the comedian’s defense on the issue any more thoughtless, senseless, or baseless than the opposing view is unfair. It’s an attempt to paint anyone who has an opposing view on “rape humor” as angry, vindictive, and/or heartless.

Just because someone might agree with the right to make jokes about rape does not mean that they are indifferent to people’s feeling.  It also doesn’t make them a misogynist any more than someone who watches Silence of the Lambs a cannibal.  I happen to have a few people in my life who have dealt with sexual assault.  Just because I’m a comedian and I think no subject is, indeed, off limits doesn’t mean I don’t understand the severity of how heinous an act it is.  My stance on this issue is made with a lot of consideration to the consequences of everyone involved. It’s not just a random guttural reaction.

 John writes, “Any critiques of said misogyny are treated with unmitigated scorn…” Any? Sam’s piece was well thought out and articulate.  While you may not agree with it, you certainly can’t say it was filled with “unmitigated scorn.” Now, there are people who have responded that way via Twitter or Facebook (from both sides, by the way, as Sam’s piece indicates). But that doesn’t mean that every critique garners that response. And because certain people choose to respond that way does not make the entire argument invalid. I wish everyone had the ability to clearly articulate their thoughts on any subject, but sadly, that is not the case. That’s something that crosses past all subject matters and content, and is certainly not one sided. Sam’s response is not senseless and it’s certainly not any less thought-out than Sady or John’s responses.

“Senior comedy states people like Patton Oswald are all too willing to take the violence in Boston (or Aurora) seriously but not violence against women,” writes John Knefel. Who’s saying that Patton Oswalt, or any of us who lean on the same side on this issue don’t take rape seriously? We do. We don’t take rape JOKES seriously. There’s a big difference.  I don’t think Sam or anyone else who jokes about rape does not take the actual act of rape seriously (Sam said as much in his rebuttal).
Here, to me, is the most glaring discrepancy in this issue; if you’re not against rape jokes, then you don’t take it seriously and you’re part of the problem. Just because you touch on a subject does not mean you endorse it.  It does not mean you are unaware of the realities of it or how others are affected by it.  

From what I gathered, and on the few occasions I’ve seen Sam Morril, his “rape jokes” were absurdist and done as a classic mislead. For example: “You see, you thought it’d be a black joke…but it’s a rape joke;” it’s a formula that many comedians use.  Tom Cotter jokes, “I went home and the tension was mounting…Tension is my dog.” Similar formula, but the only difference is Sam chose a much darker subject matter. But he no more supports rape than Tom Cotter supports bestiality.

The argument that by joking about rape you are somehow an accomplice is an absurd straw-man argument which also itself belittles the severity and commonality of rape.Rape is a real issue, and there are far more significant root causes than standup comedy; just like there are far more significant and effective solutions than just limiting the mention of it in standup comedy. How about harsher sentences for the people who cover it up? How about universities lose their funding when they don’t report it? How about more resources for counseling or preventative education? Wouldn’t these be more helpful to the cause than just not having it mentioned at a comedy club?

You can’t accuse comedy of adding to rape culture any more than you can accuse Henny Yougman of adding to the human trafficking issue by saying “Take my wife, please,” or Jeff Ross adding to domestic violence issue by saying,  “I ran into my old girlfriend…then I backed up and ran into her again.”

You know who never told a rape joke? Comedian Vince Champ…who turned out to be a rapist.  

Would it make life easier for some people if there were no jokes about rape? Perhaps. But it’s not comedy’s job to make every aspect of life easier nor can it be done. Which subjects should be off limits in an attempt to do so? Is murder, child abuse, or alcoholism any less serious to its victims than rape?  Should a comedian worry that a fat joke might push someone dealing with weight issues to suicide? I get that some subjects might be more serious than others, but who makes that decision for everyone? Everyone is different; therefore everyone’s line as to what’s offensive is different. Something that offends one person will have absolutely no effect on another. So who can be any type of “authority” on what’s deemed offensive or not? Who is to decide what’s off limits when it literally impossible to unanimously decide on the standard? It’s narcissistic to say that your feelings are more important than someone else’s and that because of your feelings on a subject, that lines should be drawn.

Some argue that the frequency of rape is what makes the subject taboo (1 in 6 women, according to Jamie Kilstein and Allison Kilkenny of CitizenRadio)**. Is it statistics? If the stats go from 1-6 to 1-15, is it ok to go back to joking about it? What are the odds that someone in the audience might have experienced a family death recently? Or been the victim of domestic violence? Lost a family member in the war or been the victim of racism?

 The irony is that Sady (and for that matter, Daniel Tosh’s critic) never even claimed that they themselves were victims of sexual assault. They only critiqued that they were uncomfortable with the subject matter in general. Regardless of the validity, they have the right to feel uncomfortable. But we cannot stop art because it makes someone uncomfortable. Yes, I know it may sound silly, but it is art. What makes a person uncomfortable is subjective.  There was a time criticizing George W. Bush or speaking of inter-racial marriage made people uncomfortable. Where is the line? The line is personal. For both the audience and the performer.
John writes, “When critics call you out for misogyny, repeatedly…the community's response is, ‘YOU DON'T GET US.’” It’s unfair to label myself or anyone who isn’t against Sam Morril or Daniel Tosh as a misogynist.  It’s not misogyny that pushes me to defend Sam Morril, but the defense of art. Whether you like it, whether it’s good, or it’s utter garbage…it’s art. You have the right to not like art that makes you uncomfortable, but you don’t have the right to never be made to feel uncomfortable.  And even if you did have that right, how could we enforce it?    

Comedians don’t support “rape humor” because they’re apathetic to people’s feelings. They support it because they’re sympathetic to humor and to art. They’re sympathetic to people who want to express themselves in whatever avenue they feel necessary. And if that avenue is a rape joke, then so be it. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to like it. Quite literally, nobody is forcing you to do anything against your will. And if someone is forcing you to do something against your will…well, we all know what that’s called. Just don’t mention it in a comedy club. 

*While I did hear the 1-6 statistic mentioned on the Citizen Radio podcast, it didn't initially mention the source, within that segment. Through some research, I have found varying statistics on the subject exist, as well as several locations that state the number to be 1 in 6, including RAINN (Rape Abuse & Insets National network). I'm not challenging the validity of any of the statistics nor the sources or data that form the them. 

Also in a previous draft I had referred to comedian Tom Cotter, as Wayne Cotter, who also happens to be a comedian. I hope that both Wayne and Tom can find it in their hearts to forgive me and I apologize for any damage this may have cause to either Cotter family. May god have mercy on my soul.

Also if anyone knows a good locksmith,....you now what some of these aren't relevant to this article. 


Andrew said...

The weird thing about this debate in my view is that there seems to be a kind of agreement on both sides that it works like this: if a joke is offensive and demeaning and awful, then people won't find it funny. So if a joke is funny, then those other things can't be true.
But this isn't the way it works. If you look at say, Dennis Leary's jokes from the 90's or Andrew Dice Clay's from the 80's, they come off today as crude, offensive, and unfunny. There was a time (hard to believe) when contextually they were funny.
So the funny just masks the underlying offensiveness, and when the funny fades or misses, then the offensiveness is all that is left. (Michael Richard). The latest crop of comedians like Tosh, Jeselnek and Silverman seem to be deliberately strip-mining every last mile of taboo subjects. In twenty years these jokes are going to look like Dice does today.

Jeff Glasse said...

Dennis Leary And Andrew Dice Clay haven't aged well not because they were offensive, but because they were hacks (or in Leary's case, the material was stolen). Contrast that with Carlin's "7 words you can't say on Television," which continues to be regarded as a classic. Ditto Pryor, Hicks and

Similarly, David Attel's "Skanks for the Memories," offensive references intact, will be funny forever - because it's legitimately well written, surprising and clever -which is what the uninitiated call "funny." It might require some decoding by future audiences in the same way that the comedy in "Henry IV" or, dare I say "Merchant Of Venice" takes decoding by modern audience (and may not jive with their "enlightened" sensibilities)

You also miss a fundamental point point most comics, including Harry, are making - that, unlike Andrew Dice Clay's jokes, which were demonstrably misogynist at the time they were being told , the jokes here are almost always at the expense of the teller, or the listener - not the imaginary victim. Even at the height of Dice's popularity, he was a divisive figure (Nora Dunn refused to appear with him on SNL, and much of the cast found his comedy distasteful) and the crowds at his shows were known to be unruly, uneducated mob of morons. Morons will, in any age, gravitate towards the asinine and self-congratulatory (see today's Tea Party).

I think part of the reason you see what I've seen called "defensiveness" on behalf of comedians in this discussion is their honest visceral reaction to the bone-headed misapprehension of how comedy works by people who fundamentally don't understand what generates laughter - something good comedians think a lot about. Your statement "the funny just masks the underlying offensiveness" betrays such a lack of understanding.

Marika C said...

As someone who was sexually assaulted, rape jokes aren't funny. I don't understand how any man who ever cared about a woman could even begin to think they were funny. And just because you know someone who was raped, doesn't mean you have any concept of what it is like. You are never the same person. I am healthy, I'm in a good place, but that doesnt mean that I don't miss the woman I used to be.

Having said that, if a comedian wants to tell rape jokes, great - I understand that a lot of comedy is social commentary - and nothing should be off the table. I support that. I think Sady was asking what the deal is with rape jokes is... why does he tell so many of them. What is the motivation? Is there something he is trying to say about rape, about male attitudes to rape, about female reaction to rape, that she didn't understand because of her immediate reaction to it. It was a good chance for him to have an honest discussion about it and I know that this rape joke hating gal would have truly liked to know his take on it.... and he blew it.

I will say this, I would never heckle or jeer a comedian that told rape jokes - but I would walk out, and I think that is something that a rape joke telling comedian should respect. Let the girl go in peace - you don't know where she's been.

ym said...

"You also miss a fundamental point point most comics, including Harry, are making - that, unlike Andrew Dice Clay's jokes, which were demonstrably misogynist at the time they were being told , the jokes here are almost always at the expense of the teller, or the listener - not the imaginary victim."

Nice try, but Carlin's rape joke is on the listener. Louis CK's rape joke is on the listener IF said listener agrees with stupid cultural attitudes that men are entitled to rape pretty much whenever they want to.

Morril's rape jokes, on the other hand, are absolutely, squarely on the victim AND are bragging about BEING an actual rapist. "Having sex" with your girlfriend while she's unconscious on Ambien IS RAPE. The punchline of the "N-word" joke is that she wasn't calling him a nigger, HE WAS RAPING HER. How is that funny to anyone except rapists and rape sympathizers? I'd like to ask these women how they feel about it. Yes, just because Morril jokes about raping women doesn't mean he actually raped them. But I'd like to know what his ex-girlfriends say, if he has any.

Jamie Burgess said...

No one is saying rape can't be joked about, there is a difference between joking about the act of rape, making fun of the rape victim and/or glorifying rapists. Google Kate Harding and 15 Rape Jokes That Work. No one is trying to take this subject off the comedic table, but a little reflection never hurt anyone. We wouldn't make fun of the victims of pedophiles but the perpetrators themselves are fair game. Sam Morril's jokes trivialize the act of rape and glorifies the rapist, in my opinion. Call his technique absurdist or a classic mislead, but the average audience is not going to internally articulate a broader meaning and come away thinking Sam Morril has poignant views on anything in his material – which is not to say he doesn’t, he very well may. “They” say a lot of truth is said in jest, what truth are we supposed to derive from a male-dominated field of jesters that insists rape is funny? Not rapists who perpetrate the act, but the violence itself and the victims are the butt of a majority of these jokes. Do we make fun of the victims of other violent means, bombs, genocide, or natural disasters? I sure hope not.

Anti-mimesis philosophizes that "art sets the aesthetic principles by which people perceive life, and does not imitate life. What is found in life and nature is not what is really there, but is that which artists have taught people to find there, through art." That thought process came from a man, not a bunch of fist-wielding feminists. SOME, not all, rape jokes perpetuate the idea that the act of rape and the victim are not to be taken seriously when we should be making fun of the guys who think it is a legitimate way to get some instead.

George Bernard Shaw says, “I have noticed that when a certain type of feature appears in painting and is admired as beautiful, it presently becomes common in nature.” No one is suggesting that any art form is the cause of rape and other violence towards women. I believe a good comic would want to make an audience laugh as well think, maybe some don’t care anyone thinks. Regardless, success in the arts reaches a broader audience. If we are laughing at the thought of a women getting raped, how far are we from turning the act itself into pure comedy? Not too far if a bunch of boys in Steubenville post videos of a young girl being assaulted and then riff on the hilariousness of it all.