By now the controversy surrounding Daniel Tosh’s tiny little rape issue has hit a point where piling on adds very little — unless it’s an argument as jarring and eloquent as Austin comedian Curtis Luciani’s.
(If you’re not caught up, know this: Tosh, who hosts a show on Comedy Central, performed at the Laugh Factory in Hollywood and allegedly launched into a bit about how anything, no matter how offensive or taboo, can and should be turned into jokes. Anything, even rape. A woman in the audience stood up and said, “Rape jokes are never funny,” to which Tosh said something about how he’d like to see this woman “raped by five guys” right now. When the story was posted online, Twitter went nuts.)
The great thing about the Tosh debate is that what started out as Rape jokes good! Rape jokes bad! has turned into a nuanced breakdown and discussion of the technique behind a meaningful, effective, poignant, good rape joke. What makes some more effective than others? When your topic is as triggering as rape, and when a significant portion of your audience has likely experienced some form of sexual assault, how do you acknowledge them?
Thing is, this isn’t an issue of anyone being “censored” or “silenced” or not “allowed” to do anything. People love comedy, especially offensive, edgy comedy. The surprising consensus: People actually want more rape jokes. But we want them to be fucking smart. The takeaway from this whole thing, for comedians and anyone, really, should be a crash course in taking the craft of offensive-comedy writing to the next level (see Lindy West’s unbelievably hilarious and thorough “How to Make a Rape Joke.”)
Anyway, Curtis Luciani. Take it away.
Let’s imagine a world in which women cut men’s dicks off. Like, frequently. To the extent that one in five men has had his dick cut off by a woman or had a woman attempt to cut his dick off.
(I apologize immediately if it sounds like I’m being flip. I am not being flip. Imagine the pain and shame and humiliation of someone cutting your dick off. Imagine it in earnest.)
Sometimes it’s a clear-cut case where a woman attacks you in the street, out of nowhere, and cuts your dick off. But more often it’s a situation where you actually know the woman, maybe you trust her, maybe you think everything’s okay, and then one day she cuts your dick off.
Still with me? This is going to take a while. I’ll tell you when I’m done. (And if you think I’m being insufferably self-righteous: Good news, you don’t have to read this!)
Okay, now let’s also say that the shame and guilt around having your dick cut off is so strong that many dick-cuttings go completely unreported. After all, someone is likely to raise the question of whether or not you were “asking for it” in one way or another. And if you do accuse a woman of cutting your dick off, you can expect to see people (quite naturally) rally to her defense and slander your character in response.
You can expect to see her friends … who are maybe also friends or yours … shrug their shoulders and say “Well, I don’t know, it’s complicated … it sounds like something was just happening between the two of them and maybe it got out of hand. I dunno. But I know that Sarah’s not a bad gal. I know she would never, like, MALICIOUSLY cut a dude’s dick off.”
So, a shitty state of affairs for the men-folk of our imaginary world, yes?
Now imagine that in this world, something like 90 percent of professional performing comedians are women. And they’ve accepted that there are certain codes of behavior when it comes to comedy. Most people who “like comedy” generally accept the premise that there are no subject areas that cannot be somehow given a comic treatment, but it is also accepted, as a practical rule, that as the subject gets more troubling, more intense, more painful, a more skilled approach is necessary to find the humor in it.
However, it is also accepted that people are people and they are going to have authentic responses to things. It is accepted, for example, that you probably should not go in front of an audience that contains several black people and start tossing around the N-word unless you have an EXCEPTIONALLY sophisticated and road-tested routine built around it, one that you are confident will overcome the very significant risk you are incurring. If a comedian did this and did NOT overcome the risk, no one would be shocked if the audience shouted her down and stormed her out of the club, nor would anyone be particularly eager to defend her.
HOWEVER, there’s this ONE thing. Many of the comediennes of this world have this ONE little sticking point. One little thing. It just IRKS the hell out of them that they can’t seem to make jokes about cutting dicks off without some whiny pussy male in the audience throwing a shit fit about it!
You see where this is going. And it’s brilliant. Continue reading on CultureMap Austin.