I’m not sure I expect better from comedian Daniel Tosh, but this story of a woman who saw him on a bill at the Laugh Factory (where, it should be noted, she got through a Dane Cook set just fine, lest anyone want to accuse her of oversensitivity) and ended up having to hear him talk about how hilarious it would be if she got gang-raped is…dispiriting:
So Tosh then starts making some very generalizing, declarative statements about rape jokes always being funny, how can a rape joke not be funny, rape is hilarious, etc. I don’t know why he was so repetitive about it but I felt provoked because I, for one, DON’T find them funny and never have. So I didnt appreciate Daniel Tosh (or anyone!) telling me I should find them funny. So I yelled out, “Actually, rape jokes are never funny!”
I did it because, even though being “disruptive” is against my nature, I felt that sitting there and saying nothing, or leaving quietly, would have been against my values as a person and as a woman. I don’t sit there while someone tells me how I should feel about something as profound and damaging as rape.
After I called out to him, Tosh paused for a moment. Then, he says, “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…”
Now, I don’t know what jokes Tosh was telling specifically, but judging by, say, this routine, where the joke is that his sister gets raped after he replaces her pepper spray with silly string and her reaction is that he pulled a good one, I’d imagine it wasn’t particularly thoughtful or analytical:
Ditto with this “Acme Rape Trap” routine:
Heckling is, of course,
a legitimate part of something that does happen during* comedy performances (though more so in clubs like the Laugh Factory than in a major auditorium), and heckling someone on the substance of their jokes is obviously a notch politer than simply telling someone that they’re terrible, or unfunny, or unattractive, or to get lost. A good comedian is an alchemist who can turn heckling into a transformative extended riff. Here it sounds like Tosh just doubled down on the same points he was making rather than actually responding, or providing an example of a rape joke that his heckler might find funny, undermining her objection. As I’ve written before, I think there is a case to be made that rape jokes that make fun of perpetrators can be very funny. Tosh didn’t go there, though. He just took the quickest route to run his heckler out of the club, and in using an image of her getting raped to mock and intimidate her, kind of made her point instead of his own. If rape was just hilarious and uproarious and trivial, it wouldn’t be a very effective rhetorical or literal weapon. Tosh isn’t just failing at civility here. He’s being a bad comedian.
*Thanks to the comedians who pointed out that heckling is less common than it’s sometimes portrayed to be. I regret the mischaracterization. The point I wanted to make is that is that the writers’ remarks weren’t entirely bizarre and a professional should have been prepared to respond to them.