After Daniel Tosh responded to a heckler at a recent show who told him rape jokes weren’t funny by laying out a scenario that involved her getting gang raped, he tweeted an attempt at an apology. “All the out of context misquotes aside, i’d like to sincerely apologize,” he wrote. “The point i was making before i was heckled is there are awful things in the world but you can still make jokes about them. #deadbabies.”
There are two issues here. First, is that the main thing Tosh needs to apologize for is what he put the audience member through. She felt threatened and humiliated, and he targeted her in front of an audience. It’s be nice to see him use that power to impress an audience to explain why what he did wasn’t funny or insightful. I’d even be interested to hear him explain his thought process in formulating his response or his emotional reaction to the audience member’s comments, like Jason Alexander did when he apologized for his comments about cricket being a “gay sport” earlier this year. The best apologies involve conversation rather than deflection.
Which is the second problem with this response. Tosh restates the point that he was trying to make, which is that it’s possible to make jokes about rape. Again, that’s a subject that needs parsing. Jokes about sexual assault seem, to me, to fall into a category that requires heightened scrutiny. Reveling in someone else’s vulnerability or humiliation is not an inherently funny thing, and it’s upsetting to a lot of people. If you’re going to upset a lot of people, and defend upsetting a lot of people, you have to have more than a pedestrian joke to offer up. You have to have a point, and you have to execute it with a high degree of precision. That doesn’t appear to be something that Tosh understands in a lot of his schtick. But it’s particularly obvious here that he doesn’t seem to understand either his heckler’s original criticism, or why what he did to her subsequently was so upsetting, or feel the need to offer a specific elaboration of his point or exploration of his thinking. There is a genuine and interesting conversation to be had about how comedy works in this space. But it doesn’t seem like we’re in a place where we’re close to having it.