Sasheer Zamata, Daniel Tosh, and Sex and Sexual Harassment As Comedy

When word came down that Daniel Tosh, not precisely known for his cutting-edge or sexually sophisticated humor, had used the specter of gang rape to mock an audience member at one of his shows, it kicked off a perpetually-simmering debate about whether jokes about sexual assault can ever be funny. I think that they can be, if they target attackers rather than victims, and if they expose the absurdities behind the idea that anyone is entitled to sex, or that anyone is asking to be assaulted. And that’s why I love this video from Sasheer Zamata, where she goes inside the mind of a guy who flashed her, breaking down the ridiculousness of the impulse that leads anyone to expose themselves to a stranger—and ending with an uncomfortable but sharp insight on how that ugly incident compares to the rest of her dating life:

It’s worth comparing that video to the promotion for Tosh’s new show Brickleberry, an animated show about a state park. To his credit, Tosh scrapped what were apparently numerous and not very thoughtful rape jokes from the pilot after the controversy. That, however, appears to have left him with animals having sex like humans. It’s not entirely bankrupt—I find the idea of moose in reverse cowgirl kind of amusing—but it’s not even a joke that’s funny over a full minute of content:

If Tosh wants to retool his schtick, something that would be both legitimately difficult—excellent material is hard to come by—and kind of seismic, I’m all for supporting him in that effort. Artistic growth, especially when it means leaving behind something that’s made you very successful, is an easy imperative to ignore, but it’s a compelling one, particularly if that growth means setting aside your power to suggest that damaging, aberrant behavior is normal or funny. Hopefully some of the comedians who defended Tosh’s right to say whatever he wants will help him figure out what he wants to say next.