A tumblr post describing one fan’s encounter and offense taken at Daniel Tosh’s “rape is funny” bit has gone viral:

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!”

There’s the first mistake she made. She heckled. Never heckle. Take offense, approach after, but don’t heckle.


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.

Except he’s clearly being facetious. I don’t think it’s a good bit at all. In fact, I think it’s pretty stupid (more on that later). But I don’t think anyone with a modicum of sense can sincerely argue that Daniel Tosh thinks rape is an okay thing for people to do and that the actual act itself is humorous.

Again, shitty bit? Yes, but c’mon.

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…” and I, completely stunned and finding it hard to process what was happening but knowing i needed to get out of there, immediately nudged my friend, who was also completely stunned, and we high-tailed it out of there. It was humiliating, of course, especially as the audience guffawed in response to Tosh, their eyes following us as we made our way out of there. I didn’t hear the rest of what he said about me.

But again, here’s the thing: he was heckled. Comics say and do very, very shitty things when they get heckled that they don’t mean. Heckling puts people in an already anxious and high-pressure situation in an even more vulnerable and panicky place. If you attack and put someone on the defensive like that, they are apt to lash out as Tosh was. And, unfortunately in this case, it didn’t come out as all that clever.

I think I can count the funny rape jokes I’ve heard (and by that I mean any joke that even invoked it) on one hand with quite a few digits to spare. And even then, they weren’t very memorable. Most of the time it ends up as lazy hackery, because comics who write those jokes have a bad habit of leaning on the concept itself without having a humorous or interesting context in which to put it, which is the whole meat of a joke like that. Almost anything can be made funny. A prime example is racially-charged humor: you can use race as a setup and context for a joke, but  being racist and/or spitting out racial slurs and statements isn’t enough. That doesn’t mean you should, though, unless you have the confidence, chops, and most importantly, the context.

Just saying shocking shit that shocks people and makes them go “holy shit, that’s shocking!” isn’t good comedy. It might make some rooms laugh, it might make other rooms groan, and you can build an audience on it. But good comedy? No.  So I do think Tosh, who has enough of a problem being perceived as a “bro” comic, should probably shelve that bit because it sucks.

But while I feel empathy for the author of this post, as a comic I have a very, very hard time completely taking her side on this one. Because she heckled.

What could have been done differently? Here’s some options:

  1. Don’t laugh. This is actually a lot harder than you think. I’ve seen people laugh as a defense mechanism when they’re nervous then say afterwards how uncomfortable they were in a situation. This happens with comedy too. But if you don’t think the topic is being handled properly, the best and most effective response is silence.
  2. Get up and leave. I know some comics bitch about this, but I’d rather a person get up and leave if my set is not their cup of tea than sit there and subjugate themselves to something that upsets and/or angers them for the sake of etiquette. It’s always better to walk away unhappy than to stay and be made completely fucking miserable. After all, aren’t we in the business of (to steal a phrase from one of the many theme songs of Tom Scharpling’s The Best Show) “giving birth to smiles”?
  3. Approach the manager after. If you feel a line was so deeply crossed that you want compensation, like the person eventually did, then I don’t think it’s beyond the realm of reason to ask to speak to someone.
  4. Anything but fucking heckling the performer and acting like he is super serious about what he’s saying on stage during a stand-up comedy show.


Anyway, bad stuff all around. Able and willing to entertain other thoughts on this matter in the comments below.

UPDATE: I forgot that Carlin summarized this as well (and pretty effectively). Posting it because someone else likely will, not because I’m one of those who defers to an authority on this sort of subject:

FWIW, again, because it’s a subject that doesn’t have a ton of inherent humor in it, his bit doesn’t work after the second minute and completely falls apart (IMO). But up until that point, he’s basically talking along the same lines I was earlier about context.

Rape isn’t the joke, and shouldn’t be. Again, Tosh wrote and performed a shitty bit. But I don’t think heckling is the proper response.

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4 Responses to Rape Jokes and Heckling

  1. Roger Green says:

    I wasn’t there, but if he didn’t make it clear enough that he was being sarcastic, it seems that he really IS seeming to  say that rape is funny.  He should be heckled for being, in this case, a lousy comedian, if nothing else.

  2. […] emphasis is mine, because those were my two primary points when I spilled digital ink over it on Tuesday. Unfortunately, because of the sensitive nature of […]

  3. Sébastien Barré says:

    > She heckled. Never heckle. 

    Meh. Drunk heckling, OK, that’s wrong. But if a show is participative in nature, I feel that’s fair game, though as you said, one should not be surprised by some serious retaliation. Also fair game.

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