’ve never much enjoyed the work of Daniel Tosh, I find his patronizing, smug tone a little too much for me. That said, the man knows how to write a joke and certainly doesn’t shy away from taboo subjects, which I admire. More comedians should do the same.
But I’ve never been terribly comfortable with the whole “it was just a joke” argument when a comedian intentionally offends a crowd. It’s a cop out. It’s discrediting to the craft to deliberately antagonize an audience, and then when they become understandably offended or upset, shrug it off, as though your opinion doesn’t matter. Good comedians can dissect a loaded topic with enough thoughtfulness and intelligence to get a crowd on board with a subject previously believed to be off-limits. A bad comic drops a loaded subject on an audience without context and then acts like it’s the crowd who are unreasonable when they get uncomfortable.
When done well, all that is required to walk that tight rope is a detached persona from the subject matter, for example the flippant one-liners of Jimmy Carr. When done poorly, a comedian can come across as childish, such as Ricky Gervais’ insistence that the word “Mong” is the funniest thing since The Marx Brothers and has absolutely no offensive connotation whatsoever.
For those of you who don’t follow American comedy, this week comedian Daniel Tosh made headlines when some people (who happened to be women) were offended by remarks he’d made during a set at LA’s Laugh Factory. On the back of an ad-lib taken from the crowd, Tosh made the off-hand comment that “rape can be funny” which led to an argument with one of the members of the audience. This led to a table of heckling punters leaving in the middle of the show, demanding their money back and the unfortunate scribing of a blog on a Tumblr account called “Cookies For Breakfast”.
Cookies For Breakfast called the experience “Viscerally terrifying and threatening” and went on to describe the showdown;
“ I, for one, DON’T find them (rape jokes) funny and never have. So I didn’t appreciate Daniel Tosh (or anyone!) telling me I should find them funny. So I yelled out, “Actually, rape jokes are never funny!”
“ 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…”
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…
I should probably add that having to basically flee while Tosh was enthusing about how hilarious it would be if I was gang-raped in that small, claustrophic room was pretty viscerally terrifying and threatening all the same, even if the actual scenario was unlikely to take place.
She finishes her blog with a urging to “Please reblog and spread the word.” Which many, many people did leading to Tosh making headlines across America and becoming a popular topic on panel shows and panel radio programs. I guess it was a slow news week.
I’m actually with Cookies on the ‘rape is never funny’ wagon. I am that unfortunate kind of comedian who has limits, even though I am constantly told that stand-up comics are best when they don’t have them. Try as I may, I can’t help but have an emotional connection to the comedy I watch and the comedy I perform.
Context is everything, and the media had only Cookies For Breakfast’s blog to go by, which is worded in such a way that one would imagine Tosh leaped off the stage and wrestled her to the ground. Really? Or did he just make an off hand remark after he was heckled and Cookies wanted to get back at him by smearing him on her blog? I wasn’t there, nor was the vast majority of people who demanded an apology from Daniel Tosh.
Was Tosh funny? Not particularly. I probably wouldn’t have laughed. Hell, I may have even left the club and I would have done so quietly and without incident. I wasn’t there, so I’m in no position to comment on the context of what he said. But I’ve seen shit go down in enough comedy clubs to know that a lot of times a heckler can piss off a comedian enough to get him to say things that would be completely be out of character. I’ve done it myself.
But according to a number of other members of the audience (would-be rapists, according to Cookies), Tosh didn’t introduce the subject of rape. He asked the crowd what he should be talking about and they suggested “rape!”, which led to Tosh’s remark that “rape can be funny.” Had the crowd not suggested it, it is doubtful he would have introduced this into the act. As well, had the heckler not beaked off, then Tosh would have done his stand-up act which is probably not a calculated attempt to see if he can get a woman gang-raped in a comedy club. Tosh was clearly dealing with a heckler, not inciting a re-creation of the pinball scene from The Accused for his own amusement.
I’m no fan of Daniel Tosh, but he never should have apologized for any of this. Comedy clubs have disclaimers on the door. Daniel Tosh didn’t owe anybody an apology any more than a director owes an apology to someone who finds a movie offensive.
Dylan Rhymer is a Canadian comedian and blogger, and creator of www.stateoftheweek.ca, a topical news comedy blog.
Check out Dylan Rhymer’s LIVE comedy at: http://ow.ly/c0kUB