Bullish Life: If You Can Take a Dick, You Can Take a Joke, Lady! (Um, No.)


Recently, comedian Daniel Tosh recently quipped from stage that “rape jokes are always funny.” A woman disagreed! (I’m sure many women did, but this one did so out loud!)

Tosh shot back, “Wouldn’t it be funny if that girl got raped by like, five guys right now? Like right now? What if a bunch of guys just raped her…”

The lady blogs have done plenty of coverage of this matter. Ever Mainard’s “feminist rape joke” got renewed play.

Quoth Elissa Bassist on The Daily Beast, arguing that you can make jokes about awful things as a way to process them, but that Tosh didn’t:

“That’s not a joke. It’s an invitation. It’s a celebration of a violent crime, which is itself another violation. It’s not a way to cope. It’s a ‘this is something we can do and then laugh about it, no big deal.’”

Of course, many famous comedians rushed to Tosh’s defense. The owner of the Laugh Factory defended Tosh’s jokes on the basis that the rest of the audience gave the act a standing ovation. That, of course, is not how causality works at all. If you tell a racist joke to everyone you know and they all think it’s hilarious, that means that all your friends are racists. Telling a racist joke to racists, who like it, does not somehow make the joke not racist. Telling rape jokes to people who love rape jokes means that a lot of shitty people were in a room together.

But this is such an old conversation. So old. It was just this January when Dane Cook made some “jokes” about how he “chainsaw-fucked” a “disgusting whore’s cunt.”

I have performed in many comedy clubs. I have also performed in hipsterish bar backrooms, university theaters, a Methodist church basement, several outdoor stages on Army bases in Kuwait and Qatar, in the airplane hangar of a Navy aircraft carrier, and, happily, at Boston’s Women in Comedy Festival. I don’t call myself a comedian anymore. I’m an educational humorist, and that suits me better.

Comedy clubs are, in my opinion, mostly awful. And it’s a self-perpetuating cycle of awfulness. A club tries to put a nice balance of comedians on its stage (meaning one female comic for every 4 or 5 male comics, as well as some balance of race, age, type of act, etc.)

But the comedy world contains a great many men who believe that because they are “liberals” (that is, they hate Republicans), therefore anything they say about women is fine. (Chainsaws!) So women don’t go to comedy clubs in anywhere near the numbers that men do. Which means that many club owners book even fewer female comics, or they book the female comics they think will appeal to men. So even fewer women go. Also, in my experience, most women are mortified by getting called out from the stage if they try to get up to go to the bathroom. Oh, we are shrill, humorless bitches who just want to go to the bathroom without everyone thinking about it!

It is in this circle of Dante’s Inferno that pointing out, “You know, it’s statistically likely that at least eleven people in this room have been sexually assaulted in their lifetimes…” will be regarded as an act of CRA-ZAY, irrelevant feminist harpydom.

Let’s Re-gender. Thanks.

We as a society have become somewhat inured to the “It’s always better when the stripper is crying” brand of humor.

Would straight men like comedy clubs if most of the comics were seven foot tall gay men talking about how it’s hilarious to rape straight men, but also how stupid straight men are and how gross their dicks are? (I do think the size issue is important — if you’ve spent your whole life aware of the fact that the majority of men can physically overpower you, something in the back of your brain lights the fuck up at even a “hilarious” “fake” threat.)

Let’s re-gender! You know what’s hilarious about a male stripper? When it turns out he’s got two kids at home he’s trying to feed by showing off his body, even though he doesn’t want to. Ha, what a dick.

Here is a list of “Your Dad” jokes that I generated by Googling “list of your mom jokes” and making some simple gender substitutions:

Your dad is so fat his blood type is rocky road.

Your dad is so poor when I rang the doorbell he stuck his head out the window and yelled “Ding dong!”

Your dad’s armpits so stink so bad he put on Right Guard and it went left.

Your dad’s so fat, scientists have declared his ass to be the 10th planet.

Your dad’s so poor he can’t even pay attention!

Your dad’s so poor he chases the garbage truck with a shopping list.

Your dad is so fat when we were having sex I rolled over 9 times and I was still on the motherfucker.

Your dad is so ugly your Grandma threw him on the street and was charged for littering.

Your dad is like a bowling ball — gets picked up, fingered, thrown in the gutter, and comes back for more.

How do you feel about these? I guess if you hate fat people and poor people, you might like these jokes. But overall, this small selection of “your dad” jokes paints a picture of a man so economically beaten down that he is involved in an exploitative sexual relationship. That makes me kind of sad.

I mean, I’ve definitely laughed at some “your mom” jokes. But I wonder how much “comedy” (that is, what I’ve been culturally conditioned to think of as funny) has desensitized me to some pretty awful shit people think is funny when it’s about women.

Why It’s Perfectly Reasonable to “Make a Big Deal” About “One Little Joke”

Mention Tosh or Cook’s outbursts to most comedians, and you’ll be told that most good comics aren’t like that, or that, sure, there’s a little of that but a lot of jokes about other things, and, really, what’s the big deal?

Eh. I mean, if you were on a date with someone and he called you a “fat cunt”, that date would be over, right? No matter what other awesomely witty things the guy had to say? And if this happened at a speed dating event and the guy who said that were just one of many guys you’d be seeing that evening – sure, you’d obviously be in a fabulous mood to meet another (perfectly innocent!) guy ten minutes after being called a fat cunt, right?

Well, that’s a bad night at a comedy club for me and plenty of other people. An hour of ha-ha doesn’t really make up for that one time you were jam-packed into a room of people laughing like hyenas at something seriously racist, or advocating violence against women. I’m not really primed to have a good time anymore.

I once performed in a benefit show for a YWCA that worked with victims of domestic violence. All the comics were women, and the show was attended almost entirely by the staff at the YWCA, all of whom were women, and mostly women of color. And we, the comics, heard repeatedly: “I didn’t think I could ever go see comedy,” or “I didn’t know comedy could be like this.” That is, funny to women who don’t think violence against women is funny. By which I mean: funny.

There is Nothing Wrong With Wanting People to Be Generally Polite.

The owner of the Laugh Factory — in addition to mentioning the standing ovation — defended Tosh by saying, “If you don’t want to get insulted don’t go to comedy clubs.”

How is it that you can’t fucking cough at the Philharmonic — and you certainly don’t call out “Your solo sucked!”, nor do the musicians make fun of your lack of knowledge about Bizet — but our society has evolved some bizarre form of entertainment wherein you, the audience, are expected to be willing to be personally insulted in front of a room of people? Wasn’t that the WORST PART of adolescence? Call me crazy, but I don’t like to be insulted even once when I am trying to have a good time, such as by paying money for entertainment!

As a comic and as an audience member, I just want no part of an entire room full of rudeness. I only entertain polite people. (Seriously: my shows do VERY WELL for audiences of schoolteachers and librarians.) I was raised to believe that it is the right thing to do — and in fact mandatory, unless you fear physical danger — to speak up if someone tells a racist joke. As a consumer, I cannot fathom the attraction of waiting to be insulted, or watching others be insulted.

Oh, and then if you don’t laugh, or – god forbid – try to get up to go to the bathroom, the comic yells in front of everyone, “If you can take a dick, you can take a joke, lady! And I KNOW you can take a dick, amIrite?”

Can we talk about that for a minute? “If you can take a dick, you can take a joke.” First off, it sort of implies that all sex for women (or straight women and gay men, or something) is an exercise in enduring suffering. Great advertising, guys! It’s also just a non-sequitur.

I suppose you can make the argument that tolerating meanness is an important life skill, but it’s not so important that we should encourage meanness so people have the opportunity to build up their tolerance to it. (“I only beat my kid so he’ll be prepared in case anyone beats him!”)

In the NYTimes, comedian Bill Burr lashed out an “alt-comedy,” complaining that it “distilled all of the horror out of attempting to be a comedian … No heckling, no drunks, no obnoxious behavior, no aggressiveness.” He went on to decry the existence of a warm, safe, nurturing “comedy womb.”

Well, yes. Yes! While some people thrive on constant combativeness, some do not! No one says, “This painting would be so much better if the painter had to paint it while people shouted at him,” or “This ballet dancer is crap if she can’t force people who don’t like ballet to like The Nutcracker.”

Now, I mostly run businesses and write articles rather than doing comedy, but not long ago, I had a good gig in the warm, safe comedy womb of the Women in Comedy Festival.

It’s cool if you don’t think I’m funny or interesting, but I assure you, yelling wouldn’t make it any better. It just makes you an asshole. And if asshole audience members prefer comedians who are also assholes, I’m not terribly surprised, but the fact that (some) people are laughing doesn’t actually excuse any of the shit being said.

Adapted from material originally published on The Gloss.