Can a Daniel Tosh joke ever be funny?

I’m not certain what it says about us, but this is not the first time we have talked about rape jokes. By now you have probably heard about Daniel Tosh, who responded to a woman who shouted out, “actually, rape is never funny” during one of his stand-up shows with “wouldn’t it be funny if five guys raped her right now?” That’s what we call a First Idea. Tosh can be forgiven his mediocre ad lib, but he can also be taken to task for promoting a rape culture. The internet is pretty much divided on which to do. Careful thinker and talented jokewright Carolyn Jacobson sent me this link considering that there may be a middle ground between “anything is funny” and “some things are never funny.” Its sentiments are eerily reflected in this one. While you read those, I’ll just think about the summer I spent at Boy Scout ca—no! No I won’t!

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The unpopular position: rape isn’t funny

I opted to not go with a rape-related image for today's post. Although, frankly, this picture may be funnier in that context.

Today's graphic will, you know, not relate to the subject at hand. Although it is probably funnier in that context.

Alert reader/irascible curmudgeon Ben Fowlkes sent me a link to this post over at the feminist blog Shakesville, in which the author lambasts Ricky Gervais. The comedian—whom you probably remember from the original British version of The Office, or from this comedy about a man whose paranoid schizophrenia leads him to become fixated on a woman in his building—recently came under fire in the British press for the following joke:

“I’ve [driven drunk] once and I’m really ashamed of it. It was Christmas—I’d had a couple of drinks and I took the car out. But I learned my lesson. I nearly killed an old lady. In the end I didn’t kill her. In the end, I just raped her.”

First of all, that is not a funny joke. Who can tell when non-John Cleese British people are being funny, though? Bafflingly, the UK press describes it as a “drink-driving joke” and seems to find it objectionable on those grounds—in response to which I refer you to the second sentence of this paragraph. Gervais, in his own defense, says that the turn is “comedically justified” because it addresses the phrase “nearly killed her.” The idea is that rape is less bad than murder, kind of, and the sudden recontextualization of the “nearly killed her”—from hyperbolic expression to literal statement—is funny. Explanations like these are why you shouldn’t talk during comedy or sex, but that’s beside the point. Gervais argues that it’s not a rape joke, which is a difficult position to maintain when you compare the joke with other jokes that do not contain the word “rape.” Shakesville blogger Melissa McEwan argues that the joke is unfunny—in fact, unacceptable—because it’s about rape. I contend that Gervais’s joke isn’t funny, not because it’s about rape, but because it’s not funny. So in fact the subject of today’s blog is that rape isn’t funny, which is why it’s such a good subject for jokes. Gotcha!

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