More Useless Noise

One of the things I hate about the internet (and there are millions) is the way that it makes every single argument a shouting contest and every jackass gets to air their (usually racist or misogynist) two bits without any vetting, regardless of qualifications. I’m going to throw my two cents in here though on the Daniel Tosh blow-up because it’s really rankled me. Feel free to ignore it.

The Daniel Tosh scandal is an interesting confluence for me because it combines two things that I loathe: the “comedy” of Daniel Tosh and rape. First, the “comedian.” I have never found Daniel Tosh even remotely funny. His smug, self-satisfied delivery style and sub-frat house level of discourse lights up my limbic system like the Fourth of July with rage. I’ve never once heard him say anything I find even remotely funny. His Comedy Central show is even worse. At this point, I don’t know anyone who either has trouble finding YouTube clips or likes it when their friends make them watch videos. Can you think of a more annoying sentence than “Hey bro, you GOTTA see this YouTube!!” Watching some grinning prick make Bob Saget-on-amphetamine-like comments about internet videos is about as appealing to me as a root canal sans novocaine. But whatever. He’s famous and I’m not so I’m sure somebody must find him funny. 

Anyone who has had the misfortune of speaking to me for an extended period of time also knows that there are few things that send me into as blind of a rage as sexual violence (Republicans and Yankees fans are about it). This is not a uniquely noble or notable view–I would hope that all rational humans agree–and I don’t bring it up to paint myself as some sort of folk hero. There are certain things about the world that set everyone off and mine happens to be rape. I don’t think there’s anything as dehumanizing or degrading and I can’t even begin to imagine the psychic and physical pain that accompany it. I think it’s a bigger problem than a lot of people realize, especially when you look at the statistics about unreported rapes. (It’s a little more than half, by this estimate). This shit destroys lives but it often goes unnoticed because of the shame and stigma attached to being a victim, to say nothing of the outright blaming of women who are sexually assaulted. In a fairer world, anyone who used the phrase “she had it coming” would have their tongue removed as they have conclusively proven themselves to be too stupid to contribute anything of merit to the human world. Still, look at the number of celebrities and athletes who have been accused of rape and suffered almost no consequences–Ben Roethlisberger, Jerramy Stevens, Mike Tyson, Ted Kennedy, Sebastian Janikowski, Ramon Castro, etc., etc. etc. Michael Vick served jail time for DOG FIGHTING. It is not a great stretch of the imagination for a woman in today’s world to imagine that her safety matters less to the criminal justice system than the life of a few pit bulls. Anyway, the point is this is a really big problem and it is absolute garbage for anyone–and especially a man whose risk is so much less–to trivialize the seriousness of sexual violence. That is contributing directly to the rape culture that makes this okay in the first place.

So, given all this, my blood pressure was primed to skyrocket when I saw the first reports that Daniel Tosh had made some rape jokes. (You can read about the incident and his weaksauce apology here). There has already been a lot written about this (excellent coverage here and here). What really brings my piss to a boil about this, though, is the need that other comedians feel to defend this scumbag. Here’s why:

NOTE: Before I begin, I will concede that there are multiple versions of this story and, as such, the truth probably lies somewhere in between all these accounts of the event. Still, I think her complaint bears hearing out.

1) Claims that the woman was in the wrong because she “heckled” Tosh. Patton Oswalt, in his supportive Tweet, was upset that Tosh would have to apologize for something he did onstage, especially since the woman was interrupting his show. Look, I get it. Hecklers are annoying. I’ve done theatre for almost my entire life, much of it for child audiences. It is incredibly frustrating when your show is interrupted by an audience member. But, as my friend Jeff pointed out earlier tonight, I don’t know that the woman’s outburst even qualifies as real heckling. She interjected her honest feelings about Tosh’s remark that rape jokes are always funny. It’s not like she was trying to divert the audience’s attention toward herself and steal the asshole’s laughs. It was about her sticking up for her viewpoint that RAPE IS A BIG DEAL. Moreover, it’s not like Daniel Tosh is a world-renowned classical musician or a fucking Barrymore. He’s a two-bit comedian with a shitty Comedy Central show. Heckling is a part of the stand-up tradition. I find it annoying too, but it’s not like she was throwing Skittles at Joshua Bell. Your JOB for which you get PAID QUITE WELL is to stand up and make people laugh. I once had a job delivering prescription medicine to housing projects for barely above the minimum wage. I walked in on drug deals and had my life threatened more than once. Yes, stand-up comedy is a daunting task. But it’s also a pretty cushy gig. If the harshest thing you deal with on a daily basis is someone yelling at you, I think you’ll live. 

2) Daniel Tosh’s response was COMPLETELY INAPPROPRIATE. According to the accounts of the show, people were laughing at Tosh’s assertion that rape is funny. I disagree, but fine, whatever. I wasn’t there. The woman voiced her disagreement, saying “Actually, rape jokes are never funny!” Here are, off the top of my head, three things Tosh could have said to diffuse the situation and regain control of his act:

“You seem to be in the minority on that one.”

“I was talking about animal rape, actually.”

“How many rape jokes have you even heard? Tell me one.”

Granted, none of these are comedy gold because it’s late and I’m not a comedian. They would, however, have shut down the heckler and returned the focus to Tosh. Instead, he said this: “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…” Setting aside for a moment that this could well be construed as ACTUALLY CALLING FOR THE RAPE OF ANOTHER HUMAN (Note: Even though I think Daniel Tosh is despicable and irresponsible, I don’t actually believe he was asking anyone to rape this woman. I think he’s just a shitty comic without the ability to think on his feet) what if she’s a rape survivor? Are you telling me that your little nightclub act is so fucking important that you deserve to rip open perhaps the most profound psychic scar that a person could have so that we listen to your dumb little stories about spraying homeless people with Febreeze? You actually think that suggesting a human be brutally violated is an appropriate response to having your shitty stand-up act briefly interrupted? FUCK YOU.

3) The woman who wrote the blog post is being dismissed for not being able to take a joke. Now, it’s a perfectly fair argument that you don’t go to a comedy club to hear life affirmed or great truths told. But that also doesn’t mean that you’re a whiny asshole if you get offended. People do or don’t get offended by all sorts of shit all the time (see Gabe for more on this) and that’s part of what makes offensive comedy fun and edgy. The woman does concede that she doesn’t care for Dane Cook but decided to go anyway in hopes of seeing another comedian that might be funnier. You could argue, I suppose, that she must have known the other comedians on the bill would likely be similar and probably not to her taste. I don’t think, though, that the woman is upset because Tosh was telling rape jokes. I think she’s offended that he SAID IT WOULD BE FUNNY IF SHE WERE GANG-RAPED. What if, by some horrible coincidence, she’d walked outside and been brutally assaulted by a group of people? Would that change the conversation around what Daniel Tosh said?

4) I have been disheartened to see Patton Oswalt and Louis CK come to bat for Tosh on this. I don’t see why you need to Tweet support to him. I mean, for one thing, he’s still famous and probably doing quite well for himself. He’s a big boy and big boys have to deal with the consequences of the shit they say. Once words leave your face, you have to live with the world that you’ve created by saying those words. This is why I FUCKING HATE it when someone says “You shouldn’t have been offended because that wasn’t my intention.” Well, that’s not your decision. Once you say something, if it offends someone, you have to deal with that. THAT’S PART OF BEING AN ADULT. Anyway, I don’t see why much funnier and more successful comics need to help this prick whose insincere apology probably took all of thirty seconds out of his busy day of writing one-liners about dogs biting people on skateboards.

5) Speaking of Louis CK, he serves as an interesting counterpoint here. His comedy is often wildly offensive (he makes rape jokes himself and, while I still don’t find them among his better work, I think they’re better than Tosh for reasons I’ll elaborate on later) and, as has been noted, an episode of his current TV show deals with this very subject. The difference, though, is Louis CK’s comedy seems (and I says seems because it’s impossible to know what he’s thinking or feeling) to come from a much more thoughtful place. Take, for example, one of his most famous bits on offensive words. This entire monologue really suggests that he’s thought reflectively on the way we use words to hurt other people. He explores the same territory in another episode of his show when he and his friends as a fellow gay comedian if he’s offended by their use of the word “faggot” in their acts and personal lives. He really seems to want to understand and explore this as an issue. Moreover, CK makes himself a punchline more often than not. At least half of his comedy is driven by his own despicability as a human. When I see someone like Daniel Tosh–who I can’t imagine has ever thought critically about anything more complex than which ball cap makes him look least like Fred Durst and who seldom cracks a joke at his own expense–tossing off rape jokes, I don’t get the same level of reflection. He seems either unwilling or unable to make himself the butt of a joke. 

6) A brief tangent: when I was in college, Sacha Baron Cohen released the film Borat. My friends and I all loved the biting satire of Bush-era America, xenophobia, racism, and misogyny that he served up. On our way out of the theatre, though, we overheard a group of guys all excitedly swapping lines from the film unironically. They had taken Cohen’s satirical story at face value and really enjoyed the new set of misogynist and racist put-downs they’d acquired. This led to a long and productive discussion with our most thoughtful professor about the dangers of satire and being taken seriously. Similarly, I’ve heard people–educated people–use CK’s logic from the above clip to justify using the word “faggot” in daily conversation as an insult. It’s really easy for people in a position of privilege–white men most of all–to say and do things that are wildly offensive to marginalized groups because they can’t see the damage they’re doing. This is the problem with wishing gang-rape on an audience member.

I don’t know Daniel Tosh and I likely never will. All I know about him is his public persona which I find smug and grating. Perhaps underneath that he is a lovely and complex human being who would never dream of hurting another person. But he’s got to be aware of his audience. Putting ideas out about rape being funny may seem harmless to him but it justifies and strengthens the marginalization and downplay of rape as a crime. Certain segments of the audience don’t get the joke. Even people who do can eventually become desensitized to it. When you’re famous for saying funny things, there is a certain level of responsibility that you have to make sure your message is clear. Saying outrageous and offensive things can be incredibly funny and effective and it’s not your job to make sure the audience is comfortable 100% of the time. But when you make jokes that can be perceived as actual threats, you’ve crossed the line. That’s Tosh’s crime here. It’s not about his right to deal with a heckler and it’s not about the integrity of a performance or the nature of comedy or anything else. It’s about him contributing to a culture of violence and viciously singling out an audience member with a threat. And if you find that funny, you’ve got bigger problems than a cable TV host’s stand-up act getting pissed on.

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