Wouldn’t it be funny if that girl got raped…

Jessica Valenti explains (more patiently than I could) why most rape jokes are not funny (and what kind are).

But here’s the thing: threatening women with rape, making light of rape, and suggesting that women who speak up be raped is not edgy or controversial. It’s the norm. This is what women deal with every day. Maintaining the status quo around violence against women isn’t exactly revolutionary.

The woman who was the target of Daniel Tosh’s “jokes” tells what that was like. Tosh told some rape jokes (not the funny kind), and she disrupted his routine by yelling, “Actually, rape jokes are never funny!”

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.

It’s reminiscent of Michael Richards’s racist “jokes” yelled at another heckler a few years ago. That was a career-ender. Will the same apply to Tosh? I don’t know, but I doubt it.




  1. anthrosciguy says

    I mentioned a big difference on another blog, and this explains why, for instance, Louis CK and others have defended Tosh. Tosh is a stand-up comedian, Richards wasn’t. Richards was trying his hand at it, and in fact the only “defense” of Richards I read were a few non-defense things from stand-up comedians pointing out that Richards messed up because he wasn’t stand-up and didn’t have the skills you gain through doing stand-up. They explained why he did what he did but did not defend what he did.

    So different with Tosh, where the excuses are flying. In my other comment I likened it to the cops circling the wagons thing: circle and shoot outward, not in. All because they’re cops and therefore are to be reflexively defended. I think the exact same thing is at play in the defenses of Tosh compared to the non-defense of Richards.

    So no, I don’t expect Tosh’s career to suffer very much at all.

  2. Godless Heathen says


    I also doubt his career will suffer. Particularly because, based on what I’ve seen of his show, I’m not at all surprised he makes rape jokes.

    I’m not sure if he’s made any on the episodes I’ve seen or not, but he definitely makes lots of sexist jokes.

    Gah. Comedy Central needs to get better shows and stop catering to the sexist dude demographic.

  3. Geoff says

    Yeah I think he’ll still be working too. Also, take note that Tracy Morgan is still working for saying gay kids should be killed, but at least to his credit he gave a more humble apology.

  4. LeftSidePositive says

    But wasn’t she being all assertive and empowered just like Paula Kirby says we should be? Isn’t being all strong and womanly and not letting the cultural biases prevent us from being assertive always effective at totally just making sexism go *poof*?! I thought the only thing standing in the way of women’s empowerment was the women themselves…how could it be that other cultural factors and the retaliation of the privileged might prevent someone from magically empowering themselves simply through force of will? After all, men succeeded despite all the sexism they faced just by being awesome as individuals and never taking collective action against a society that overwhelmingly said it was okay to rape them….Oh, wait…

  5. Bjarni says

    I know it’s not fair to play on someone’s name (it’s not something they chose and all that), but the thought that’s come to mind whenever I’ve seen his show is the phrase “What a load of tosh”.

    As much as I’ve tried to avoid making fun of his name, I’ve also never found him funny. Ever. that’s a bad thing for someone who’s paid to be funny, right?

    This just confirms my feelings about the guy.

  6. Samantha Vimes says

    The reason he won’t pay much of a price is society is not okay with open racism; it still exist, but has to be phrased in codes in public. Whereas sexism is still approved of.

  7. says

    Hope he reads this – http://projectunbreakable.tumblr.com/post/27063556793/a-letter-to-daniel-tosh.

    One thing these jokesters don’t seem to realise – you know who really loves rape jokes? Rapists. They are sitting there in your audience laughing, because by making it a subject of humour, you are tacitly letting them off the hook – it’s all right, they did nothing wrong (and anyway they don’t think they did anything wrong to begin with – the quotes throughout Project Unbreakable pretty much confirm that). Rapists attend stand-up shows, they comment on blogs, they have facebook profiles. And so do rape survivors. Given that, what do you think is the ETHICAL thing to do? No matter which ethical theory you’re into, the answer is clear.

  8. Lyanna says

    Sunil D’Monte: YES! Yes, yes yes.

    If you point this out to people, they’ll get snippy and say you’re claiming that a rape joke causes rape. But the point is rape jokes give aid and comfort to rapists.

    LeftSidePositive: yup! And yet, funnily enough, when a woman stands up for herself, the Kirbys of this world–that is, the people who minimize sexual harassment–get pissy at her for being rude. See the comments on the posts by Alyssa Rosenberg and Scott Lemieux, wherein people clutch their pearls over a woman OMG HECKLING a stand-up comedian!!! (pardon me while I swoon with horror)

    So, because of that breach of manners, obviously bitch was asking for it.

  9. happydog1960 says

    Louis CK is not a guy I like, either. I think he’s depressing, really. Kind of a hopelessly cynical person. I’m getting where I don’t find unrelenting cynicism funny or even interesting any more.

    99% of all standup comics are godawful and not funny. I primarily prefer sketch comedy; I’ve never had any standup make me laugh as hard as Kids in the Hall or Monty Python have.

    I am of the opinion that there are things that you should not joke about, ever. That’s not a real popular opinion, but I think that there are things that cannot and should not be joked about. And I think it’s way over the line for someone to respond from the stage that it would be funny if someone got raped. That tells a lot more about Daniel Tosh than he wants people to know.

    Wonder if Tosh has a girlfriend/boyfriend?

  10. Navigator says

    I admit to being confused by this article.
    Perhaps it is the new math? Just to clear things up, let me explain.
    There you go! Just keep this handy equation in your pocket and you can’t go wrong.

  11. says

    Rape isn’t funny, murder isn’t funny, torture isn’t funny. But that doesn’t mean that people who face being raped murdered or tortured can’t find psychological strength by finding humour in their situation. This is what Wanda Sykes was doing on the video clip. Humour is one of the things that can allow us to re-charge our batteries and carry on fighting. If you empathise with the victims, you can laugh along with them; there is nothing wrong with that. Tosh’s “joke” was not doing this; rather it was making fun of the victims.

    A retired dentist I know, most of whose family had been exterminated in the holocaust, once told me a joke about a conversation between an ultra-orthodox rabbi and a secular Jewish atheist on their way to the gas chamber. What was funny was not the fact that two Jews were about to be murdered but the absurdity of the whole situation. The joke had been told to him by his uncle, who had survived Dachau. It is quite easy to see how a joke, even if superficially anti-semitic, could help victims in this situation, and to, as it were, laugh along with them. So sometimes anti-semitic jokes can be funny. Contrast this with a situation where a stand-up comedian when, challenged about anti-semitism, were to say “Wouldn’t if be funny if five SS officers dragged that Jew off the the gas chamber?” I don’t see that this would be any more acceptable than what Tosh actually did say.

    Thankfully, I had never heard of this Tosh person before, but had I been at the performance I would have been sorely tempted to punch him in the face. I hope never to hear of him again.

  12. says

    Bernard Hurley
    That’s the thing people don’t seem to understand:
    The question is:
    Who is doing it
    Who’s the punchline

    Joking about your own situation, reapropriating slurs, making the asshole the punchline of the joke, that’s one thing.
    Joking about the pain of others, calling them slur, making the victim the punhcline, that’s another thing.
    But we’Re dogmatically anti-humor and anti-sex.

  13. Freodin says

    Yes, rape isn’t funny. Murder isn’t funny. Torture isn’t funny.

    Jokes about rape, murder or torture CAN be funny. They can, as any other joke appeal to the human sense of the grotesque.

    But what this guy did wasn’t joking. Obviously, he was stumped that anyone would disagree and interrupt his routine… and didn’t know how to react than in a horrid and inappropriate way.

    Hey, I would have wanted to see his face if the woman in the audience had replied with “Wouldn’t it be really funny if HE got raped here on stage now?”

    Hah hah, that would have been funny… not. Would it, Tosh?

  14. Dianne says

    I likened it to the cops circling the wagons thing: circle and shoot outward, not in. All because they’re cops and therefore are to be reflexively defended.

    I never understood this attitude. Yes, people tend to believe the best of their colleagues, yes, you want to defend them against false charges, etc. However, in the end, it seems to me that the police (or doctors or the Vatican or stand up comedians) would want a bad cop (or doctor or priest or even stand up comedian) out of the profession before they hurt someone and tarnish everyone’s reputation.

    And Tosh is, if nothing else, embarrassingly incompetent. Really, a stand up comedian who can’t find a better come back to a heckler than threatening them? Just…incompetent. Offensive, too, of course, but from the point of view of another “shock” comedian who may think that rape jokes ARE funny, I’d think they’d still want him off stage for embarrassing the profession.

  15. says

    I know I’ve hawked this blog post of mine (*waves to Orac*) a few times recently, but it really is relevant concerning the meanings and consequences of humor in different circumstances.

    Here’s my conclusion:

    Herzog’s study is historically illuminating and also contributes to a body of work from which we can draw several broader insights. The most general is that humor – even bad or “innocent” humor – should be taken, well, seriously in understanding relations of inequality, oppression, and resistance. It’s wrong to dismiss the potential social and political effects of jokes or stories told for a laugh. But at the same time we should be wary of generalizing unduly from some examples to the claim that all humor, or all humor that offends or pushes a line, is necessarily brave, subversive, or challenging. The people telling and targeted by the jokes or stories, their content, and the sociopolitical context – particularly the relations of power and privilege – in which humor exists are all crucial to understanding its (potential) social meaning.

  16. Bernard Bumner says

    Not one of the heroic defenders of comedy and unconstrained free speech seems to have recognised that the outrage is not necessarily due to whatever putrid joke prompted the heckle, but definitely at the response. That response could never, ever be mistaken for a joke or anything resembling one.

    (I’m sorry if the following bit is patronising or flippant; not my intention. I really don’t know how else to articulate my feelings. Sorry also if it is a bit long and boring.)

    I’m only very slightly less than serious when I write that I think we should put together a simple FAQ for Tosh defenders:

    Q: Wouldn’t it be funny if a bunch of guys raped someone who was offended by a rape joke?
    A: No.

    Q: What? Not even, you know, ironically? Irony. That… Some sort of ironical thing?
    A: No. There is no irony. Get a dictionary, irony doesn’t mean what you think it does.

    Q: Edgy, then!?
    A: No. Not edgy. Punishing women with rape and threats of rape, as well as making light of rape, are unfortunately mundane in most societies. Edgy would tend suggest some element of innovation, or at least a willingness to make statements outside of the norm.

    Q: Is it ever acceptible to say that rape jokes can be funny?
    A: Did you bother to listen to what all of those critics were saying? Or did you just assume that they don’t have a sense of humour?

    Q: But, but, if you go to a comedy show, shouldn’t you expect to be subject to merciless mockery and/or jokey threats of violence?
    A: No. Comedy results from artful interplay and subversion of the audiences’ expectations by the comic, usually via the medium of pithy comments or fantastical anecdotes. True comedy requires that the comic is able to cultivate mutual understanding between themselves and their audience. Appparently cruel interactions must be consensual, otherwise there is nothing to distinguish a comic from an angry, threatening stranger or a bully.

    Q: Isn’t someone, somewhere going to be offended by any joke?
    A: Even if that was the case, it doesn’t justify bullying. If the threat wasn’t parodically funny, it wasn’t a joke.

    Q: Isn’t criticism of Daniel Tosh an attack on free speech?
    A: No. It is right and proper condemnation of a semi-famous idiot with a microphone who abused his position as the centre of attention to bully an audience member. It is pointing out that Daniel Tosh can say what he likes, but that if he says that someone being gang-raped is funny, then he is wrong. Dangerously wrong.

    Q: But telling someone that what they are saying is wrong is just like telling them not to say it, and that interferes with their free speech, doesn’t it?
    A: Then why are you arguing with me?

    Q: I have a dictionary, but the definition of irony seems to be wrong because it doesn’t help Daniel Tosh’s argument.
    A: You’re an idiot who is immune to education.

  17. StevoR says

    So, okay, you’re a stand-up comedian doing your show and its kinda bombing and you get heckled. By an unknown woman in your crowd.

    How do you respond?

    Do you say something witty, come up with a quickfire comeback?

    A good comic on top form would find a way to be really clever right, something that’ll make everyone laugh and break the tension and petrhaps you cna riff off it and embarrass yourheckler for the rest of the night -but in a good way.

    (Like say, David Letterman tonight and a woman who commented on his tie.)

    Do you say, “hey, lady, wait for the punchline, it gets better!” or something? Maybe you can’t think of something funny enough quickly enough but come back with a lamer response and move on from there.

    Do you ignore it and keep going and think to yourself, okay hey, this gig ain’t for me?

    Do you wrap up your show there and then and walk off stage? Maybe come back when the crowd demands it or something?

    I can imagine doing any or all of these things in that situation.

    But to throw back a comment like Tosh did – “Hope you get raped! Gang-raped by five guys. Right now!” What The!

    What sort of person does and says that in that situation?

    It certainly isn’t something that would come into my mind as acceptable to say ever.

    Who thinks like that or says that to unknown stranegrs who for all you know could be rape victims?

    That is just unacceptable and disgusting and appalling and I can’t understand why you’d do it.

    Tosh is a disgrace to Humanity.

  18. anthrosciguy says

    Good point. Sunil, wouldn’t you say there was a genocide culture in Rwanda in the days leading up to the genocide itself, for instance?

    As you rather gently state, there have been an awful lot of genocide cultures. The Turks doing in Armenians didn’t happen all of a sudden in some sort of vaccuum, and of course Hitler didn’t settle on Jews, gays, and Romani by putting up a dartboard and chucking a few darts at it blindfolded — that one started back before Martin Luther launched his anti-Semetic broadsides and went on for hundreds of years. Seems to me there was a place where phrases like “the only good Indian is a dead Indian” were widely accepted as well, and that led to something now, didn’t it. I’d say there are and have been many murder cultures too — for instance cultures with a strong history of blood feuds, Albania being the most often mentioned example.

  19. anthrosciguy says

    What sort of person does and says that in that situation?

    This is where the comparison to Michael Richards really applies, and the difference in the reaction to the two men by professional stand-up comedians. With Richards the action was explained but not excused by pointing out his inexperience and the fact that he froze in the headlights and blurted out the first thing that popped into his head (rarely a good thing). With Tosh there are excuses rather than simply explanations, but it seems to me that he did exactly what Richards did, and for the same reason. But Tosh doesn’t have the explanation available to him that Richards did — inexperience in dealing with a tough crowd — and I think honest comedians would/should treat him like they did Richards, only with less excuse since supposedly Tosh is a pro at that brand of comedy.

    For another and very different way this can be done, watch the Joan Rivers doc (A Piece of Work) and what she does — both during and after the show — when she does a joke that really offends a customer who then heckles her. She handles the heckler well (IMO, YMMV) at the time, and after the show she is upset that she upset one of her audience. I don’t see anything that suggests Tosh was at all introspective about what he’d done since he just continued to lash out.

  20. anthrosciguy says

    The above should read “only with less excuse” instead of “only without less excuse”, btw.

  21. Salmo says

    I liked Tosh’s early stand-up, but since he got that TV show, he’s just gotten lazy. His best stuff used to be long, rambling stories that end in massively different places than they began. Now it’s just clip, joke, joke, repeat. I don’t think I’ll be listening to his old material anymore.

    Jokes with rape as an element can be funny, but it’s very difficult, and the rape itself can never be the funny part. It’s like Mel Brooks said when asked about “Life is Beautiful”. There’s a difference between making jokes about Hitler or Nazism and making jokes about the Holocaust.

  22. Roger says

    A thought-experiment:
    Would or wouldn’t it be funny if next time Daniel Tosh spouts this claptrap a group of men got on stage and raped him? Would Tosh think it extreme free speech or would ge whine about his rights?

  23. Paul W., OM says

    The owner of the club, who was in the room at the time, says the anonymous accuser’s account is factually wrong on several counts.

    I tend to believe him, up to a point, especially about some concrete details to which there were 280 witnesses.

    More detail over at the Atheist Experience blog:


    At this point I think that Tosh did fuck up in a sexist way, but not the worst ways she accused him of. We should not necessarily take her account at face value.

    We also shouldn’t be surprised if Tosh apologizes for fucking up, but doesn’t give the apology a lot of people want. If he didn’t do the worst things—like joking that the woman should be raped, scaring her out of the club—he shouldn’t apologize for that.

    His apparent “notpology” about how she “felt” may be a way of avoiding calling her a liar about what he actually did.

    Tentatively, I’d say Tosh is a bit of a dick, and was in fact being a sexist dick on the fly in that event, but not quite the unapologetic monster he’s been made out to be.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *