Can We Laugh About This?

 

Fey and Poehler, having a laugh about Bill Cosby.

Fey and Poehler, having a laugh about Bill Cosby.

Theme: Get it off your chest.

***

by Meg

TRIGGER WARNING: this post is about rape and how we “handle” it

I was sitting in the writers’ room preparing for our monthly sketch show. This is where we bring in our scripts and read them aloud to see if they fit into the show for that month. At this particular writer’s meeting, there was something in the air. An unusual percentage of the sketches had rape jokes in them, or relied on rape as the punchline.

It reached a point where it needed to be addressed. The writers of these sketches had good intentions and were not trying to be funny at the expense of others. So, why didn’t these jokes work? We hashed it out and realized that most of the sketches didn’t need rape as the punchline and could be slightly edited and made stronger without any mention of rape. It opened up a really interesting dialogue between my friends and I about what makes a joke about rape work.

Now, I believe that there is such a thing as a “good” rape joke. I think, when done correctly, a joke about rape can be cathartic, educational, and hilarious. Not everyone can laugh about rape, and that’s ok – that’s why trigger warnings are important – and why being respectful should be a priority. But man… some of us need to be able to laugh about rape.

I wouldn’t be surprised if those of you who have made it this far in the post are feeling nervous or cringey. Rape is a polarizing word and I have used it 11 times already. There are days where I can’t bring myself to say it because it makes it all too real. That’s why I, as a woman and comedian, need those rape jokes.

Sarah Silverman posted a list of 10 Rape Prevention Tips on Twitter. She did not author these, but simply wanted to spread the news about these really useful, super helpful tips. The twist is that they are geared towards rapists. I loved it. It made me laugh and it made want to see more of this kind of thing. It’s a funny way to shift the emphasis from victims who need to prevent bad things from happening to them, to the attackers who really need to FUCKING STOP RAPING PEOPLE.

Here are a few examples of successful rape jokes, in my humble opinion:

  1. 10 Rape Prevention Tips

I have yet to find the author’s name to this list, but whoever they are did a great job. It’s borderline political more than a joke, but it’s focus is the same as all the best rape jokes out there. The butt of the joke isn’t the victim, it’s the rapist. My favorite tip: “Use the Buddy System! If it is inconvenient for you to stop yourself from raping someone, ask a trusted friend to accompany you at all times.”

These tips received a lot of backlash from men. They felt it was directed towards them and a lot of them fell into the #notallmen camp. Here is what I know: Men aren’t rapists and women aren’t victims. Rapists are rapists and victims are victims. So, dude, if you’re not going out and pressuring or over-powering women to have sex, then this list isn’t for you. Take the night off. Have a beer. Good job on not being the worst.

  1. Broad City’s Season 2 Premiere: In Heat

Watch. This. Show. These women are brilliant and hilarious. In the opening to Season 2, Abbi finds herself having sex amidst a heat wave. Her partner passes out from the heat and she slowly comes to the realization that she is now a rapist. It’s ridiculous and when she tries to defend herself, Ilana points out that she uses the same arguments that “they” use. They = rapists. It’s a delicious reversal that is really funny.

  1. Louis CK: Never Rape Someone Unless You Have a Reason

In the hands of any other comedian, this joke could totally flop. Louis CK manages to be hilarious and sympathetic, put the onus on rapists, and tie it all up in a Hitler joke. His punchline could be offensive, but his delivery clearly shows that he believes rape is absurdly wrong.

A few after-the-fact disclaimers: obviously, comedy is subjective. Plenty of you will not find the links above funny. Some of you probably disagree that a rape joke can ever work.

Here is why these work for me: too many people I love have been raped, attacked, or been a part of scary close-calls. This shit is still happening, and it is so absurd the way we, as a society, are handling it. We need rape to be a part of the national dialogue. We need to be able to talk about rape. We need victims to come out of the shadows without fear. We need to know that if something terrible happens, we’ll be able to laugh again.

Before I sign off, I want to throw some tips at budding comedians. Unless you know what you’re doing, it’s probably best to avoid rape as a topic in your comedy. Really consider whether your perspective is original, informed, and funny. If it’s missing one of those elements, it can go sour real fast. Be thoughtful.

Pro tip: talking animals always kill. Always.

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