Now, usually when you see the words 'trigger warning' you don't expect a laugh riot. But prepare to be a-freakin-mazed because it's about to get edgy over here. Those who refuse to use Twitter will perhaps be unfamiliar with one of the latest mystery trending topics. In fact the uninitiated probably won't know what a mystery trending topic is. When you see an unfamiliar name or odd sentence trending you simply have to click. Lately I've found it is usually a member of One Direction (because I am of a certain age I only know Harry) but this time the trending topic was #Daniel Tosh who had apparently been living up to his name.
Heckling's a funny thing. While there are many plays that break the forth wall and speeches that are infuriating (or dull) to heckle would be seen as an unexpected thing to do. When I see a live stand up show though I expect heckling. Heckling can really prove a comedian's wit and talent, there is nothing quite like seeing that sudden glint in a comedian's eye as divine inspiration strikes and a devastating comeback is delivered. If the heckler is a match for the person on stage a bit of witty repartee is fun to watch. Of course nobody likes the drunk heckler, their wits dulled by alcohol, who are concerned the people at the back didn't hear, so repeat themselves over and over. It is understandable that when you're on stage a heckler is mostly a pain who ruins your timing. But a good heckler put down can be hugely successful as Eddie Izzard demonstrates.
I don't think this comeback will be the making of Tosh: "Wouldn't it be funny if that girl got raped by like, five at guys right now? Like right now? What if a bunch of guys just raped her..."
Funny ha ha?
Funny peculiar would be a bit of a stretch. But YEAH, what if? Tosh tweeted “all the out of context misquotes aside, i'd like to sincerely apologize”. Which makes you wonder...in what context is the gang rape of a specific woman, with numerous witnesses, funny?
Dear reader, Tosh went on to clarify what context made this all alright and we could all be friends again: “the point i was making before i was heckled is there are awful things in the world but you can still make jokes about them. #deadbabies”. What kind of killjoy doesn't enjoy a good dead baby joke?
I definitely feel better, consider the trigger warning lifted.
The point Tosh was making is actually quite valid. It is where the 'if you don't laugh, you cry' mentality comes from and a dark humour is not necessarily a crime. The trick is, of course, to do it well. Laughing at rapists, laughing at the act of rape? It could be argued that this could open up a dialogue about rape, it could alleviate fear. But laughing at a rape victim can never, ever be funny. An act of such pure violence and hatred is not going to be a comedy goldmine.
Where do you draw the line? Why is Louis CK's anecdote about rape funny, while Tosh's anecdote about (before you start yes I realise they are, at the very least exaggerated anecdotes) rape within the all important context of sick humour (you can't say you weren't warned) fails?
The idea of there being a set line is rarely good, or a list of acceptable subjects, especially not in comedy. Comedy is one of the best methods of challenging something. But this Tosh rape joke, or heckle put-down does not challenge a thing. It doesn't challenge polite humour, it doesn't challenge the crime of rape, it's just a guy losing his temper and saying something terrible. At best it's boring at worst it's triggering and condoning.
Whatever your platform or however much right you have to an opinion (oh for some people just to have one) you do also have a responsibility. I for one am getting really sick of seeing people in the public eye use the word rape to mean 'somebody has inconvenienced me.' Richard Herring proudly recalled a good comeback he thought up for an annoying woman heckler: “At one gig, a woman was loudly and unamusingly commentating on everything that happened. I said to her: 'You’re a bit talkative, aren’t you? You’re loquacious. It’s annoying. You’re the one woman in the world where a man would put Rohypnol in your drink and then leave you in the pub.’” A rape jibe that is all the more infuriating for the underlying and victim blaming suggestion that women might take rape as a compliment. That no ugly or annoying women (or men) get raped.
Just as it is important comedians experiment and challenge it is also important we pull them up when they do cross that ever moving line.
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