Wednesday, July 18, 2012


Last week a comedian you may never have heard of, named Daniel Tosh, made national headlines for all the wrong reasons.  It seems Tosh was doing his standup comedy routine at L.A.’s Laugh Factory, when a female audience member heckled him for declaring that rape jokes are always funny.  Said the audience member, “Actually, rape jokes are never funny.”  That led to Tosh saying, “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…”

I can’t remember a standup comedian getting so much press worldwide since last year when comedian Tracy Morgan said this in his standup act, while performing at Nashville’s historic Ryman Auditorium:  "Gays need to quit being pussies and not be whining about something as insignificant as bullying." It gets worse.  He continued: “My son better talk to me like a man and not in a gay voice or I'll pull out a knife and stab that little nigger to death." In the days that followed, there were lots of apologies, both from the theatre and from Morgan, dramatic mea culpas, and all the predictable walking back of thoughts that can’t really be walked back.

Morgan’s (left) rant was just the latest in a string of comedians desperately groping for laughs.  Well, except for “Seinfeld” alum Michael Richards, of course, who lost his complete mind on stage in late 2006, when he committed career suicide.  It seems a black audience member was heckling Richards when the comedian exploded, saying, “"Fifty years ago we'd have you upside down with a fucking fork up your ass." And he didn’t stop.  He was relentless.  "You can talk, you can talk, you're brave now motherfucker. Throw his ass out. He's a nigger! He's a nigger! He's a nigger! A nigger, look, there's a nigger!"

 And that, ladies and gentleman was a wrap.

This week, after Tosh’s unfortunate choice of subject matter and words, media is abuzz with arguments back and forth about whether comics should have boundaries, or if they should be free to say whatever they wish to say. I have three things to say to Daniel Tosh: First, say anything you want to say whenever you want to say it, but remember that words have consequences, and you’re feeling them right now. Second, Daniel…rape isn’t funny. Not funny. At all.  Third, when you responded to the female audience member by suggesting how funny it would be if she was raped, you were not doing comedy.  You were doing power. Everybody knows that rape is an act of power, not sex.  And by insulting the audience member by resorting to the lowest common denominator, you were exerting your power.

Tosh,(below, right) in case you are one of those who hasn’t followed his career, is big on Comedy Central. He has a show called Tosh.0, that has amassed over a million viewers.
The show is Internet-themed, showing viral videos and online clips, mixed with lots of fart jokes and puberty-level bits, and of course his regular segment called “Is It Racist?”.  I know this because a friend of mine watches the show regularly and I have been in front his TV when the show comes on. Sophomoric is the word that comes to mind.  Tosh is reportedly the son of a minister and suffers from social anxiety disorder. Are we, the viewers, being subjected to the host’s daddy issues and need for affiliation? Just saying.

The term you hear so often when incidents like Tosh’s rape joke debacle come up is “political correctness.” How many times have you heard someone complain that “everything has to be so goddamned politically correct these days.” Stop and think about political correctness. What is it, really? It is cultural change in action.  Political correctness is our society’s collective decision that it is no longer appropriate to use words like “nigger,” because it debases an entire population segment.
It is the 21st century dragging us kicking and screaming toward respect for individuals to whom we have directed our prejudice and disdain for hundreds of years.  People like Tosh must have stayed home sick from school the day when it was communicated that rape is about violence, in a society that does not condone violence. People like Morgan evidently sacrificed the sensitivity chip for anything that would garner a laugh. Even talk of murdering his own son.  Political correctness is nothing more than a society gaining a bit of verbal and behavioral integrity, after years of insults, degradation, humiliation and bullying.

Behind the cushy safety of his Twitter account, Tosh posted this just days after the rape joke incident: "I'd like to sincerely apologize."  That was a good start, until he went on to say that "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."
Somewhere there are rooms full of junior high school boys coming to terms with their internal hormonal tsunami, and rolling on the floor laughing at their hero, Daniel Tosh. In what will seem like milliseconds, those boys will be men, whose indoctrination to male/female relationships will have more to do with Comedy Central than it will with the reality of a culture that is finally struggling to realize the real power of respect.

I had a teacher once who told me the wisest thing I have heard to date: “People are often what you invite them to be.” So, if a person who has a strong public platform and the full attention of his or her listeners – a person, say, like a standup comedian, maybe –if that person uses his platform to invite people to be racists, or homophobes, or cavemen, a good portion of that audience may just go along to get along. But as long as that happens, people like Daniel Tosh have done nothing more than perpetuate ignorance and delay the cultural change that aims to level the playing field.  Listen, I love funny people.  I always have. But is a good laugh worth all that? I think not.

1 comment:

Anita said...

Way to be an ally to women! Thank you.