For a week now, the web has been abuzz with controversy over a fucked up joke that comedian Daniel Tosh made at a stand-up comedy show. From what I can gather, he was apparently talking about rape jokes in his routine and a woman from the audience shouted out, "Rape jokes are never funny." To which he replied, "Wouldn't it be funny if that girl got raped by, like five guys right now?"
No, Daniel Tosh, that would not be funny. Rape is a horrific and degrading and invasive and scarring act of violence against women. It is one of the most wide-spread and most destructive forms of violence against women.
Further, your joke about five men raping her wasn't funny either. Not to people who truly care about the well-being and lives of the half of humanity who is born female.
Fortunately, a lot of people on the web and within the comedic community have argued this. One of my favorite responses is this one: http://austin.culturemap.com/newsdetail/07-12-12-14-37-the-best-response-weve-heard-to-daniel-toshs-misquoted-rape-jokes/
However, in the main, this controversy is being twisted into a question of whether stand-up comedy should be censored or free to push the limits. Here is how the NYTimes put it today:
" Make no mistake: The reason there are so many rape jokes is that they work. As Mr. Tosh now knows, telling them carries a potential price, but so does changing the unfiltered, anything-for-a-laugh ethos of comedy clubs."
No, the question isn't whether comedy should be free to push the limits and to offend people or whether things should be censored or curtailed in order to "protect the audience from offense." That would make for a very stultifying and sterile atmosphere and a very boring comedic realm! One of the great things about good comedy is the way it can make you look anew at things that you have long accepted but which should be cast off. Think of George Carlin skewering belief in god or Richard Pryor's many routines that drew into sharp relief many of the daily abuses and degradations suffered by Black people, including constant police brutality.
The question which actually has to be focused up -- and which is being obscured by the way the Times and much of the comedic world is responding to this -- is what is the content of the joke and, in broad strokes, who and what is an "offensive" joke offending? Is it offending those who are comfortable with the status quo of constant wars, social alienation, mass incarceration, the hunting down of immigrants and epidemic violence against women? Or, is it offending the victims of these crimes?