Rape is Bad? Really...I Had No Idea.
by Shaun Broyls
First of all, for the roughly 99% of you who have no idea who I am, my name is Shaun Broyls, I'm and actor and comedian who's been doing stand-up for a little over a decade, making jokes about all sorts of sensitive subjects- racism, sexism, pedophilia, quadriplegia- but to this point, no rape jokes. Unfortunately I've never raped anyone yet so I have no experience from which to draw material. However, I've got a Vegas trip planned in a couple months and hope to change that.
That was a joke. I have no plans to rape anyone. I am not making light of those who have been raped. I am not condoning those who do the raping. I'm simply taking a horrible situation and doing what comedians do, which is somehow find a humorous slant to give people a chuckle. However, now we can add "rape" to the list of things comedians are never to talk about, and the constant censoring and over-scrutiny of everything we do is getting ridiculous.
The rape joke "problem" recently came to light after a Daniel Tosh joke last summer, and now is a full on effort to scrub rape jokes from the repertoire of every comic on the planet. An article by blogger/reporter Sady Doyle vilified comedian Sam Morrill for his "proud and delighted" rape jokes in this piece last Saturday, and now just yesterday, Molly Knefel threw Patton Oswalt into the mix in this article for Salon, for his complacency in letting these things happen and not using his celebrity- in specific his Twitter account- to help stop the rape joke atrocity that apparently is taking over America's comedy clubs and indirectly giving the thumbs up to potential rapists out there because regardless of if it's morally and legally abhorrent, if a celebrity doesn't put their stamp of disapproval on it, it's fine to go ahead and do it anyway.
I'm sick of it. For those of you who don't know, this happens every few years, where a problem that has existed since the beginning of time is suddenly somehow worsened by the words of stand-up comedians or comedy sketches. A few years ago the hot-button issue became Domestic Violence, and Saturday Night Live became the poster child for the problem of the nation's ambivalence towards the issue after its sketch where Elin Woods stood next to a battered Tiger Woods after she'd caught him cheating. A few years before that, it was comics' use of the "N-word" which was bringing about the downfall of society, which really pissed me off- so much so that I made a comedy music video called "I'm Takin' Nigga Back", which was a light-hearted and funny, but also pretty pointed look at why I can use the word if I wanted to.
One of the issues I had with this latest soapbox rambling has to do with why I put the picture with the female model with the date rape t-shirt atop this piece. Why, Sady and Molly, did you not include the many female comedians who also include rape jokes in their material and instead just focus on the males, making it out like this is strictly a "problem" perpetrated by male comics? I just watched Amy Schumer's latest episode of Inside Amy Schumer, which is ridiculously funny. And by funny I mean: shocking, sick, twisted, wrong, without boundaries and totally worth it. In this episode, during one of her bits where she was doing stand-up, she did a rape joke, and not just a rape joke, she pointed to a woman in the audience and said something to the effect of, "I mean, look at you, you've probably been raped, right?" In the context of the overall segment of her act, it was hilarious. The girl was laughing. The audience was laughing. It WAS A JOKE. Now why is Amy Schumer off-limits and male comedians are not? Is it like that old argument of since I'm black, it's okay for me to say the N-word to my friend, but a white person can not?
Why are we not looking at the context of jokes anymore- or more importantly, the INTENT of the joke? What are we supposed to do- have a checklist before we hit the stage of every possible scenario that could be considered offensive, then go to every individual member of the audience and ask if they would be offended by a joke on each topic, then check the ones where someone would be offended off the list? Every comedian has jokes that he/she knows has a chance of offending someone in the audience who's actually been personally affected by whatever it is we're talking about. HAD that woman in the audience actually been raped AND (this is also important) been UPSET by the joke, I don't know Amy Schumer, but I can pretty much guarantee that she would have felt bad about it. A prime example is when I was at a game or something years back, and had to shit REALLY bad and the only thing open was the handicap stall. I used it. When I came out, there was a guy waiting...IN A WHEELCHAIR. I felt like total shit and apologized profusely like a guy who slapped his girlfriend for the first time. But what were the odds of that actually happening? Not high. It's the same thing with doing stand-up. We look at the odds and we gamble that our material will be looked at as so obvious a joke that even if a person has been affected, they won't look at it as a personal attack against them. In that same vein, if the INTENT is to cause harm, i.e. Michael Richards' N-word rant years ago, without any attempt at humor whatsoever, well then we move from comedy set into hate speech and of course that should not be tolerated.
Two things before I end this:
1. It is not Patton Oswalt's obligation to use his Twitter account to champion every cause on the planet just because he has a million followers. As Charles Barkley said decades before him, he is NOT A ROLE MODEL. He is not the spokesperson for Aflac, and has no responsibility to temper his humor based on corporate strategy, current rape statistics or the bylaws of the Parents Television Council. Whether you're as big a celebrity as Patton, a guy in-between like Sam Morrill (who responded to Sady's article about himself here on his Facebook page) or as little a fish in the pond as myself, it is not our job to do anything but just that...our job. To chastise Patton Oswalt for not championing the cause of ending the rape joke is dangerous for many reasons:
Let's say Patton champions the anti-rape joke movement and people listen. You're satisfied he's done his duty as an influential celebrity. However, let's say he keeps going, and decides he's going to champion other causes he believes in as well. Let's say for argument's sake, that Patton believes that everyone should carry a gun on the border and "shoot down any Mexican that tries to cross into the good ol' Red, White and Blue". Well that'd be pretty bad wouldn't it? But guess what, you were just fine with him tweeting out his agenda when it was the same as yours. Now you're just as big a hypocrite as you accused him of being when you said he condemned the Boston Marathon bombing but then didn't step up and condemn rape jokes. One has absolutely nothing to do with the other. You can't pick and choose what you want him to say, just as you can't pick and choose what is and is not off limits for comedians to write jokes about. Plus, how funny would Patton be if all he did was be the Bono of comedy? Not very funny at all. There's a reason it's called "comic relief", and if he were to start being one of those entitled celebrities who feel it's their job to remind us of how bad off the world is, that would be dangerous to his career, as well.
2. We are comedians, some of us more famous than others. But we all have the same goal- to make people laugh. That's it. Some of us do it through clean comedy, some dirty, but the goal is always to take risks and push boundaries that you don't find in the mainstream. People don't come to a comedy club expecting NOT to groan once in a while. A comedy club is an intimate, sacred place that lends itself to the baring of souls and the shredding of them as well. If you take the time to drive to a comedy club, plunk down the $10 to get in, buy the 2 drink minimum and give up 2 hours of your life, you deserve to get something you couldn't get by sitting on the couch at home watching NBC. We're doing you a disservice if we aren't making you say "I can't believe he/she said that."
Honestly, if you don't like what's being said in a comedy club, don't go. There are plenty of other things to do. Hell, turn on any Tyler Perry sitcom. You definitely won't have to worry about having to deal with comedy there.