Thursday, July 12, 2012

Daniel Tosh: STFU

Most people reading this are probably aware by now that Comedian Daniel Tosh, who hosts the Tosh.0 show on Comedy Central, has been under fire recently for a rape joke he made while onstage at the Laugh Factory comedy club.

The account of the woman targeted by Tosh was posted on the Cookies for Breakfast Tumblr, here.
It’s worth quoting the woman’s account at length:
So Tosh then starts making some very generalizing, declarative statements about rape jokes always being funny, how can a rape joke not be funny, rape is hilarious, etc. I don’t know why he was so repetitive about it but I felt provoked because I, for one, DON’T find them funny and never have. So I didn’t appreciate Daniel Tosh (or anyone!) telling me I should find them funny. So I yelled out, “Actually, rape jokes are never funny!” 
I did it because, even though being “disruptive” is against my nature, I felt that sitting there and saying nothing, or leaving quietly, would have been against my values as a person and as a woman. I don’t sit there while someone tells me how I should feel about something as profound and damaging as rape.
After I called out to him, Tosh paused for a moment. Then, he says, “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…” and I, completely stunned and finding it hard to process what was happening but knowing I needed to get out of there, immediately nudged my friend, who was also completely stunned, and we high-tailed it out of there. It was humiliating, of course, especially as the audience guffawed in response to Tosh, their eyes following us as we made our way out of there. I didn’t hear the rest of what he said about me.
Since then there have been calls for Tosh to be fired from his job at Comedy Central, including a petition on that has garnered nearly 20,000 signatures as of this writing.

Tosh issued a mealy-mouthed apology, tweeting “all the out of context misquotes aside, I’d like to sincerely apologize,” and an explanation 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.”

The owner of the Laugh Factory, for his part, has contestedthe woman’s account of what happened that night, including what Tosh actually said.

I’m sure that in the coming days more people will come forward with accounts of what it was exactly that Tosh said about rape, gang rape, and what he thinks should’ve been done to the woman who called him out for his sexist jokes. Maybe someone was taking video.

I’m not going to write about that here, because at the end of the day I don’t think that the case against Daniel Tosh rests on what exactly was or wasn’t said the other night at the Laugh Factory. However, if in fact Tosh, jokingly or not, called for the gang rape of a woman in the audience at his comedy show, I believe that he crossed a new line, far beyond even the one he has repeatedly crossed in terms of joking about rape.

In that case a petition is a step in the right direction, but more protest is in order. I’m sure that those who organized the Slutwalks, and others, can think of creative ways to ensure that Tosh, and those who give him a platform, get the message that advocating or making light of rape will not be tolerated.

This is not an isolated incident. As Amy Odell points out atBuzzFeed, “Daniel Tosh has been making rape jokes for years.” Not only that, but in a particularly fucked up segment on his show, he encouraged men to sneak up on women and touch their stomachs without their consent, telling them to “Make sure she's aware that you are in fact feeling a roll.”

Fans of Tosh, who are disproportionately young men (and millions of people watch his show), then went out and did just that, posting their videos online.
Not only was Tosh encouraging his fans to assault women (which they then did), but the whole basis of the “joke” was making fun of women’s issues with low self-esteem and poor body image, a product of a sexist society that upholds unrealistic beauty standards that encourage women (and more recently some men) to hate their bodies.
Tosh, a straight white man, has made a (lucrative) career out of making sexist (as well as racist and homophobic) jokes, with a hit TV show and stand-up success, particularly on the college circuit.
He has claimed that while he is “not a misogynistic and racist person…I do find those jokes funny, so I say them.”
Whether Tosh the private individual is sexist or racist is irrelevant when Tosh the public figure is profiting off of sexism and racism.
(As an aside, George Wallace, the staunch segregationist, was not always the racist icon he would later become. In 1958 he was endorsed by the NAACP in his run for the Democratic nomination for governor in Alabama, against a racist endorsed by the KKK, who Wallace had opposed. After losing, Wallace ratcheted up the racist rhetoric and rose to prominence, stating that “I will never be outniggered again.”)
Regardless of Tosh’s personal views, his sexist act has a real impact on the world, one he should be held accountable for. Of course, the men who filmed themselves touching women inappropriately, and a rapist who watches Tosh.0 or another sexist show, are responsible for their actions. But it’s also the case that sexists are not created in a vacuum; they are products of a sexist society, the sexism of which pop culture plays an important role in reproducing.
Rape is very common in our society, especially among college students, who have long been a key component of Tosh's audience. Various studies have shown that between 20-25% of women in college will be the victim of rape or attempted rape, most often by someone they know. Obviously, a culture where rape (and the importance of women’s consent in sex) is not taken seriously contributes to this epidemic.
So this whole controversy is about a lot more than whether or not you think rape is funny. The question is, does Tosh’s humor contribute to rape culture, or does it meaningfully challenge it?

Unless Tosh challenging it (and it seems pretty clear that he isn’t in any substantial way), he deserves to be challenged for profiting from it.

Tosh is not an idiot. He must know that a big segment of his audience consists of men who have and will rape women. Anyone who has been to a few college parties knows that when a popular comedian plays a show in front of a large audience at a college, there are going to be people in the audience who will go to a party that night with the intent of getting a woman blackout drunk so they can rape her. By profiting off of warming these men up with a set full of rape jokes, Tosh is contributing to a culture that allows rape to thrive.

Finally, I should note that I’m actually a fan of stand-up comedy. I do think that jokes about taboo subjects can be funny. Actually, I think that humor can be a way of using art to positively engage a broad audience on issues of race and class (Dave Chapelle and George Carlin come to mind).

For example, I laughed at this routine about racism by Pakistani-American comedian Kumail Nanjiani. It's funny because it's clever, but also because the comedian is talking about their experience as a VICTIM of racism, and the racist/racism is the butt of the joke. It does more to undermine racism than it does to promote it. I haven't heard a similar rape joke, but I'd imagine it'd be possible for a female comedian to pull something off along similar lines.

Or this bit from Dave Chapelle, that takes on the issue of slavery. I find it hilarious, and I don’t think it’s offensive because he is using humor to expose the hypocrisy of the United States government, both in the past and today.
The problem with Tosh telling sexist (or racist, homophobic, etc.) jokes is that he is a rich, straight white guy who is telling these jokes not to challenge oppression, but to profit from it. When he makes light of raping women, he's making light of something that he cannot in any way identify with (and thereby shed some light on) in a way that does more to promote rape than challenge it.
He is not the target of rape, and he can't identify on a personal level with those who are, nor is that what he's attempting to do. He, as well as the young men who make up the core of his audience, have no idea what it’s like to face sexist harassment every day when they walk down the street, or go to school or work. The vast majority have no idea what it’s like to be raped, or to live in fear of rape when they go on a date or walk down the street or across campus at night.
So instead of dismissing the woman who called Tosh out for his sexism as a “heckler” and joking about gang raping her, Tosh should listen to the women (and men) who are outraged by his violent sexist “jokes” and try to see things from their perspective.

And until he does, wouldn’t it be hilarious if supporters of women and women’s rights make sure (through a mic check, perhaps?) gets the message loud and clear, wherever he goes? And put it online?

Just kidding.


  1. As a fan of stand-up comedy and as someone who has laughed at Daniel Tosh's jokes, I really appreciate the thoughtfulness of this post. Taboo subjects are not created equal. One reason Stephen Colbert is so brilliant is because his entire comedy philosophy revolves around making fun of the powerful and satirizing hypocrisy (with much goofiness in the process, which comes from his willingness to be the butt of the joke rather than degrade others). Subjectivity is huge and comedians should say what they want to, but we should recognize that when someone uses the stage as a way to bully people who are oppressed, they need to feel the heat. And shame on great comedians like Louis CK, Patton Oswalt and Kumail Nanjiani (among others, many smart ones like Paul F Tompkins said nothing) for basically standing up for him.

  2. While I do appreciate Daniel Tosh's comedy, I in no way condone his comments to the supposed "heckler." Jokes about genocide shouldn't fly either, but comics still find a way to make it profitable and get a laugh. As a gay man, I often avoid stand-up comedy (and American comedy movies altogether, for that matter), because there's only so many times I can be called a fudgepacker before I decide enough's enough. Hey, if we're all getting laughed at, who cares? And if a gay joke happens to be funny, why not? I'll laugh. But of course it always takes the one jerk to take it too far and makes it offensive.

    There are certain subjects, however, that are just too dark and awful to make a joke about. Rape happens to be one of them. I don't understand why you need to go there. A few years ago, when I was a college freshman, a college nearby me posted an article in its newsletter entitled: "Rape only hurts if you fight it." The article went on to horribly demean women and claim that rape was good for fat women because they couldn't otherwise find a man. And of course men defended this article, because it was meant to be so horrible it was funny--ever notice that women never laugh at stuff like that? It's because it's not a joke to them--they understand how awful the reality is.

    On behalf of my whole gender I would like to apologize for people like Daniel Tosh and whoever wrote that article--as well as the jerks who allowed it to be posted in the first place. I swear, there are a lot of guys out there who are just as revolted by that kind of crap as women are, and I am one of them.