Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Tosh Incident

So some interesting stuff happened at the Laugh Factory last week.  I'll let the eyewitness tell her story:

So [Daniel] 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 didnt 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.

Laugh Factory owner Jaime Masada disputes some of the details (and says some stuff that I find really fucking repugnant, but I don't want to get into right now).  This is normally the kind of thing I'd just blab about on Facebook, but I want to draw some distinctions here that require a little space.  I want to make it clear what I'm NOT saying.

First of all, I'm not saying Tosh shouldn't have been making rape jokes in the first place.  It's a free country, Jack, say what you want, and especially on the stage of a comedy club.  As far as I'm concerned, you're entitled to make jokes about whatever you want, from whatever angle you want.  But you are not entitled to the audience reaction you desire.  If you do material that people consider offensive, you don't have any right to expect the audience to go with you.  

So it's not the rape joke that crossed the line.  In fact, I draw the line pretty damn far to the edge of the map when it comes to offensive comedy.  What I think crosses the line is how he responded to the heckler.  The rape jokes may be in bad taste, and they may be unfunny, but those are very subjective notions, and I'm sure it wouldn't be too hard to find someone who disagreed with me on them.  So, to break it down to a pithy Facebook quote: It's OK to make jokes about rape.  It's not OK to single out an audience member with implied threats of physical violence.  THAT is where things really go wrong here.  At that point, whatever he was doing, it ceased to be stand up comedy.

The second thing I want to emphasize is that I don't want to start a campaign to have Comedy Central fire the guy, or have The Laugh Factory ban him, or otherwise end his career.  If people still want to see him, they're entitled to see him and he's entitled to get paid.  I have no interest in running the guy out of showbiz.  I just want this to be addressed.  Because what he did was fucked up.

I'm also not saying that Daniel Tosh is a horrible scumbag.  I bring this up because, whenever a controversy like this erupts, defenders of the offender will issue statements about what a loving, generous person the offender is.  I don't care, because I'm not saying Daniel Tosh is a rotten person.  I'm saying that this particular thing he did was wrong, and it needs to be addressed.

Do I think the heckler was right to respond to the rape jokes in the way she did?  I don't think the question is even relevant.  The fact is, she did respond that way.  How did the comic handle this?  Remember the comic is the one onstage, with the mic, doing his job, so I see no reason to even talk about what anyone else did.

What Tosh did was actually very similar to what Michael Richards did a few years ago.  Richards lost it on a heckler, and ended up making indirect threats of racialized violence to an individual in the crowd.  I don't think he expected it to be "taken seriously" by the audience, and I'm sure Tosh didn't either.  I'm sure neither one had considered what they were saying, acting on the spur of the moment in response to a heckler.  But that's the thing: the audience is a group of living, thinking people, and a comic, especially a comic who is pushing the bounds of taste, needs to be prepared for their reaction, so that they don't have an anger-fueled meltdown onstage when the inevitable happens.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good point. When dealing with human interaction everyone will not respond the way expected.the appropriate response by him,as a mature adult,would have been to move on to other jokes and let it go

7/11/2012 3:12 PM  
Blogger rudy said...

Whatever actually did or did not happen, there will undoubtedly be a group of people who will hurl vitriol and demand boycotts of Tosh's shows in the future. But ultimately, you're right Chris - the onus is on the comedian. Always. As it should be.

7/11/2012 3:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps the real tragedy in all of this is that Daniel Tosh is now relevant.

7/11/2012 5:01 PM  

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