Since when did rape become funny?


11:28 am - November 28th 2010

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contribution by Emma Poole

I watched a recorded episode of ‘Russell Howard’s Good News’ this week – I couldn’t even enjoy the funny bits. The show was fragmented by the host’s jokes about rape and paedophilia. I don’t find them funny. They make me feel sick. They give me nightmares.

This show is not alone, I can name many, ‘QI’, ‘Mock The Week’, ‘My Name Is Earl’, ‘Desperate Housewives’. Many films too now have jokes about rape, either male or female.

I am guessing there are many in the public who find this hilarious.

Comedians would give up on it if it didn’t raise a giggle. Even though it does where’s the respect?

Why do comedians see one of the darkest experiences of my life as fair game? As humorous? This is not an attack on those comedians. I just don’t think it’s been brought to their attention what it can be doing to people who have been through it.

But why do we find it funny? This is a question I can’t answer. I have asked my husband but he can’t understand it either, actually in his words he hates it because he watches his wife go from a laughing, happy woman to an almost catatonic, unresponsive shell.

I don’t get angry (maybe I should) I get worried for I know it’s back there in my head, the memory of my 13 year old self. The girl who was raped, who couldn’t cope, who self harmed, who tried to kill herself. The girl who put herself in care to save her family seeing the mess she could do and did to herself.

Sadly, in my dreams, I don’t get to the part where I got better, learnt to cope, started living and then had a life that was no longer consumed by that one day.

Instead I have the internal rage back. The guilt for not fighting, for blaming myself, for putting my family through so much. This is what comedy does to me now.

The statistics of rape in this country, make me very aware that this happens to so many people.

Yet I am the first, that I am aware of, that finds this kind of humour insulting. Maybe I am alone in that. But I doubt that very much. Other friends and family I have spoken to agree as do some people that I know but are neither close nor friends.

Up until today I wanted to hide away and hope someone else thinks similarly to me. I wanted someone else to be the mouthpiece that I could simply agree with without revealing my dark secret. That’s what it is to me, to many others, and why it has taken me a few years to say anything at all.

But if I don’t now who will?

So I ask the comedians why they find their rape material will get a laugh? And is it time for the channels to put warnings on programmes: “WARNING: This programme is meant to be funny but instead it will remind you or someone close to you of your/ their worst experience and instead of showing respect it will make you/ them feel that that nasty thing is actually trivial and funny.”

When I am watching a show with rape included in the repertoire, I feel my silence and ashamed look gives away my secret. That’s humiliating and that is yet another reminder of the way I was 20 years ago.

I believe in freedom of speech so I am not asking for it not to be mentioned just with some respect, let victims have some dignity.


Emma Poole is married with three kids and a Labour activist. She is on Twitter here.
Editor’s note: This is the first time Emma has talked about her experiences under her real name. Some readers may disagree with her stance, but any insensitive comments or those that don’t adhere to the comments policy will be instantly deleted.

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Reader comments


I saw another one of the “Mock The Week” gang live a few weeks ago. Rape was in his repertiore too. Granted, it was given some semi-serious context, but the punchline still trivialised it.

I find a lot of things funny. And there is a long history of comedy lifting lids on stuff like racism (Richard Pryor), nazism (Mel Brooks) etc which I think is for the good. But I too have difficulties when certain subjects close to my experiences are used/abused.

I don’t know what point I’m trying to make, just agreeing that there’s something here that needs putting right.

It sounds rather distasteful but you don’t have to watch in the end. Jokes are off-limits from censorship IMHO. Mel brooks has already been mentioned and he sails pretty close to the wind on Nazi jokes, and I’ve even heard a few jokes about the holocaust that were kinda funny!

My main thought is that if you heard the jokes on mock the week there is a good chance they weren’t funny, which is much much worse.

Some people have a dark sense of humour. Some people are amused by the shock and taboo value of the subject. Some just find it funny because…well..to them it’s funny. Humour offends all sorts of people. Fat jokes, ginger jokes, jokes about the Welsh, jokes about mother-in-laws.

Maybe comedians have moved onto rape because we’re so hard to shock nowadays. Think how relatively tame satirical humour was in the 1960s for example. Since then we’ve been told to loosen up and stop being so bourgeois. Well, the downside is that once old taboos are demolished, new ones have to be found to challenge.

That said it’s perfectly possible to find rape jokes funny while at the same time believing genuine rapists should have their balls cut off.

I lived through HIV/Aids and watched dozens of friends die. And ‘black’ humour about it was one very good way to cope. Bad jokes would make me cringe but the answer was shutting up but laughing them down. And doing better, and darker, jokes.

Lots of things are funny. In fact I’m trying to think of something which could be considered impossible to make a joke about.

Going down this route doesn’t help. Simply put, you have to get over this sort of reaction in order to survive any sort of trauma.

It is always a difficult one when people’s political and social experiences arise from traumatic personal circumstances. Political debate tends to involve knockabout exchanges and for some the right to take part in this kind of verbal battery is the summit of the argument over free speech. But politics is more than Prime Ministers’ Question Time. It also emcompasses areas which are deeply personal.

Rape is one such subject. Discussions about this most difficult of all subjects should have sensitivity and consideration for all concerned. Some people might jib at Emma Poole’s appeal for more reticence in the media. They may feel it is an affront to the priniciples of free speech. But conversation involves so much more than the individual’s right to say what they like.

Conversation is by and large a collaborative exercise. Speakers swap cues and reinforce and respond to each other’s words and behaviour. On ocasion inviduals or groups find themselves left out from the established conventions of that particular conversation. They may choose as Ms Poole does to signal their discontent in words.

Now some may object to her argument because they have a particular notion of free speech and Ms Poole does not fit within that. If that is the case for you please respect Ms Poole’s right to speak freely without fear of verbal attacks.

In my view Ms Poole probably has been fighting to speak freely about her experiences for a very long time. She does not appear to be an enemy of free speech. Let her have her say. Let others have their say too. But let’s not kill this moment with cheap sallies.

6. the a&e charge nurse

Is rape a special case or should jokes about other sensitive subjects be off limits as well?

In answer to my own rhetorical question I believe the value of humour trumps the risk of offense, although sometimes giving offense may be the raison d’etre of the joke?

I’m not even sure we can generalise but instead should take various forms of expression on a case by case basis.

I have not come across RH before so cannot comment on the offending material or it’s intentionality.

Some people ‘get’ stuff like the aristocrats – others just don’t see it.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T_L3dhFgark&feature=related

“Maybe comedians have moved onto rape because we’re so hard to shock nowadays.”
I think that’s only half of it. We’re just shocked by different things, and about half the rape jokes you hear don’t actually have much humorous content beyond “LOL, rape”. We only laugh at it because we know it’s no laughing matter.

“That said it’s perfectly possible to find rape jokes funny while at the same time believing genuine rapists should have their balls cut off.”
Like I said, I don’t think it’s that much of a contradiction. If you don’t take rape particularly seriously as a crime, or you’ve got a list of pathetic excuses for when it’s not rape, or you’re more worried about the ghastly wimmins making up stories, rape jokes probably aren’t shocking enough to be funny anyway.

Either way, the fact that rape jokes are shocking and understandable enough to make people laugh is sort of a good thing in my opinion. It shows we’re thinking about it in serious contexts, and it shows we’re disgusted by it. Black humour is all about breaking taboos, and if people are making more and more rape jokes that means it’s becoming more and more of a taboo, and that a genuinely flippant attitude to it is becoming more and more absurd.

Some of the comments posted earlier are attempting to be ‘sympathetic’ but ‘see both sides’. Sorry, guys, this just won’t do. This kind of ‘humour’ is TOTALLY UNACCEPTABLE – I completely agree with Emma. In a civilised society we would not have to debate whether to tolerate it because it wouldn’t happen in the first place. It’s difficult enough for people to recover from (if one ever does) or learn to live with, such trauma. Humour may arguably have ‘lifted the lid on racism’, but, while unjustified insult and discrimination is bad enough it isn’t the same as physical violation (racially or sexually motivated).

In any event what has really lifted the lid on discrimination generally is the dignity and stance and open-minded-ness of those discriminated / wronged against and their continued faith in the majority of humankind. Emma clearly has this too.

BTW If it makes any difference to my credibility, I am a 52 year old, white, happily-divorced, unemployed male.

I know how you feel about insensitive and mean jokes, but that doesn’t mean that I think some topics are completely off-limits. I hope most of the comedians you mentioned would be upset that you had those reactions to their jokes – as I doubt they intended to make anyone feel like that. Hopefully they didn’t intend to trivialise these issues either – but I wouldn’t know that for sure. I myself have been through some very upsetting circumstances in my life, and I think you’re very brave for talking about your feelings about yours in public. I personally think that jokes that don’t trivialise or aren’t mean can actually have actually been helpful to me – the old laughter is the best medicine thing – and I’ve even found myself making quite dark jokes to deal with some things that have happened to me, which I think has helped me to come to terms with my feelings about them much more than if I hadn’t. Thanks for the post – it was very interesting, and for talking about your feelings about such upsetting issues. We do need to be able to talk about these
things in the open.

Interesting post about free speech by Beatrice Bray written while I was doing mine, – I’m not trying to stifle free speech either, it’s almost sacrosanct. But in issues like this the debate should not be started by some random outsider trying to shock or raise a cheap laugh for money. I would LIKE to be able to have faith in the majority here to realise what’s appropriate and what isn’t. R.

“This kind of ‘humour’ is TOTALLY UNACCEPTABLE ”

According to who?

Surely if this humour is mainstream than it’s perfectly acceptable?

At the end of the day where do we draw the line at censorship of jokes? I’m sure people who lost loved ones in 9/11 or 7/7 don’t like hearing jokes about those tragedies but there are some out there. And someone else mentioned the Holocaust – if we sanitise humour or put up walls around things we are allowed to laugh about we risk losing an important coping mechanism for these awful subjects.
Not to mention we are all rightly offended by the State criminalising that chap for telling a flippant joke on twitter, and I think in China someone has been imprisoned for a year for a similar flippant remark, we should be very wary indeed of telling people what is and isn’t acceptable. Freedom of speech means freedom to offend and freedom to be offended (and freedom to protest of course as well).

Having said all that (albeit rather clumsily, apologies) I am half-way on the OPs side insofar as she doesn’t condemn outright comics who make distasteful jokes. I think the idea of a warning before such programmes might be a good idea (I know second-hand how this stuff can act as a trigger) as it is with other programmes, documentories and the like, dramas etc. So maybe there is a solution.

Also my favourite comedians – Bill Hicks, Richard Pryor, Peter Cook, Chris Morris – are infamous for their pitch-black humour but also (and crucially) were funny and made one think. I’ve not seen Mock the Week for a long while but last I saw it wasn’t necessarily up to par with the great satirical wits of our time. Which isn’t the fault of offensive jokes, but unfunny comedians.

14. Cynical/Realist?

@1 – “But I too have difficulties when certain subjects close to my experiences are used/abused.”

That’s the crux of it isn’t it. It’s often OK to make jokes about dark subjets – but personal experience of somthing puts that one topic off limits.

There was a story a few months ago of a woman who went to a Frankie Boyle show. She found the show funny up until jokes about a medical condition that had affected her child, which she then found sick. The point is, she must have sat through and laughed at all kinds off dark jokes (it was Frankie Boyle) and laughed along. But only those close to her should be considered off.

I and my wife both have personal experience of rape through seeing friends suffer. But we still laugh along at rape jokes. I suffer from a mental illness. I find jokes on this hilarious. I’m not saying at all you should find these jokes funny yourself – that’s personal opinion. It may well make you hate the comedian in some cases (Bernard Manning anyone?). But jokes are jokes – once you start censoring one topic you start censoring all. Most jokes almost by defination make light of some human follible, condition or tendancy, and there’s usually someone somewhere affected by it.

15. FlyingRodent

I take Emma’s point and I can see where she’s coming from here. I think this is well intentioned but poorly thought out. I’ve spent a lot of time defending left wing politics generally from people who sling accusations of thought police language commissardom, so it isn’t really very helpful when folk rev up the outragemobile and go charging through the streets telling people what they’re allowed to laugh at.

“This kind of ‘humour’ is TOTALLY UNACCEPTABLE”

I mean, what? How difficult can it be to learn this lesson – “Waving the waggy finger of tut-tut at the public all the time is tactically stupid”. This kind of thing is hugely counterproductive – the public’s immediate response is always going to be hostile; it makes us look utterly humourless and po-faced and it hands opponents a big stick with which to beat us.

Please, please can we have less of the “You must not laugh at this” stuff? If you really want to alienate the electorate this badly, why not take up a campaign to have the X Factor banned or something?

16. Cynical/Realist?

@3 – “Simply put, you have to get over this sort of reaction in order to survive any sort of trauma.”

Exactly.

I had a very severe ‘life-event’ happen recently. Its completly knocked me down. Every time I watch a comedy show I hope it doesn’t come up as a joke because I’m still too raw on it. But it doesn’t mean I can’t see that a joke could be made. Its just I’m not ready to hear it yet. But thats just a sign of how fresh it is, not that its wrong to make jokes.

I also imagine there are hardly any topics for jokes that won’t be embarrassing or humiliating for someone somewhere. Imagine a devout christian having to sit through some jokes about Jesus. For those that take their religion seriously, it could feel like a personal attack or violation. But we wouldn’t want to censor those jokes.

Interesting post.

To me, the problem is the extreme ‘maleness’, if you like, of programmes like Mock the Week. You get a token female in there every now and then but the vast majority of people on it (and on HIGNFY) are men. The jokes reflect that. They’re for men, by men, etc. They reflect male priorities and male concerns as a result. I really doubt you’d get a lot of rape jokes if women were in the majority. You’d get a lot of jokes about small cocks, which I would personally enjoy and happily help to write.

Same goes for advertising. I find, for example, the Fosters ads a real pain in the ass – some loser on the phone to Australia asking two dropkicks whether his girlfriend will age as badly as her mother, etc. It’s all so very hackneyed, but that’s what you get when you get middlebrow males producing content for middlebrow males. Mock the Week strikes me as much the same sort of thing – same old, same old, really. I’ve stopped watching it as a result (used to record it, but can’t be bothered now) – I wouldn’t want it off the air, because that’s censorship, which I have no time for – but I wouldn’t mind seeing it replaced by something that was a little less like a dreary afternoon down the pub with four or five not-terribly-witty bores with small knobs.

“Why do comedians see one of the darkest experiences of my life as fair game? As humorous?”

It’s a common (although not universal) human reaction to joke more about matters the darker and blacker they are. So that’s why something as dark and black as rape gets joked about. The same way that death does, appalling physical injury, war: jokes are made about them because humour is, for many, the coping mechanism to aid in dealing with these horrors.

That this catharsis isn’t welcomed universally is what gives us the problem here.

The fact that these jokes are being told was a catalyst to you talking about your own experience. Hopefully it can help you heal a little more, and it has led to a bit more debate about the issue. Both of these effects are positive. I am a strong believer in the idea that there should be no limits on what you can joke about, but I also accept that the joker needs to at least be aware of the effect their witticism can have

What you suggest (ie a warning before such shows) would be useful, as we should seek to prevent scenarios such as the one you described – but to outlaw entirely jokes about rape (or anything else – the Holocaust and 9/11 have already been brought up) is something I cannot support.

Humour and comedy are invaluable coping tools, and moreover all free speech should be protected. There are plenty of vulgar comedians/ennes out there whose routines are downright offensive for the sake of it, and I don’t watch these acts, but I’d defend to the death their right to entertain the stupid, slow-witted people who choose to pay to see them.

For me, the spirit of the joke is a very important aspect of whether it can be considered genuinely funny or just offensive. For example, Chris Morris’ Brass Eye episode about paedophilia (or more correctly about its sensationalist coverage in the tabloid press) was witty and pushed all the right buttons. At no point while watching it did I think, “Haha, paedophilia is hilarious,” because it’s not. It was merely a spoof of the kind of coverage the issue was, and still is, getting.

At the end of the day, it comes down to an artist being unable to control the viewer’s interpretation of their work. Someone may view a 17th Century nude painting as nothing more than a masturbatory prop, but that does not diminish the beauty of the work itself. Similarly, the kind of people who chuckle at rape jokes with nothing more than “lol rape” going through their heads are not the fault of the comedian, they are a poor reflection on the individual, and ultimately those people get far less enjoyment from comedy than those who properly understand the context, delivery and nuance of a joke about a touchy subject.

I tend to agree with Flying Rodent @15.

I think someone writing “This kind of ‘humour’ is TOTALLY UNACCEPTABLE” needs to thnk long and hard about the motivation for making such a breathtakingly sweeping statement.

For many people the implications of deciding what is and is not acceptable, and who makes the decision will be at least as worrying, if not more, than the items which caused such offence to Emma.

I didn’t see the programme concerned, as after watching the first of the series we gave up on it as not very funny, although I do generally enjoy Russel Howard’s comedy and have seen him live and didn’t think his humour was that controversial at the time.

Interesting discussion, bloody good point by Kate about these jokes usually coming from an all-male context.

My thinking about all offensive language and humour is that the degree to which it’s A Bad Thing essentially comes down to the motivation of the person with whom it originates. The ‘n’ word is a classic example here – can be a matey salutation or a foul insult, and lots of things in between, depending entirely on the attitude of the person using it. I imagine it’s possible to make jokes about rape from a woman-friendly/feminist perspective, but you’re unlikely to get that from 80% of the comedians who appear regularly on the telly.

Thank you to those who understood that my intention was never to censor anything or anyone or suggest that doing so would be of benefit. I believe in free speech. I believe sometimes jokes can help in dealing with trauma or dark subjects and sometimes helps just start discussion.
I do, however, question the frequency and quantity of such jibes if many find them unfunny or out of context. I don’t know if that’s true it was a part of the question, to find out or get an idea.
My intention in writing this piece was to ask why it’s funny at all. After at least 3 years surely the “shock” aspect has gone? Maybe, also, to ask for a little respect for victims of any trauma that’s being satiricalised. As even in context I, personally, don’t find it humourous but, at least, I respect the individual for raising the subject with regard for victims. I can continue to enjoy their work without trepidation of when they are going to bring it up as I know that even when they do they have considered the people affected.

Sunny – you often repost Flying Rodent’s pieces; he’s written a bloody good response to this one, and I hope you’ll re-post it. Shorter: being a liberal doesn’t inherently mean that you’re a po-faced Millie Tant character, and we do ourselves no favours by suggesting that it does.

paul canning/4: And ‘black’ humour about it was one very good way to cope.

Sure. Absolutely. But I think there’s a massive difference between jokes being made by people who have been through a particular traumatic experience and jokes being made by people who haven’t.

Similarly if the reason the joke is “funny” is “and they were raped! Hahaha!”, that’s different to the use of humour – especially satire – that makes an important point. (And even then, it’s only reasonable to give advance warning, if you’re really doing it for that reason, that some people might appreciate the message but not the delivery)

Mainstream comedy does a lot of jokes with rape as the punchline, and very little where society’s appalling attitudes to rape are skewered. I’ve seen some extremely sharp statements made by survivors of rape that incorporated humour to make them even sharper … and other than a vague dictionary resemblance in that both are “humour about rape”, they have absolutely nothing in common with the sort of jokes being talked about in the post.

FlyingRodent/15: can we have less of the “You must not laugh at this” stuff?

I’d rather have less of the “humour should be immune to social analysis” stuff. It’s not about telling people what they can and can’t laugh at. But it is worrying that so many people do find jokes where the punchline is “Rape! Hahaha!” funny when replacing rape with a non-sexual crime wouldn’t be. What it says about society, why it’s so trivialised, etc. is important and entirely something the “left” (and indeed the “right”) should be concerned with.

Criticising speech is not the same as trying to ban it (I didn’t notice anyone defending his Lordship’s right to free speech when he was criticised, in much harsher terms than the criticism of rape jokes taking place here, for his comments about the “poor being encouraged to breed”; perhaps we should have taken that as a joke too? Haha! Those Tories! Laugh a minute! It’s funny because it’s true! etc!) … it’s funny (haha!) how the right of privileged male comedians to make rape jokes is so heavily defended.

(And, for that matter, “Why do I find it funny?” is a legitimate and important bit of self-examination)

Anything can be funny as, quite simply, there can be absurdity in any scenario. The difference between a good and bad “sick” comedian is that the latter thinks that nastiness is inherently amusing.

I once insulted Russell Howard in a library. Someone mentioned his name and I began diatribe about his jokes, demeanor and, naturally, face. Unfortunately they’d said, “Look behind you! It’s Russell Howard!”

Very interesting discussion. I think Kate @18 has it right – cultural production is ultimately just politics, and because politics is (mostly) dominated by straight white men, you get more jokes about rape than, say, impotence.

I don’t laugh at rape jokes – and that’s a weapon we all have.

Very few people now laugh at Bernard Manning’s particular brand of “humorous” racism (mostly ’cause he’s dead); not that it is necessarily taboo, or should be censored – it’s just no longer relevant to the majority of us.

@3 – “Simply put, you have to get over this sort of reaction in order to survive any sort of trauma.”

Is that is putting the bar a bit high? Recovery from trauma involves a whole panoply of skills and experiences and in the field of mental health the concept has been mapped out in some detail.

Humour can have an important though not essential place in recovery but there are many other aspects to the process. Being hung up on one aspect such as the ability to necessary. It is not part of the core curriculum so to speak.

Some people may never be able to laugh at their pain. They may still feel nonetheless that they have recovered well enough for them and the people around them. Emma Poole does not want to laugh at rape jokes. I am puzzled as to why anyone with her experience should be expected to laugh at such pain.

So here is an invitation. If anyone out there feels that recovery must involve laughing at an acutely painful experience can you say why?

Am I the only one in thinking that this particularly tiresome humour seems to be the preserve of the BBCs mainstream output (contrast with monkey dust which was offensive but targeted rather more intelligently)? Compare with the best us stuff (jon Stewart, south park etc), and the best of c4 (chris Morris).

The main people on mock the week/the now show all seem to be there more because of their connections within the BBC rather than the humour they are capable of displaying on that particular format. Which also explains their even more skewed maleness than usual (it’s about connections rather than talent after all). So clearly the solution is to abolish the BBC and watch the average humour quality in the mainstream rise.

‘Emma Poole does not want to laugh at rape jokes. I am puzzled as to why anyone with her experience should be expected to laugh at such pain.’

That is perfectly reasonable. But the solution is for her not to be forced to watch/hear rape jokes. And not be forced to pay for them to be performed either.

“Emma Poole is married with three kids and a Labour activist.”

Since when was bombing wedding parties funny, Emma? I hardly think an activist for a party which started two unnecessary wars with massive loss of life, much of it civilian (if that makes any difference), should be talking to any of us about how to have respect for people.

Emma, you might want to read this article by Kira Cochrane in the Guardian on ‘the rise of rape talk’ which would confirm you aren’t the only one who thinks as you do.

However, your request that ‘I believe in freedom of speech so I am not asking for it not to be mentioned just with some respect, let victims have some dignity’ sets up a dilemma for any comedian, male or female, in that jokes aren’t usually made out of ‘respect’. Moveover, the fact that one subtext in the comments appears to be ‘men shouldn’t do rape jokes’ (perhaps unless it’s about men being raped?) still leaves it open to women telling such jokes either as a ‘confessional’ style, or as an attack on, say, the criminal justice system. (Perhaps men would have to either seek permission, have the jokes vetted or prove their politcal credentials before doing so.) And even then, you would still have reactions such as Rob’s ‘This kind of “humour” is TOTALLY UNACCEPTABLE’ – where ‘respect’ is shown by not making jokes at all. Changing social attitudes is a bit more complicated than that, even if – as in the decline of the ‘mother-in-law’ joke – it does happen.

If context and intent is everything, then nothing tells a comedian that they’ve screwed up faster than the ‘tumbleweed moment’ when a joke falls flat. But if they second-guessed individual audience member’s experience of trauma in creating material, they’d probably stick to ‘recognition comedy’ about Spangles.

34. Daniel Factor

I thought it was just the right-wing Daily Mail reading Tory voting brigade who had it in for “alternative” comedians like Russel Howard.
Are liberals now gonna start watching comedy shows featuring Frankie Boyle to see if there are any jokes that might offend their sensibilities so they can wail about it in The Guardian? (As opposed to in the Daily Mail where whenever Frankie cracks a joke about nice white middle class swimmers they yell…”WAAAH HE WOULDN’T GET AWAY SAYING THAT ABOUT BLACK GAY LESBIAN ONE LEGGED MUSLIM ASYLUM SEEKING ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS!!!”)
No rape isn’t funny (and regardless of what gendre the rape victim is….those modern comics who think male rape is funny probably would never dare make jokes about raping women!) but I am not sure we need people to be policing what comedians can and cannot make jokes about!

Family Guy sometimes have these jokes

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eDCUmDhABRg

Life is just too awful not to be able to make shocking, bad taste jokes. Like swearing, watching football, play fighting with mates, watching boxing, etc its a good way to release the stress.

Take away these things then you will probably see more anti social behaviour. Like turning peaceful protests into vandalism.

37. Chaise Guevara

@ 8 Rob

“Some of the comments posted earlier are attempting to be ‘sympathetic’ but ‘see both sides’. Sorry, guys, this just won’t do. ”

Yes, I can see you came here with an open mind.

Seriously, has anyone ever seen such a beautifully revealing first line? You may as well say “I notice some people are thinking about this before they post and I want them to stop.”

Really interesting post. I do wonder why we laugh at jokes about rape and sexual abuse.

For example, last week I watched a recording of Jimmy Carr do stand up on Channel 4. He was taking questions from the audience and one man something along the lines of ‘when it comes to sex is there anything that your girlfriend asks you to do that you won’t do?’ Carr replied ‘stop.’ Then camera then panned to the audience and showed a row of men doubled over with laughter. Carr of course is well known for jokes of this ilk.

Last year Carr was lambasted for telling a joke about how injured servicemen from the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan meant the UK would have a good paralympic team in 2012. A joke like this causes uproar, but by and large his jokes about rape and sexual assault escape controversy.

I wonder why it’s more acceptable to be offensive about some things, rather than others?

39. Chaise Guevara

@ OP

I think I agree with the overall consensus on this thread in that humour means different things to different people, and that joking about something doesn’t mean you think the subject is in itself a joke. I certainly can’t stand strident people who tell you that this or that “just isn’t funny”. Maybe not funny to you; obviously funny to others.

That said, I think any decent-minded comedian should consider their audience. If I tell a bad-taste joke among friends who I know won’t be offended, I don’t see a problem. Similarly, as mentioned above, it’s a bit rich to go to a Frankie Boyle gig and then complain when his signature style briefly focuses on something that affects you personally. This notably doesn’t apply to mainstream shows with millions of viewers, and perhaps comedians should, on a personal level, consider the possible hurt their jokes could cause.

40. Chaise Guevara

@ 37

“I wonder why it’s more acceptable to be offensive about some things, rather than others?”

Interesting question. I reckon it’s because respect for soldiers is so politicised; the Daily Mail and its charming friends will always jump on anything like that and try to create a big controversy. Carr was brave/dumb enough to make a joke about a favourite subject of tabloids.

41. Daniel Factor

Re; the Daily Mail and offensive humour. They are very selective about what jokes they think to be acceptable. Jokes about immigrants, asylum seekers and foriegners are preety much ok in their eyes and anyone who complains is branded a “wet liberal PC lefty”. But jokes about Christianity, the Queen and old people is off limits as far as they are concerned and anyone who makes such jokes is branded a “lefty liberal alternative comedian who makes jokes about the Queen, Christians, old people but wouldn’t dare cracks gags about black gay lesbians”,

It’s not just comedy that has gone down the drain in terms of completely inappropriately dealing with serious subjects. The last few episodes of Casualty have had a character called Warren, husband of nurse Kirsty, who supposedly has ME and has been shown throwing violent temper tantrums, playing mind games on his wife and apparently he is going to be shown being outright violent towards her in the near future. (Some of the spoilers point towards another diagnosis besides ME, but right now he supposedly has ME.)

I know some people who have ME and most of them don’t have the strength to fight or argue with anyone (one of them told me she couldn’t stand the noise). Worse than that, though, the historical record is that ME sufferers are much more likely to suffer abuse, particularly from medical staff (but also from friends and relatives who won’t accept that they are really ill) – there are some serious (and true) horror stories and they have led to patient deaths on two occasions that I’ve heard of. I complained to the BBC (and got the support of several of the patients I know) and was told that drama wasn’t best served by meticulous attention to accuracy.

This is actually the first storyline in a UK drama about ME in some time (and certainly the first since the Gilderdale case in January), and they choose a damaging and inaccurate portrayal of an ME sufferer. He didn’t seem to get that.

And the other week I complained about a rape joke at the expense of George Michael on “Mock the Week”. This is the response I got:

We’re sorry if you were offended by the content of ‘Mock the Week’ on 23 September.

We can assure you its never the intention of the BBC to deliberately upset its audience.

As the BBC is a public service financed by the licence fee it must provide programmes which cater for the whole range of tastes in humour. We believe that there is no single set of standards in this area on which the whole of society can agree, and it is inevitable that programmes which are acceptable to some will occasionally strike others as distasteful. The only realistic and fair approach for us is to ensure that the range of comedy is broad enough for all viewers to feel that they are catered for at least some of the time.

This was from a woman, by the way.

44. Daniel Walker

The rather cliched saying “If I didn’t laugh, I’d cry” applies here.

Rape, murder, paedophilia, etc; they are all fresh to the mainstream. Yes, they’ve always happened, but not everyone knew they happened. Thanks to our good friends in the media we will always hear fresh horror stories that will keep those issues constantly at the forefront of our minds. We don’t want to think or talk about these things but they are impossible to ignore. That said, it is absolutely essential that we have an outlet for these fears, and the best outlet is through jokes and laughter.

45. the a&e charge nurse

[37] “I wonder why it’s more acceptable to be offensive about some things, rather than others” – this doesn’t really make sense – acceptable to who – offensive to who?

Do you mean why are some things more prevalent, either in the media or in every day speech – is the problem that there are now TOO MANY rape jokes, and these references are simply a proxy for women hating?

Unfortunately nobody has the power to decide which jokes they find funny – to the individual a joke is either funny or it isn’t (although the sort of thing that made you laugh 10 years ago may leave you stone cold today).

One of the archetypal comedic devices is to provoke a laugh from something that we really shouldn’t be laughing at – in theses instances supression only masks our authentic response, usually with the effect of sending our endorphins into overdrive.
http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/exchange/node/2377

46. Chaise Guevara

@ 40

Hell, yes. But that said, there are more offensive things about the Mail and its counterparts than a hypocritical attitude to comedy. Such as a tendency to tell lies that foster hatred and fear.

I think part of it is that we need to hear jokes about the bad things in life, like death and rape because it does make light of them and if we don’t make light of them from time to time it’s far harder for most people to face them. I for example, am absolutely terrified of dying, but I block it out by not thinking about it and I laugh very hard at jokes which make light of it because it makes me feel, in some way, that there might not be as much to worry about as I fear. I can fully appreciate that other people may feel completely different about it but for me it’s a coping mechanism that stops such depressing things from getting me down.

Jokes should only ever be about pretty flowers and fluffy bunnies.

Life is really luvly and humour should reflect this.

“But I think there’s a massive difference between jokes being made by people who have been through a particular traumatic experience and jokes being made by people who haven’t. ”

No, a good joke is a good joke. Can’t remember who but the Army fighting in Afghanistan is one way to get a good special olympics team.

That’s objectionable, vile, insulting to some of those who have been injured and also, judging by ARRSE (where it was stolen from) blindingly funny.

And, umm, ARRSE, is the place where the troops go to gossip. The same troops some of whom are suffering the iunjuries.

@15 Flyingrodent: I mean, what? How difficult can it be to learn this lesson – “Waving the waggy finger of tut-tut at the public all the time is tactically stupid”. This kind of thing is hugely counterproductive – the public’s immediate response is always going to be hostile; it makes us look utterly humourless and po-faced and it hands opponents a big stick with which to beat us.

It is a shame, a very big shame, that the software does not allow me to upvote this post.

51. Chaise Guevara

@ 46. George W. Potter

The death thing is a good analogy, and I feel and act exactly the same as you do about that topic. If I contemplated mortality all of the time, I’d be a gibbering wreck. I need distractions, and gallows humour is as good as any other. In fact, doesn’t the fact that the phrase “gallows humour” exist demonstrate that humans tend to laugh at the things that scare and hurt us?

I’ve luckily never been the victim of rape myself, but I have friends who have. On their behalf, and on behalf of rape victims everywhere, I wince whenever I hear comedians (of both genders) use rape jokes, especially because I’ve never heard a funny joke on the subject. I’m sick of smug male comedians joking about rape, and of female stand-ups using rape jokes as a way to show how ‘shocking’ they’re prepared to be.

PTSD, as suffered by many rape victims, affects different people in different ways. Therapy can help, but for some people, the trauma never really goes away, and flashbacks – exceptionally distressing relivings of the traumatic event – can be triggered at any time. Perhaps by a joke made by a TV comedian. Time doesn’t always heal.

To everyone wondering why feminists have problems with rape jokes, this link may help:
http://shakespearessister.blogspot.com/2010/08/survivors-are-so-sensitive.html

Liss’s excellent article on rape culture is here:
http://shakespearessister.blogspot.com/2009/10/rape-culture-101.html

I think the main failing of this discussion is nobody has actually mentioned the rape joke Russell Howard made. A general discussion on whether rape jokes are ok is nice and all, but surely different rape jokes are deserving of different amounts of condemnation. Like this feminist blog post about rape, which is straight-up hilarious. Does anyone know what Russell Howard actually said, so we can discuss the specifics of it and what it reflects. Could you share it with us? I promise I won’t laugh.

I thought this was a good post. Rather than shouting people down it appeals to their better nature and it’s disappointing that people can’t see that because of their knee-jerk reaction.

Are rape jokes ‘edgy’? Considering the attitudes of so many people in this country, who think that women who are raped are ‘asking for it’, and the low conviction rate for rapists, it just seems like picking on the underdog to me. It gets an easy laugh from people who want to appear ‘edgy’, too.

55. Daniel Factor

@the contributor who mentioned Casualty and an ME sufferer.

Yes he’s an ME sufferer but the problem he’s a man. In the BBC drama department portraying men in a postive light in any way is stricley off limits. They must always be shown as the scum of the earth, even those who have terrible diseases.

Thanks for speaking out, Emma. Much respect to you.

57. the a&e charge nurse

[53] yes what was the joke – what happens if somebody still finds it funny, even if they if they prefer that it didn’t (realising the joke has already upset others). Problems is, as I mention above, the chuckle muscle operates on a near involuntary level?

Tim W/49: “No, a good joke is a good joke.”

That’s quite clearly not true. Let me demonstrate: “My dog’s got no preprocessor! / How does it smell? / Without #defines!” If anyone reading this found that funny, I’m surprised. But I’ve heard people laughing uproariously at it. Humour depends a lot on context.

Now, jokes like the Carr one quoted by Kate/38 basically have the punchline “and I’m a rapist” or “and then I raped them”. In the context of telling jokes to a bunch of rapists, that’s funny. In the context of telling jokes to a bunch of people who have been raped, that’s not at all funny. (On average, a random sample of people will contain considerably more rape survivors than rapists)

Compare that with the Blue Milk post linked by Alex/53, which uses dark humour to help make a point about victim-blaming culture. (I’m not sure I’d actually call it a rape joke, though)

I heard a comedian once say that “humour should comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable”, which seems to be the difference between the dark humour of people in difficult situations and the cheap laughs many comedians go for.

59. the a&e charge nurse

[58] “I heard a comedian once say that “humour should comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable” – how many comediennes can you think of who would meet this standard?

Comedy is cruel or rather reflects cruelty in the world – the potential for humerous observation grows exponentially with how dysfunctional we are (which applies to most of us if we are honest).

Here’s a very good article about rape jokes.

61. Cheesy Monkey

It’s not hard, this (giggity). Rules of comedy, in order:

1) In general, no subject is off limits
2) The comedian will deliver a routine of his/her choosing. If he/she does not like jokes about particular subjects, he/she will not include them
3) The comedian should not second-guess his/her audience
4) The audience should be aware of what material the comic is likely to perform. If someone in that audience do not like what was said, they can leave/switch off the tellybox/knock one out (giggity) to Points Of View
5) The complainant (if any) does not have the right to seek a ban, because they will sound like a tedious bore with zero sense of humour. They can complain, however – free speech and all that
6) However, if you have not personally seen the ‘offensive’ routine in question, YOU HAVE ABSOFUCKINGLUTELY NO FUCKING RIGHT TO FUCKING CRITICISE SAID FUCKING JOKES. This makes many people cross. Including me
7) Russell Howard is as funny as Baby P-branded hotpants. He is a corporate construct, designed to appeal to nice, middle-class teenage girls who find Russell Brand too sexually threatening. Watch an episode of Mock The Week again. Notice how Howard makes a joke, only for Dara O’Briain to immediately make the same joke again, but funny

Print it out, laminate it and stick it in your purse/wallet. C’mon, people (giggity) – there are far far more important things at the moment than fucking comedy. Moaning about jokes is sooo New Labour. Stop it. Now.

Following the logic here …

A criminal commits a crime against a victim.
The victim is understandably traumatised.
An unconnected comedian makes a joke related to the same category of crime.
Said victim claims special rights over all discussions of that category of crime, and gets to dictate the terms on with which all future discussions, references and depictions of that category of crime take place for ever more.

Not tenable, not logical and not in society’s interest.

There’s personal and there’s important. The societal need for freedom of expression has to trump a personal decision to dictate what is tolerated.

emma you are not alone in not finding rape jokes funny. there’s been a lot of debate about this on the feminist blogosphere (my blog, the f word, cath elliott’s blog) esp after ellie levenson’s so-called feminist book said rape jokes were ok.

they’re not ok. They ignore the fact that someone in the hearing of the telling may have experience rape or abuse. that the joke may trigger fear, or flashbacks, as you describe. rape jokes do not help us ‘come to terms with rape’ as levenson argues, but instead trivialise and insult the experience of survivors.

this is not about free speech. there are jokes no one finds funny any more, because they hurt and disrespect. no one would get away with telling a racist joke on TV. but jokes about rape have become acceptable. they need to be put in the cultural dustbin so that women can watch comedy again without being worried that their experiences, fears and horrors are going to be raked up and mocked, by someone who has no idea what they are talking about.

not to mention of course that rape isn’t taken seriously any way. if it was, 100,000 rapes wouldn’t happen every year (home office stats) with a 6.5% conviction rate, and debates around the issue wouldn’t go round in circles about what’s “real rape” blah blah blah

65. Cheesy Monkey

@63

This is exactly the kind of hectoring that Flying Rodent was cautioning against. General rule of thumb: if after every full stop you can insert “In my opinion.”, then you probably need to rewrite what you’ve written.

66. Chaise Guevara

@ 64

“not to mention of course that rape isn’t taken seriously any way. if it was, 100,000 rapes wouldn’t happen every year (home office stats) with a 6.5% conviction rate, and debates around the issue wouldn’t go round in circles about what’s “real rape” blah blah blah”

Big leap of logic, that. I think better indicators of how seriously rape is taken are the facts that it can carry the same sentence as murder, and we make a special (and controversial) exemption and allow the claimant anonymity to encourage victims to come forward. It’s taken very seriously indeed.

@63

“this is not about free speech. there are jokes no one finds funny any more”

That’s precisely what it is about. My freedom of expression should not depend on your approval. There are plenty of utterances made that I don’t like, including censorious rubbish like yours. So what? I deal with it like an adult should. I’m no more the centre of the Universe than you are. Get over yourself and leave my civil liberties alone.

Chaise/66: Big leap of logic, that. I think better indicators of how seriously rape is taken are the facts that it can carry the same sentence as murder, and we make a special (and controversial) exemption and allow the claimant anonymity to encourage victims to come forward. It’s taken very seriously indeed.

Really. The high sentencing has been in place since the early 1800s if not earlier. Anonymity for victims was introduced in 1976.

And yet it was only 1991 that marital rape was finally declared illegal (and that through a Law Lords judicial decision rather than through legislation; attempts to pass legislation against marital rape in the 1970s were blocked in Parliament). So, between 1976 and 1991 we did both those indicators of legal seriousness and yet rape was in certain common circumstances entirely legal.

It was only in 2003 that the Sexual Offences Act stopped an “unreasonable” belief in consent being a defence. Prior to that if the rapist could convince the court that they believed there was consent, even if their belief was completely unreasonable, they had committed no crime. But apparently between 1976 and 2003 we took it seriously.

(Given the public attitudes to rape and consent regularly revealed by surveys, I think the current “reasonable belief” defence is rather too easy for rapists to exploit, too, and it needs considerable tightening of wording)

The justice system – police, CPS and courts – have all been given lots of guidance on the effective prosecution of rape cases. As Baroness Stern found, they do not in general follow this guidance. But I’m sure they take it very seriously.

This suggests to me that your suggestions are not in fact useful indicators of how seriously we as a society take the offence.

sianushka

“they’re not ok. They ignore the fact that someone in the hearing of the telling may have experience rape or abuse. that the joke may trigger fear, or flashbacks, as you describe.”

Just to add: I’m reliably advised that the worst culprits for this are the well-intentioned “HAVE YOU BEEN RAPED? CALL RAPE CRISIS ON 123 456” stickers that used to plaster the ladies’ loos in bars at my uni, ensuring that the typical rape victim trying to enjoy a social life was reminded of the worst time in her life at regular intervals. So being sensitive to victims is not just something arsehole comedians need to worry about.

70. Chaise Guevara

@ 68 CIM

“This suggests to me that your suggestions are not in fact useful indicators of how seriously we as a society take the offence.”

Nonsense. They are good indicators in one direct; you’ve provided good indicators in the other. Don’t just discount evidence because it contradicts your position.

I had no idea maritial rape was banned so recently and I am frankly shocked to hear it. You’ve demonstrated very well that attitudes are pretty backwards in some cases. However, I maintain that if we didn’t take rape seriously, we wouldn’t give people life sentences for it.

The reason I’m objecting to the idea that we don’t take it seriously is that by using misrepresentative data to make a melodramatic point that wouldn’t stand even if the data were true, you (not you personally) piss off people who by rights should be on your side. I think rape stats tend to be skewed, or have unreasonable conclusions drawn from them, by people with a personal agenda who want to paint society as being anti-women even in areas where it’s not. They could make their point far more fairly with the info about maritial rape you supplied in your post, for instance, or by pointing out how many people think that wearing a short skirt is the same thing as giving consent.

71. Chaise Guevara

@ 69

In fairness, the posters are providing a service in a way that comedians aren’t.

@cim and chaise, I think rape is taken seriously, but some people (see the surveys cim mentioned) don’t think rape means the same as we do. (not quite sure my point is clear – I hope so)

73. Chaise Guevara

@ 72

Clear as day and a good point. I suppose the conclusion is that most people (probably enough to count as “society as a whole”) take rape very seriously as long as they agree the action in question counts as rape.

The proliferation of rape and paedophile jokes is an indication of the parlous state of the British stand up comedy scene. Many of today’s comedians cannot or refuse to engage politically with the world. Cruelty has supplanted edgy political humour. Many comedians are out to shock and while there is nothing wrong with shock, it is done for its own sake. There is no thought behind it at all. The club promoters are also to blame. by the mid-1990’s, most clubs became factories that produced commodities for television and the burgeoning lad mags market. No danger, no excitement, just blandness and pointless cruelty.

75. the a&e charge nurse

Rape is a violent crime and (historically) there have been inadequacies in the way our society has dealt with it (culturally + legally) – even so I just don’t think the censorship argument stands up, not least because rape would simply become the first taboo subject on an ever growing list?

76. the a&e charge nurse

[74] “No danger, no excitement, just blandness and pointless cruelty” – perhaps we get the comediennes we deserve?

I fear my comment won’t get to the author, but it’s worth a shot. I deeply sympathise with her and I agree with all her points. Yet the other commenters seem more fitted to be reading the Daily Mail. The only reason why they are here has to be mere attention seeking. All the have is empty rethoric that shows they haven’t given a second thought to the brainwashing peddled by the media. Their opinions are not worth mentioning or discussing. Instead of moving the debate forward, they claw it back to the right.
Those bringing up “Freedom of Speech” haven’t looked at the world critically for the past 3 decades. Those who justify offending and triggering others in the name of “humour” are bigots. “Entertainment” for some cannot be above personal safety for others. That this needs reminding is a sure sign of how immoral this society has become.
For a more thorough take on the subject of “Rape Jokes”, you can read Melissa McEwan’s blog “Shakesville”.

78. Chaise Guevara

@77 Mary Tracy

So basically, anyone who disagrees with you is a thoughtless, ignorant bigot? Do you not notice a little bit of irony going on there?

You may think freedom of speech is something to be brushed off, but there are those of us who consider it an essential cornerstone of liberty.

79. the a&e charge nurse

[77] “The only reason why they are here has to be mere attention seeking” – so you think it is OK to poke fun at us poor bloggers afflicted with idiosyncratic, and even dysfunctional personalities?

How cruel some people are, eh?

ukliberty/72: Hah, yes, very true.

Chaise/70: On your other point: prevalence estimates for rape are really tricky, and coincidentally I discuss the problems with getting accurate measures – and why, ultimately, complete accuracy isn’t necessary, in my most recent blog post. Nevertheless, an extremely conservative estimate is 1 in 20 women will be raped at least once in their lives, with most methods of estimation giving a value much higher than that. Depending on what you define as rape (and I admit to using a definition wider than the narrow legal definition) something like 1 in 4 is more realistic. (For men, somewhere between 1 in 10 and 1 in 200 lifetime, depending on definitions and methodology)

But let’s conservatively say 1 in 10 women and use similarly conservative figures for a 1 in 25 prevalence of male serial rapists.

Now apply that to murder (and get back to the original topic, somewhat). Imagine we live in a society where 1 in 50 people is an undetected serial killer, and everyone has lost at least a few friends to murder, with many being survivors of a murder attempt themselves. I don’t doubt that in that society there would be plenty of dark humour about murders. I just don’t think much if any of that humour would have the punchline “and so I killed him.”

@several others: Yes, FREE SPEECH!, but that’s not the question being asked, is it, except in your own reflexive instincts. No-one’s suggested banning these jokes – neither in the original post nor in the comments. Yet you feel the need to respond as if that suggestion was there, as if criticism is some slippery slope towards banning.

The question being asked is why are they so commonplace, why do so many people find them funny, and should people tell them just because free speech allows that they can? If you don’t find humour a suitable subject for analysis, or criticising attempts at humour offends you, I suggest that you don’t read these threads.

I fear my comment won’t get to the author, but it’s worth a shot. I deeply sympathise with her and I agree with all her points. Yet the other commenters seem more fitted to be reading the Daily Mail……

Blah Blah Yawn

If other peoples opinions are not worth mentioning, why did you take so long to do just that.

Way to go super liberal, ziggy says there’s a 98.776% chance you can quantum leap to your next post now.

Emma, I agree wholeheartedly with your article, and am frankly rather disgusted by many of the comments. Presumably, these are the same Daily Mail readers who also comment on any CiF article that touches even tangentially on issues related to feminism.

It is lazy to just say that all “black humour” is hilarious and a good way to cope with difficult issues. Yes, some “black humour” can be – but it’s also possible to use humour to belittle, attack, mock. Rape humour is pervasive, especially among male comedians and writers who think that rape is an instant punchline. Do people really think that every single one of these jokes is a legitimate response to trauma, just because some jokes are? You’ve got to be suspicious when Rush Limbaugh is so fond of rape jokes.

Seriously, read some feminist blogs (I second recommendation for Shakesville, also Tiger Beatdown) and also check out the Privilege-Denying Dude meme.

“If other peoples opinions are not worth mentioning, why did you take so long to do just that.”

Because somebody has to tell the author of this post that she is right, no matter how many commenters disagree with her. And she’s right because her position extends dignity to include others, while her opponents’ position actually reduce it.

For the record, there is no “Freedom of Speech” while big corporations control the media. I would have 0 problem seeing rape jokes being actually banned. Other topics are and I don’t hear people complaining about it.

84. the a&e charge nurse

[80] “No-one’s suggested banning these jokes” – of course, nobody would be so gauche as to nail their colours to flag by admitting they want a ban.

“If you don’t find humour a suitable subject for analysis, or criticising attempts at humour offends you, I suggest that you don’t read these threads” – well that’s rather difficult given that nobody has actually offered up a ‘joke’ that we can analyse.

The problem with genres or categories is that they can mean so many different things to so many different people.

@82 – Just checked it out, loved the “Daily dose of cute” and “Dolphins rule” posts.

86. Chaise Guevara

@ 80 CIM

“But let’s conservatively say 1 in 10 women and use similarly conservative figures for a 1 in 25 prevalence of male serial rapists.”

I think the 1 in 10 figure has been debunked. There was a link about it in the thread somewhere. It was claimed that the actual prevalance was in 1 in 25. Either way, your point below needs addressing, becuase 1 in 25 is still high.

“Now apply that to murder (and get back to the original topic, somewhat). Imagine we live in a society where 1 in 50 people is an undetected serial killer, and everyone has lost at least a few friends to murder, with many being survivors of a murder attempt themselves. I don’t doubt that in that society there would be plenty of dark humour about murders. I just don’t think much if any of that humour would have the punchline “and so I killed him”.

I suspect it would, or something like it, but can we really use “what I reckon would happen” as an analogy? You seem to be claiming that society is inconsistent in its treatment of real-world rape and murder in a hypothetical situation you just made up. Not really fair

“Yes, FREE SPEECH!, but that’s not the question being asked, is it, except in your own reflexive instincts. No-one’s suggested banning these jokes – neither in the original post nor in the comments. Yet you feel the need to respond as if that suggestion was there, as if criticism is some slippery slope towards banning. ”

You’re right generally, as people do often play that card as a substitute for defending their POV, but sometimes it’s hard to draw the line. For example, if someone posts that bad-taste jokes are “not acceptable”, as some have here (indeed, one person said that even trying to see both sides of the debate was wrong), do we take that to mean that they think they should be banned or not? As these people hardly represent the most reasonable and thoughful of posters, their contributions are often unclear, and can give the impression that they want to outlaw anything that offends them. To which the response is rightly: “fuck off”.

87. the a&e charge nurse

[80] oops correction – it seems some commentators ARE straining at the leash for a ban [see 83].

Now what what was it you were saying about “your own reflexive instincts”?

88. Chaise Guevara

@ 82

Not a whole lot of Daily Mail readers here. Perhaps you should try actually reading the comments properly before posting your ad homs? Kthxbye

89. Chaise Guevara

@83

“For the record, there is no “Freedom of Speech” while big corporations control the media. I would have 0 problem seeing rape jokes being actually banned. Other topics are and I don’t hear people complaining about it.”

Which topics are these? And why are you complaining about corporate control of the media when you’re anti-free-speech anyway?

Rape isn’t funny. Humour about rape…can be. As above I’d point to the paedophilia special of Brass Eye. Also, just because the word rape is mentioned, it doesn’t follow that the joke is mocking rape victims.

I’d make the point that it’s not the content of the joke that’s the problem, it’s the intent, for instance, Jimmy Carr makes jokes about the disabled, rape, racism, sexism, etc, but as he himself says, most of the time it’s a pun or wordplay, disguised as something edgy.

However, Russell Howard’s Good News, when it started, seemed to be a genuinely upbeat, happy, feelgood show, and so I think he should probably keep the rape and pedo gags for his live shows and Mock the Week, as half an hour of positive material in a week of TV is half an hour more than we used to get, and to me, he proved he was capable of making things feelgood and funny at once. Imo, he was a good counter to Frankie Boyle, balancing the darkness with something light and spurious.

Again, I’d prefer it if he kept the edgier stuff off of his ‘Good News’ show, but I seem to remember the last rape joke was something daft about a kitten raping a meerkat, and to me that’s a long way away from ‘why did the woman get raped? because I could.’ or some other witless piece of hate.

I’ll also say I like a lot of the darker stuff, like Chris Morris, Charlie Brooker, Boyle (in moderation), etc, but it should stay in the places where it’s fairly obvious it’s going to be offensive. I don’t support complaints about jokes on TV unless it’s Huw Edwards on the six o clock BBC news doing some stuff about the Queen’s vagina. After 9 on a comedy show, it’s fair game, and if they get too offensive, they’ll stop being popular, I think Frankie Boyle burned out his TV popularity by just being too strong all the time.

“For the record, there is no “Freedom of Speech” while big corporations control the media”

You’ve demonstrated exactly the issue here – which is that rape jokes are regarded as harmless fun, but joke about the queen’s pussy being haunted or about injured soldiers and you put your corporate career at risk.

But the solution isn’t to ban both, its to have free speech and point out the blatant hypocrisy. Someone earlier noted the brass eye paedophillia episode, which was funny precisely because of the predictable point missing its targets indulged in.

I think the solution is ultimately to not laugh or go to the shows. Its like racism in commedy became unpopular not through legislation but because audiences frankly found it boring, and wanted commedy a bit more intelligent than the average jokes told by 6 year olds.

The issue isn’t so much rape jokes, but wider attitudes to rape. And its those that we need to focus on.

a&e charge nurse/87: Suit yourself. Please feel free to mentally amend my post to read that the number of people defending rape jokes against a ban is both highly disproportionate to, and generally occurs well before, any suggestions that they be banned. The point still stands.

Chaise/86: I think an extrapolation from a particular survey to the 1 in 10 figure was criticised as flawed (definitions problem), but I’ve not seen any countering of the figure as a whole. Given the recent Havens survey, the slightly older NSPCC survey, and a basic extrapolation from BCS annual prevalence, 1 in 10 actually seems very low to me. (The recent Havens survey said that 9% of women 18-25 in London had had a partner ignore them saying “no”, which seems to be fairly unambiguously rape in any reasonable definition other than the strict legal one, and gives close to 1 in 10 on its own: maybe London is particularly bad, but I doubt it)

And sure, it’s an inexact thought experiment. But I do think the way rape is treated in “popular culture” is rather at odds with the seriousness the crime is given in legal specification, and that the treatment in practice by the justice system is often more in line with the seriousness implied by the casual jokes than the seriousness implied by the written law.

Planeshift/91: The issue isn’t so much rape jokes, but wider attitudes to rape. And its those that we need to focus on.

Certainly wider attitudes to rape mean that rape jokes are considered funny. But don’t you also think that the prevalence of the jokes itself reinforces the wider attitudes? I don’t think they’re only a symptom: the whole thing is unpleasantly self-reinforcing. So I think there’s a need to be more proactive than “wait until they go away on their own”.

94. the a&e charge nurse

[92] “the number of people defending rape jokes against a ban is both highly disproportionate” – no, I think you misunderstand.

I don’t think this about defending ‘rape jokes’ but about defending ALL jokes, while accepting the risks such a posture entails.

In other cultures I believe there are all sorts of no-no’s when it comes to what can and cannot be said on a public stage for fear of offending somebody or other.

The simple answer to why anybody tells ANY joke is a belief that it will get a laugh from the audience.
This process of thinking about something, especially in the context of humour can have positive as well as negative consequences.

As to why ‘WE’ as an audience laugh at certain stuff – well, half of it is because most of us are far from perfect, and laughing is usually much more therapeutic than crying?

95. Chaise Guevara

@ 92 CIM

My understanding was that the official figure was 1 in 25, but some interest group invented the 1 in 10 figure and then other people picked it up on the assumption it was true, while those who knew better tended to keep quiet for fear of being branded callous.

However, I also now think we’re talking about two different figures. I have an inkling the one I was talking about may have been the official reported figure, which would be inaccurate in both directions but, I assume, would err towards under-reporting overall (i.e. more victims keeping quiet than false allegations).

I don’t see how a man having sex with a partner who said she didn’t want to could be construed as anything other than rape, unless he was deaf. Surely that would fit the legal definition?

As for black comedy being at odds with the seriousness of the offence: sure, but it really depends whether you’re prepared to accept that people can laugh about something while also abhoring it. As I said earlier on the thread, the phenomenon of “gallows humour” shows that some people will laugh at their own impending death, which seems fairly conclusive to me.

And I’m still unconvinced that this lack of seriousness applies any more to rape than to comperably despicable crimes. People joke about murder all the time, and violent death is a common way of taking out bad guys in children’s shows and family films, and is often presented as funny (in the Incredibles, for example, I think the bad guy got sucked into a plane engine). I find that weird when I stop to think about it (Stephen King, incidentally, suggested that the audience don’t think about most movie deaths as being real death but more like losing, saying “death is what happens when the monster gets you”.) However, it’d be hard to argue that this has created a blase attitude about murder in the courts, while it arguably has with rape, so you’re got a good point there. I still think that “no means yes” and other such attitudes are the culprits here, though.

96. Chaise Guevara

*CIM

I’d also like to add, for the record, that it’s nice to talk to someone who objects to bad taste humour but doesn’t throw around ridiculous ad hominems or demand that everyone should think the same way as them. Cheers.

“So I think there’s a need to be more proactive than “wait until they go away on their own”.”

Yes totally. I’m not advoating a wait until it goes away approach, I’m advocating challenging commedians on a ‘why is that funny’ basis, and frankly demanding funnier jokes from comics rather than easy attention seeking behaviour.

Chaise/95: 1 in 25 for officially reported lifetime seems reasonably plausible as an extrapolation from the annual figures, so yes, that’s probably it.

Surely that would fit the legal definition?

Well, perhaps, or it might legally be “assault by penetration” or (serious) “sexual assault” instead, depending on what exactly they did after being told “no”. Still rape, but might not appear as such on every statistical measure.

I still think that “no means yes” and other such attitudes are the culprits here, though.

As I said to Planeshift, I’m not sure cause and effect is as clear as all that. I think the rape jokes – many of which are not black humour – play a part in normalising the “no means yes” attitudes that make the jokes acceptable in the first place.

99. the a&e charge nurse

[98] “play a part in normalising the “no means yes” attitudes that make the jokes acceptable in the first place” – so rapists are being driven on by the odd joke on a BBC comedy show?

Isn’t this the same kind of logic that associates gun related atrocities with ‘shoot em up’ computer games?

100. Chaise Guevara

“Well, perhaps, or it might legally be “assault by penetration” or (serious) “sexual assault” instead, depending on what exactly they did after being told “no”. Still rape, but might not appear as such on every statistical measure.”

I’d have thought the first of those called reasonably be called rape but not the second. If a substantial amount of these were sexual assault, that skews the data.

“As I said to Planeshift, I’m not sure cause and effect is as clear as all that. I think the rape jokes – many of which are not black humour – play a part in normalising the “no means yes” attitudes that make the jokes acceptable in the first place.”

I’m generally suspicious of this sort of argument, but I’m tempted to make a specical case and agree here, considering that I can imagine it feeding into the mind of someone who think that what they do “isn’t really rape”. Certainly if there’s a machismo or laddishness about the joke. Can’t see the same thing happening for murder, but I can for casual and domestic violence. In fact, I’d say the fact that being hit with a frying pan is a common comic fate for imperfect husbands in the clumsier sort of tv show is probably partially responsible for domestic violence against men getting sidelined. So sure, the same thing could apply here.

101. the a&e charge nurse

[100] “I’m generally suspicious of this sort of argument, but I’m tempted to make a specical case and agree here, considering that I can imagine it feeding into the mind of someone who think that what they do “isn’t really rape”. Certainly if there’s a machismo or laddishness about the joke. Can’t see the same thing happening for murder, but I can for casual and domestic violence. In fact, I’d say the fact that being hit with a frying pan is a common comic fate for imperfect husbands in the clumsier sort of tv show is probably partially responsible for domestic violence against men getting sidelined. So sure, the same thing could apply here” – any evidence?

102. Chaise Guevara

@ 99

“Isn’t this the same kind of logic that associates gun related atrocities with ‘shoot em up’ computer games?”

Possibly, and I’m normally with you on this one, but it’s worth bearing in mind that some people seem to rationalise rape and would thus be amenable to perceived encouragement. You can’t rationalise away a mass gun slaying as “not really murder.”

103. Chaise Guevara

“any evidence?”

Any evidence that I’m “tempted” to agree and think that something is “probably” responsible for something else and “could” apply elsewhere? I’m not exactly making solid statements here.

Even if I were, I’m not sure how you could get evidence for this sort of thing.

104. the a&e charge nurse

[103] fair enough – but if it is being suggested that more rapes are occurring because of rape jokes then I think this a fairly contentious claim and I just wondered if any researches had found a correlation between the two – I mean how many jokes would have to be heard before a man was sufficiently desensitised to think it was OK to rape a women?

I must admit I have never come across this line of thinking before.

105. Chaise Guevara

@ 104

Data would be interesting, if available. I find the argument reasonably persuasive, although I should point out that even if proved I wouldn’t use it to defend any censorship other than self-censorship (that goes for banning violent games too: you can pull Modern Warfare 2 and Fallout: New Vegas out of my cold dead hands).

In fact, I’d say the fact that being hit with a frying pan is a common comic fate for imperfect husbands in the clumsier sort of tv show is probably partially responsible for domestic violence against men getting sidelined.
Possibly, but it’s a poor comparison. Rolling pins and frying pans are treated with casual flippancy, rape jokes are all about shock value. One entrenches indifference, the other plays on and (I would argue) amplifies our disgust at the crime.

As I said to Planeshift, I’m not sure cause and effect is as clear as all that. I think the rape jokes – many of which are not black humour – play a part in normalising the “no means yes” attitudes that make the jokes acceptable in the first place.
I think it depends very much on which joke. Saying what “rape jokes” do is as useful as saying what books about war mean. The “it’s not rape if…” memes make the irrational excuses and unjust grey areas that have deprived a lot of women of justice sound absurd. They belittle rapists far more than their victims. Every joke needs to be looked at on its own terms.

Like Chaise Guevara said,
it’s worth bearing in mind that some people seem to rationalise rape and would thus be amenable to perceived encouragement. You can’t rationalise away a mass gun slaying as ‘not really murder.’
That kind of grey area’s probably the key to making sense of rape jokes. The comedians that make them probably all agree that rape is bad (I can’t imagine an actual rapist finding the crime shocking enough to laugh). But the joke will hinge on a certain definition, and it’s usually fairly easy to work out. Case in point, that Jimmy Carr joke Kate #38 mentioned – his idea of rape is when the woman says “stop”. It’s about refusal – though possibly because it’s a more ambiguous and darker punchline – and without accompanying jokes that hinge on consent, it reinforces the damaging misconception that rape is about the victim saying no rather than her not saying yes.

@55, Daniel Factor:

Yes he’s an ME sufferer but the problem he’s a man. In the BBC drama department portraying men in a postive light in any way is stricley off limits. They must always be shown as the scum of the earth, even those who have terrible diseases.

I watch a lot of British drama and that’s simply bollocks. Since this is about Casualty, that alone has plenty of sympathetic male characters, and Casualty and Holby City have plenty of unpleasant female ones as well (Ruth, Jaq Naylor for starters).

Chaise/100: The BCS has a category of “serious sexual assault” which includes rape, assault by penetration, and some sexual assaults. (For instance in a situation where A penetrates B, it’s rape if B does not consent but ‘only’ sexual assault if A does not consent, whereas I’d call both rape).

We have a tendency to laugh at things that scare us, because it reduces the fear. I doubt many people are not scared of the idea of rape, so many of us therefore laugh at it because otherwise it is something looming and evil.

Comedians take advantage of this in order to achieve the end for which they exist – to elict laughs. They select areas which induce fear and discomfort, and play on these, as it is often easier to get a laugh that way than it is to construct and deliver a funny joke (please note that a joke is a particular sort of phrase; much of the discussion here seems to confuse the comedian’s act with a string of jokes which is technically incorrect). To ask comedians to show sensitivity is therefore effectively neutering many comedians ability to perform. Now in the case of Messrs Howard or Boyle

Furthermore, by creating an atmosphere where we cannot laugh at our fears, we produce an atmosphere where our fears become more brooding, closer, darker. And this breeds fear and mistrust. Rape is horrible and traumatic, but if it becomes a whispered secret rather than something we can laugh at, it becomes more horrible and less approachable. Humour is partially a social reaction to the unthinkable and unacceptable remember – so to make jokes about something may not mean it is becoming accepted, but that we are prepared to face up to our fears.

As another rape survivor, I’m completely with Ms. Poole on this. Maybe a rape ‘joke’ might be amusing, in context, if it’s made by a rape survivor. Thing about us survivors though is that we don’t wear badges or a special hat.

The wider population can start making rape jokes, as far as I’m concerned, once it isn’t such a widespread problem and isn’t treated as virtually a joke by society and the legal system.

111. Chaise Guevara

@ 106

“Possibly, but it’s a poor comparison. Rolling pins and frying pans are treated with casual flippancy, rape jokes are all about shock value. One entrenches indifference, the other plays on and (I would argue) amplifies our disgust at the crime.”

I was going with that line of reasoning for a bit, but I think you’re presuming that everyone is going to get that it’s about shock value. Almost anything ironic can be taken at face value by someone (for example, I once heard a patriotic and moronic American extolling the virtues of “America! Fuck Yeah!”).

112. Chaise Guevara

@ 108

“instance in a situation where A penetrates B, it’s rape if B does not consent but ‘only’ sexual assault if A does not consent, whereas I’d call both rape”

Huh? How can A not consent?

Justine,

The wider population can start making rape jokes, as far as I’m concerned, once it isn’t such a widespread problem and isn’t treated as virtually a joke by society and the legal system.

With no wish to belittle your experiences, can I point out that by your logic only someone who has undergone something may make a comment on it. So only politicians may talk about elections, only those with illnesses can discuss what caused them etc…

See my comment above as to why I think society making jokes about things is needful – and note that the other option is a controlled and watchful society where the cry of ‘witch’ (or ‘gossip’ or ‘comedian’) is a constant danger.

Thing about us survivors though is that we don’t wear badges or a special hat.

Why the special term “survivors” then, its not the norm to die after being raped?

No sort of joke is verboten, there is just what you find funny and what you find offensive.

Jokes about murder, death, torture, genocide, the holocaust, etc. abound. Some are funny, some are crap.

A joke about cancer’s not funny if you’ve just lost somebody, a joke about Santa getting hit by a car might upset someone whose dog just got mowed down. Fat jokes make LOTS of people hugely self-conscious and uncomfortable all the time.

This is a quality of humour. No joke is for everyone. It’s not even hard to find someone who will be offended by a given joke. But humour itself is profoundly valuable to human society, as is freedom of speech.

Nobody has the right not to be offended, because if it were granted, soon, we wouldn’t be able to make a single joke about a single subject, for fear of reprisals.

Of course rape isn’t funny to you, but that’s no basis on which to restrict the speech of the populace, or what they are allowed to hear.

116. Roger Mexico

I watched what I presumed was the Russell Howard episode referred to in Emma Poole’s thoughtful post. At a guess it’s this one:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00w042c/Russell_Howards_Good_News_Series_3_Episode_5/

(Yeah, actually looking at the evidence – I’ll get banned)

And yes there are several references to rape and paedophilia but they are all pretty “mild” – one of the “rapes” is of a frog and the paedophilia references are in relation to that book that Amazon finally got round to banning. Howard’s basic shtick is of wide-eyed wonder at the world and he don’t have the aggressive, dominating condescension of people such as Jimmy Carr who seem to regard rape as being slightly over-enthusiastic (any criticism is, of course, met with cries of “irony”).

So actually it’s fairly gentle stuff; but that doesn’t help those dealing with trauma. We all know how even the most tangential things can bring up long buried memories; it must be both worse and more random when those memories are so devastating. Obvious triggers of grief can be prepared for, but not those which happen when defences are down.

This very situation makes talk of a ban, on jokes about anything, pointless. For someone with such memories, a picture of a fluffy kitten could be the next trigger. But there’s a more public reason why no topic should be off bounds for humour.

Comedy is often the way in which subjects emerge from private to public discourse; the way the unsayable can be said. Rape and other sexual assaults are in part so damaging to those that suffer them because these are topics that are traditionally surrounded by taboo and silence. Nowadays few would voice the complex of prejudices that are held against those who are victims of such crimes and who report them, but actions often say something different from words.

There’s an old libertarian argument that rape and other sexual crimes should be treated simply as the equivalent assaults. Like most libertarian arguments this is wonderfully lacking in empathy, sympathy and any idea of how people live in the real world, but there’s a grain of truth in it. By intensifying the “seriousness” of rape, by putting so much moral weight on it, we can unwittingly reinforce the ancient prejudices of a woman’s “virtue”; of any woman who has any form of unauthorised sex being somehow tainted and carrying some form of guilt.

Maybe humour can normalise not the crime, but the experience, and free it of the cultural baggage that imposes more guilt on the victim than the perpetrator. If nothing else it exposes those who seem to see consent as an optional extra.

Firstly, Thank you to everyone who has commented. It is somewhat disheartening to see the conversation gone on to banning such material as that’s NOT what I want at all. I just wanted to bring a perspective to a discussion that many women and a growing number of men who have experienced it would not be able to admit to. We tend not to divulge our past. It’s not guilt it’s privacy.
I’d like to know if any of you actually do find this funny? And more importantly why? So I can understand it.

118. Chaise Guevara

@ 117
I haven’t heard this specific joke, and I think listening to it now in this context would feel too clinical to be able to tell if it was funny. But I do like bad taste jokes in general, as long as they’re going to hurt someone in the room and don’t refer to a subject that I personally consider “going too far” (of course, I would not object to the joke being told on that basis, I just wouldn’t enjoy it).

It’s hard to sit down and work out why you find something funny, because humour itself is hard to explain. In this case, I know bad taste jokes tend to provoke a startled bark of laughter from me, so I suspect it’s shock factor. I also wonder if there’s a feeling of rebelliousness in laughing at them (the “ooh, aren’t we naughty” response is a bit pathetic, I know, but we can’t help how we’re made).

I’d like to know if any of you actually do find this funny?

Find what funny? Rape jokes? But that’s not just one thing. Of course, some – many maybe – are witless hate, and nothing more. But if you’re asking whether I have ever laughed at a fictional scenario that involves rape, then I will certainly put my hand up.

And more importantly why?

Well, it depends on the specifics of the joke. And I am hesitant to link to any, given your perfectly understandable feelings on the subject, but I have already pointed to a good discussion of some examples here.

Some people have mentioned the Brass Eye paedophilia special. I found that funny because it was a razor-sharp satire of the ridiculous and hypocritical attitude of the media to this emotive subject. And also because it had Dr Fox and Richard Blackwood in it making bigger fools of themselves than I have ever seen anyone else manage in my entire life. You’d have to have a heart of stone not to laugh at those bits, at least.

Other jokes might be funny because of the absurd juxtaposition of rape – one of the nastiest things in the world – with, well, whatever other highly formal, or lovely cutesie stuff is going on in the joke. (And of course this conceptual clash only works if rape is understood by all parties to be a terrible evil. So, as Alex argued in comment 7, a good joke does not trivialise rape, but the opposite.)

Well, I don’t expect you to agree, but you did ask.

120. the a&e charge nurse

[117] in the context of this thread I doubt if anybody will be brave enough to admit that they have found a rape joke funny (assuming this is indeed the case) – it would be a bit like laughing at a cancer joke when the person next to you has just been told that chemo has failed.

Now if somebody was part of a group, and slightly worse for wear after a few drinks at somewhere like the Edinburgh fringe, say – and a risque gag was served up as part of a wider menu then perhaps our response to particular jokes might be different?

I think the rape scene in Visitor Q is very funny.

122. Chaise Guevara

@ 120

If I’d already heard the joke and found it funny, I admit I would have hesitated to say so, and filled the admission with caveats. We’ve already been collectively labelled as Daily Mail readers for, um, defending freedom of speech and been accused of ignorance and bigotry by an apprentice fascist.

This is one of those topics that gets the aggressive obsessives out in force, of course. We’ve actually had it pretty mild in this thread.

i think one thing that is missed early in this debate is WHO is telling the jokes.

mel brooks took the piss out of nazis and made us laugh about the nazi regime. richard pryor made us laugh at the stupidity of racism. but it isn’t rape victims who are making jokes about rape, it isn’t rape victims who are laughing at rape victims. an exception may be billy connolly. so what we have is, in general, a privileged group (white, middle class men) laughing at an act of terror and of hate generally committed against women. so, whereas we see a jewish comedian using humour to attack anti semitism, or a black comedian attacking racism, with rape jokes we have men using the trauma of a rape victim to get a laugh.

in the chris morris case, his paedophilia episode of brass eye etc was poking fun at the media reaction to paedophilia which needed to be criticised. he wasn’t laughing at victims of paedophilia or trivialising it.

which is why it is very different. if rape jokes were told to illustrate the horror of the way rape is treated as a crime by media/cps/police then that perhaps would be a different kettle of fish. instead, we have mainly (not all) male comedians trivialising a crime that is already not taken seriously.

@123
That’s my thought as well, rape jokes seem to come from the same place as the taunts and attacks of a school-yard bully, whose actions and jibes are hilarious to them and their clique, not so much to anyone else. Although it appears the “clique” when it comes to rape jokes is significantly larger.

125. Chaise Guevara

@ sianushka

That’s a completely fair view (except for one small point: I think saying comedians are “using” a rape victim is pretty disingenuous), but I don’t think anyone’s arguing that you’re totally in your rights to hate these jokes. It’s a simple matter of opinion, and nobody can tell you what to think. The question is whether people who feel like you should be allow to censor everyone else, and there I balk.

126. the a&e charge nurse

[123] I read this item on why it is difficult being a feminist comedienne.
http://theeffie.org.uk/2010/05/19/the-frustrated-rage-of-the-feminist-comedian/

The post is interesting but it is soon acknowledged that (for the author) “feminism and far left politics are infinitely more important than LAFFFFFSSSSS”.

She goes on to say that she, and presumably other female comics, are held back because;
“The general problem of women not getting supported enough in the arts applies to women in comedy”.
And – “endemic sexism on the local comedy circuit”.

She believes, “women who are angry or anti-social are characterized as bitchy” and, “women are (regarded as) less funny because society’s idea of what is and isn’t funny is measured by a male norm”.

She concludes, “In order to do stand up you have to think to yourself ‘I am funny, and deserve to have a whole room full of people listen to my thoughts and nothing else’; this takes a certain amount of arrogance and sense of entitlement. Rich white men tend to have more of this sense of entitlement because they have more role models, and it is more expected of them, so there are more of them”.

All of this is probably true but what struck me is that her intense preoccupation with social injustice only served as a rationalisation for the fact that she does not truly believe in her skills as an entertainer and is thus unlikely to make it to a bigger audience (of course I may be wrong about this).

I agree that our most cherished comics are both representative, and symptomatic of wider social injustices – and few would argue that such driven individuals do not reflect the more unpleasant side of our nature, but, and it’s an important but, as long they do so with panache and wit the audience will learn to love them, warts and all.
Isn’t it true that our most iconic comics are usually very odd characters rather than well adjusted people who are able put the sensitivities of others before whatever it is that comes into their head?

127. Chaise Guevara

@ 126

I’ve noticed a general trend against female comedians on panel shows. Both the rest of the panel and the audience seem less inclined to laugh at them: they tell a good joke with broad appeal and I find myself laughing alone. The same’s true for anyone who’s new to the show and not a big name, at least to some extent, but I don’t think that goes all the way to explaining it.

Your feminist comedian says (albeit with caveats) that it’s down to male arrogance. There’s probably some truth to that. There’s also the issue that panel-show comedy is competitive – six people on Mock the Week all wanting to get their joke in at once – and conventional wisdom at least says that men tend to be better at that than women. I’ve also heard that women are less likely to laugh at jokes told by other women than by men, whereas men are fairly even-handed. If true, that would lose you half the audience, but I have to add that I’ve never seen it corroborated in my own life.

Finally, on the amateur circuit at least, I’ve noticed a lot of female comedians who seem to be too aware that they are a Female Comedian, to the point where it damages their material. I’ve watched people quite literally take the mic and go “Men, yeah? They wouldn’t like it if they got periods, right?”. It’s supposed to drum up support from the women in audience, but it’s tired and intrinsically unfunny and alienates half the room.

I don’t know whether it’s down to differences in talent or bigotry, or more likely a mix of the two, but I am sure that the competitiveness of the genre means it’s self-perpetuating.

128. Chaise Guevara

*I should add that there are also men who concentrate on jokes about women (“take my wife… please!”), but there seem to be less of them, and they’re just as crap and make you feel like you’ve been timewarped into the sixties.

129. the a&e charge nurse

[127] I agree with most of that – perhaps looking back Jimmy Carr will be seen as a latter day Bernard Manning, he (JC) certainly seems to be strongly disliked by the comedienne linked to earlier.

130. Chaise Guevara

@ 129

I like Carr (took awhile), but I can certainly see why he pisses people off. He goes pretty close to the bone.

I guess it’s a case of what your limit is, and what particular topics piss you off. I agree that the woman who went to Boyle’s show, presumably laughed at all the other off-colour jokes then took offence at a joke about Down’s syndrome was a complete hypocrite, but I’d personally feel pretty crappy laughing about people with Down’s. Wouldn’t kick off about it, though, unless someone met a Down’s sufferer or a member of their family and decided to take the piss.

I’d like to know if any of you actually do find this funny? And more importantly why? So I can understand it.
Honestly? Because I like deliberately offensive, deliberately unfunny, or just downright upsetting jokes. I find it funny if a joke sets me up to expect a laugh, and then instead hits me with something completely devoid of humour – be it sadness, gratuitous hatred, or just a godawful pun. Jokes like “9 out of 10 people enjoy gang rape” and “it’s not rape if she smiles through the tears” are darkly funny because, although they initially sound like a positive justifications, the unexpected twist that makes for a punchline is the tears, it’s the 1 of the 10 left over. I laugh because I was sold comedy and got tragedy. It’s not high satire, but it requires two assumptions to actually be funny: firstly, that rape is a tragic, and secondly, that rape is not comic.

Comedy is recognition of absurdity – so it’s topsy-turvy and self-contradictory. Very often, it involves saying something by saying the opposite. So if people laugh at rape jokes, the joke isn’t necessarily rape, it’s the idea of joking about rape. Obviously it’s crass to just say “hey, it’s ironic!”, but to discuss jokes without taking irony into account is ludicrous.

@114 Dave: “Why the special term “survivors” then, its not the norm to die after being raped?”

The term “survivor” is not special. It is an expression used by many survivors of rape or child abuse to describe how they get on in life.

133. Chaise Guevara

@ 132 Charlieman

“The term “survivor” is not special. It is an expression used by many survivors of rape or child abuse to describe how they get on in life.”

To add to that: I think it was originally used by people who have or had cancer and the like to avoid the stigma of “sufferer” or “victim”. Makes less obvious sense when it comes to rape, and it’s euphemistic at base, but I for one have no problems if people want to use it to describe themselves in a more positive light. And I’m certainly not going to be a smartarse by indulging in semantic quibbling with how someone talks about the fact that they were raped.

134. Chaise Guevara

@ 131

Crap, Alex, that’s pretty much what I’ve been trying to say but far more eloquant. Fair play to you. And you’re right, it doesn’t have to be offensive: it can be what I call a “non-joke”, something that builds you up expecting a brilliant punchline and then gives you nothing. It’s about the suckerpunch (and yes, that suckerpunch should not be delvered to people it would hurt).

@133 I could quibble, but you are OK on that one Chaise.

Humour is based on two factors – surprise and wit in combination. Jokes depend on a surprising punchline or a play on words that could not normally be predicted, hence surprise.

It’s very easy to replace wit and surprise with shock. Say something shocking and you can make people laugh. It’s easy, and it’s what the current generation of comdians tend to do. They seem to be relying on cruelty or vulgar lad culture as the basis of their humour rather than the use of amusing observation or wit.

Cruelty seems to have become the currency of the comedians that appear on many of the panel shows mentioned by previous commentators, and the tendency has been to saw something shocking or upsetting to get a laugh, usually about animals or the elderly.

As most psychologists, criminologists and social scientists will point out, the next step onwards when abusive patterns are left unchallenged is to move onto other vulnerable groups such as women, children, the disabled, etc. This is because violence (even when it’s verbal or cultural) is a continuum based on the abuse of the vulnerable.

It’s no surprise the movement is onto humour about rape. It’s likely the next stage will edging onto sex with young girls or something similar – but hey folks it’s all said in jest, so if you think it’s distasteful it’s because you’re being over-sensitive or lacking in humour.

It’s true that humour can be a sort of safety vavle about sensitve issues, but it’s not funny when there is a vulnerable group that is actually suffering or being abused and someone is getting laughs about it. It was the problem in the 1970’s with ‘paki jokes’ while members of the pakistani community where being subjected to paki-bashing and abuse.

(Most people would agree that humour can be funny on abuse issues when the abuser group is targeted. Paul Merton displayed this when he pointed out sharply on the Queen wringing the next of a shot pheasant as an act of mercy: “It would have been a lot more merciful if she hadn’t shot the f***ing thing in the first place!”)

We went through a golden age with comedy in Britain with the script writers Croft and Perry, the Python team, Peter Cook, etc. All strayed into areas where taste could be questioned but none needed shock, cruelty or abuse as the currency used to obtain laughs.

I have a serious question, is deeming certain jokes unacceptable really an assault on free speech?
Given than Bernard Manning’s comedy stylings were also deemed unacceptable, and it never once prevented him from getting up on a stage and telling his “jokes”, although it did make tv companies not want to hire him. Last I heard free speech does not necessarily come with a tv camera and studio audience.

138. the a&e charge nurse

[136] “We went through a golden age with comedy in Britain with the script writers Croft and Perry, the Python team, Peter Cook, etc” – I’m not sure the feminists would agree – from their perspective, the essential problem with comedy is the prevalence of MEN, especially white, middle class men.

I can understand why some crave ‘equal-opps’ comedy, or humour that does not over-rely on cruelty – but this is not something that has ever happened in my lifetime. and certainly not during the so called golden age.

In fact the only joke about rape that comes to mind was told by Peter Cooke during his Derek & Clive phase.
From memory it goes something like this;
I (Clive) was pelting along on my bike when a women ran out in front of me.
I knocked her to senseless to the floor – I got off my bike, then naturally I raped her.

Rape jokes are certainly not new, and I suspect they may not even be more frequent – what I think is changing is the way people are objecting to them?

139. Chaise Guevara

@ 137

“I have a serious question, is deeming certain jokes unacceptable really an assault on free speech?”

Not at all. Demanding that they be banned under law is. Pressuring broadcasters to fire people who make those jokes is…. arguable.

“Given than Bernard Manning’s comedy stylings were also deemed unacceptable, and it never once prevented him from getting up on a stage and telling his “jokes”, although it did make tv companies not want to hire him. Last I heard free speech does not necessarily come with a tv camera and studio audience.”

Extend that to political views, though: “Look, you’ve got every right to criticise the government! You just can’t do it on TV, in a newspaper, on the radio…”

I realise that bad-taste jokes and political opposition are not in the same ball park (insert your own joke here), but I think we should oppose any attempt to tell society what we may or may not discuss, or the manner in which we can discuss it, both on principle and to avoid setting dangerous precedents.

@139 Who says it doesn’t happen already? How often have you heard full-on pro communist views on mainstream telly? Compared with say, the BNP.

141. Chaise Guevara

@ 140

Actually no, now you come to mention it, but insofar as I’d thought about it I’d assumed that a) there aren’t that many serious communists around these days and b) news outlets normally ignore non-Islamic extremists and the BNP just managed to generate enough publicity to be heard. Then again, that’s probably what I’d think if they were being censored too. But the internet could be instructive: on sites such as this I encounter far more BNP types than commie types.

– Given than Bernard Manning’s comedy stylings were also deemed unacceptable, and it never once prevented him from getting up on a stage and telling his “jokes”, although it did make tv companies not want to hire him. Last I heard free speech does not necessarily come with a tv camera and studio audience.

– Extend that to political views, though: “Look, you’ve got every right to criticise the government! You just can’t do it on TV, in a newspaper, on the radio…”

Utterly different. There’s a world of difference between “You can’t criticise the government on TV, in a newspaper or on the radio” and “You can say whatever you want, but you have to provide your own camera, printing press or transmitter”. There’s not a democracy in the world provides free home broadcasting and publishing equipment to every citizen (probably because it wouldn’t work), and there are precious few broadcasters and publishers that make a point of airing jokes that offend them and opinions they disagree with.

Emma Poole probably pays her license fee, and though she’s got no right to petition the government to lock Russell Howard up, she has every right to ask that a public body not spend money on jokes that make her feel like shit all evening. She’s also perfectly within her rights to write to any private broadcaster that offend her, and deliberately attack their profits by threatening to withdraw her custom.

I don’t know what’s wrong with some of you people. You see someone wondering why someone else said something – not even that he shouldn’t have said it – and think that a largely academic discussion of sexual violence, black humour and consideration to victims of crime is the lesbian jackboots of the Femi-Stasi at your door. Calm down. The little legislative power the blogsophere has won’t override the Human Rights Act.

143. Andrew Webster

I have just watched Russell Howard’s show on BBC3. Unfunny jokes about rape, disability, age disguised by a self deprecating attitude and the claim to be a “beta male”. I prefer Jim Davidson, who at least doesn’t pretend to be right on while purveying unfunny voyeuristic and exploitative material.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    Since when did rape become funny? http://bit.ly/fFVlSU

  2. cowan88

    RT @libcon: Since when did rape become funny? http://bit.ly/fFVlSU

  3. Dr Davie Adam

    RT @libcon: Since when did rape become funny? http://bit.ly/fFVlSU

  4. Elly M

    RT @libcon: Since when did rape become funny? http://bit.ly/fFVlSU

  5. Lanie Ingram

    RT @libcon: Since when did rape become funny? http://bit.ly/fFVlSU

  6. Aegir Hallmundur

    I've been wondering this myself. RT @libcon Since when did rape become funny? http://bit.ly/fFVlSU

  7. Patrick Hadfield

    RT @libcon: Since when did rape become funny? http://bit.ly/fFVlSU

  8. Adam Clare

    Poignant piece: RT @aegirthor: I've been wondering this myself. RT @libcon Since when did rape become funny? http://bit.ly/fFVlSU

  9. Thomas O Smith

    RT @libcon: Since when did rape become funny? http://bit.ly/fFVlSU <when is pisses off feminista #labour twats #libertarian #statism

  10. Jamie Potter

    Since when did rape become funny? http://liberalconspiracy.org/2010/11/28/since-when-did-rape-become-funny/

  11. FlyingRodent

    It's hard enough to defend left politics against accusations of thought-police commisardom without this stuff… http://tinyurl.com/2upau7r

  12. FlyingRodent

    It's hard enough to defend left politics against accusations of thought-police commisardom without this stuff… http://tinyurl.com/2upau7r

  13. Natacha Kennedy

    RT @libcon: Since when did rape become funny? http://bit.ly/fFVlSU

  14. Natacha Kennedy

    RT @libcon: Since when did rape become funny? http://bit.ly/fFVlSU

  15. Rob Sculthorpe

    RT @libcon: Since when did rape become funny? http://bit.ly/fFVlSU

  16. conspiracy theo

    Since when did rape become funny? | Liberal Conspiracy http://bit.ly/exrPDg

  17. Greg Wallis

    RT @v1talspark: Poignant piece: RT @aegirthor RT @libcon Since when did rape become funny? http://bit.ly/fFVlSU

  18. Kate B

    Since when did rape become funny: http://bit.ly/fq8fUZ Interesting post.

  19. Oxford Kevin

    RT @hangbitch: Since when did rape become funny: http://bit.ly/fq8fUZ Interesting post.

  20. Kate

    RT @hangbitch: Since when did rape become funny: http://bit.ly/fq8fUZ Interesting post.

  21. John O'Dwyer

    RT @hangbitch Since when did rape become funny: http://bit.ly/fq8fUZ Interesting post.

  22. Cindy Penney

    When did rape become funny? http://t.co/wOxefkq I've unfollowed for rape jokes. Don't agree with bans, just don't think it's a funny subject

  23. earwicga

    RT @libcon: Since when did rape become funny? http://bit.ly/fFVlSU

  24. Coventry Rape Crisis

    RT @earwicga: RT @libcon: Since when did rape become funny? http://bit.ly/fFVlSU

  25. FiG

    RT @earwicga: RT @libcon: Since when did rape become funny? http://bit.ly/fFVlSU

  26. sunny hundal

    Since when did rape become funny? http://bit.ly/fFVlSU asks @spiller32 on @libcon

  27. Jon Sharman

    RT @sunny_hundal: Since when did rape become funny? http://bit.ly/fFVlSU asks @spiller32 on @libcon

  28. Women's eNews

    RT @sunny_hundal: Since when did rape become funny? http://bit.ly/fFVlSU asks @spiller32 on @libcon

  29. Charlotte Cooper

    RT @sunny_hundal: Since when did rape become funny? http://bit.ly/fFVlSU asks @spiller32 on @libcon

  30. eChurch Blog

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  31. Yakoub Islam

    RT @sunny_hundal: Since when did rape become funny? http://bit.ly/fFVlSU asks @spiller32 on @libcon

  32. Dancing Piglet

    Good question RT @sunny_hundal Since when did rape become funny? http://bit.ly/fFVlSU asks @spiller32 on @libcon

  33. Jennifer Thorpe

    RT @sunny_hundal: Since when did rape become funny? http://bit.ly/fFVlSU asks @spiller32 on @libcon

  34. Yirssi

    RT @sunny_hundal: Since when did rape become funny? http://bit.ly/fFVlSU asks @spiller32 on @libcon

  35. Tim Fenton

    RT @sunny_hundal: Since when did rape become funny? http://bit.ly/fFVlSU asks @spiller32 on @libcon

  36. Hannah M

    RT @sunny_hundal: Since when did rape become funny? http://bit.ly/fFVlSU asks @spiller32 on @libcon

  37. Helen O'Rahilly

    @RT @sunny_hundal: Since when did rape become funny? http://bit.ly/fFVlSU asks @spiller32 on @libcon

  38. Bethany Rutter

    RT @sunny_hundal: Since when did rape become funny? http://bit.ly/fFVlSU asks @spiller32 on @libcon

  39. Elizabeth Ullrich

    Excellent critique by @Spiller32 detailing rape culture in comedy RT @Womens_eNews: "Since when did rape become funny?" http://bit.ly/fFVlSU

  40. Liz Hyder

    RT @sunny_hundal: Since when did rape become funny? http://bit.ly/fFVlSU asks @spiller32 on @libcon

  41. Kate Williams

    Interesting post RT @sunny_hundal Since when did rape become funny? http://bit.ly/fFVlSU asks @spiller32 on @libcon

  42. lil

    RT @sunny_hundal: Since when did rape become funny? http://bit.ly/fFVlSU asks @spiller32 on @libcon

  43. Angelique Mulholland

    RT @sunny_hundal: Since when did rape become funny? http://bit.ly/fFVlSU asks @spiller32 on @libcon

  44. Miriam Said

    RT @sunny_hundal: Since when did rape become funny? http://bit.ly/fFVlSU asks @spiller32 on @libcon

  45. Katie

    RT @sunny_hundal: Since when did rape become funny? http://bit.ly/fFVlSU asks @spiller32 on @libcon

  46. CathElliott

    RT @libcon: Since when did rape become funny? http://bit.ly/fFVlSU

  47. Matthew Smith

    Since when was rape funny? http://is.gd/hVcLV (re rape & paedophilia jokes on "Russell Howard's Good News" @ Liberal Conspiracy)

  48. Anita Nayyar

    RT @indigojo_uk: Since when was rape funny? http://is.gd/hVcLV (re rape & paedophilia jokes on "Russell Howard's Good News" @ Liberal Co …

  49. Catherine Dunn

    RT @libcon: Since when did rape become funny? http://bit.ly/fFVlSU

  50. Kat R R

    via Liberal Conspiracy: "Since when did rape become funny?" http://snurl.com/1jiizm (about how really it's not funny at all)

  51. Claire Smith

    RT @sunny_hundal: Since when did rape become funny? http://bit.ly/fFVlSU asks @spiller32 on @libcon

  52. MuneerRssBot

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  53. Fi Drums

    RT @sunny_hundal: Since when did rape become funny? http://bit.ly/fFVlSU asks @spiller32 on @libcon

  54. Emma Poole

    Since when did rape become funny? http://bit.ly/fFVlSU my blogpost on @libcon

  55. Mark Koszler

    RT @Spiller32: Since when did rape become funny? http://bit.ly/fFVlSU my blogpost on @libcon

  56. billshankly

    RT @Spiller32: Since when did rape become funny? http://bit.ly/fFVlSU my blogpost on @libcon

  57. Fanny DiWanko

    RT @sunny_hundal: Since when did rape become funny? http://bit.ly/fFVlSU asks @spiller32 on @libcon

  58. Elly

    http://bit.ly/fFVlSU I am very annoyed with the NHS and how it presents rape 'statistics' here based on very confusing survey data

  59. emma beckett

    RT @CathElliott: RT @libcon: Since when did rape become funny? http://bit.ly/fFVlSU

  60. Kirsty Yarr

    RT @sunny_hundal: Since when did rape become funny? http://bit.ly/fFVlSU asks @spiller32 on @libcon

  61. The Comedy of the Spectacle (and its alternative) | Guy Debord's Cat

    […] to shock. Recently there have been a series of article about the number of rape jokes being told. Emma Poole, writing for the blog site, Liberal Conspiracy writes, I watched a recorded episode of ‘Russell Howard’s Good News’ this week – I […]

  62. Peta Chow

    RT @Spiller32: Since when did rape become funny? http://bit.ly/fFVlSU my blogpost on @libcon

  63. Andy Godfrey

    RT @libcon: Since when did rape become funny? http://bit.ly/fFVlSU Urgh horrible comments but great article

  64. Emma Poole

    @PennyRed I meant to say please and here's the link http://liberalconspiracy.org/2010/11/28/since-when-did-rape-become-funny/#comments





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