Should I Tell A Rape Joke? A Flow Chart

Patton Oswalt’s comments on rape jokes convinced me to make this chart to help answer the question, “Should I tell my rape joke?” The Rape Joke Debate has been raging on the news, on TV and even among comedians.

The debate between feminists and comedians is ongoing, but luckily some of us are both feminists and comedians so I made this chart in hopes that it will help some of us consider who else might be listening to our jokes. It doesn’t cover all the bases but I hope it’s a good start.

Why rape jokes?


The difference between rape and cancer and genocide and other taboo joke topics is that cancer is not a violent act forced upon the person with it. No one (realistically) blames genocide victims for that tragedy. But mere days ago, the Wall Street Journal published an editorial by one of its columnists that calls sexual assault prevention “criminalizing male sexuality.” We live in a culture that blames the raped and not the rapist to such an extent that most rapes are not even reported and many victims blame themselves.

I’ve done so many shows to so many people that I know I’ve performed for rape survivors and rapists alike. It’s a statistical probability. To think that I’ve caused a survivor to relive that crime to any extent, and to think that there’s a possibility I may have made a rapist feel a little less guilty — that really bothers me.

That being said, I also believe that nothing is off limits if done in the correct way and that’s why I made this chart. The weight of the subject of the joke means you should spend an equal amount of time considering the impact. The heavier something is, the more it hurts when it lands on you, after all. I’m not saying certain jokes should be banned, but we need to quit acting like we’re the victim when someone in the audience (in all its forms) doesn’t like what we say.

I do comedy to make people think but I also do comedy so they don’t have to think. Life can be pretty freaking rough, especially if you have to be serious all the time. But the main reason I do comedy is because I want to make people laugh. It makes them feel good and it makes me feel even better. Why would I want to risk that with a joke about something of which I know nothing?

We’re just telling jokes here, after all.

And again, do all the jokes you want. All I ask is that as comedians, we all consider why we’re telling them and who we’re telling them to.

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