Dear Male Comic,
Are you okay with me being here, at your show? I paid full-price for my ticket. I’ll be sitting near the back, because the idea of “audience involvement” in any capacity makes me feel physically ill. I’m not going to get drunk and make a scene. I’ll maybe even wait patiently in line and buy your album after the show.
I am, however, a woman. I just thought you deserved a heads-up.
More likely than not, you’re happy to have me here. But you can see why I wanted to double-check, right?
The other day one of your peers, Daniel Tosh, made a rape joke that was not a funny rape joke, which I agree can, theoretically and carefully, be done. Daniel Tosh made a joke about rape that was neither funny nor sharp. According to the audience member in question, he made a joke that straight-up trivialized, mocked, and even threatened rape. The (admittedly unsure) club owner’s version is not much better. It was a joke that suggested that the brutal gang rape of a particular woman would be funny. That’s all. There were no other shades of meaning.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, many of your OTHER peers made it their business to come immediately — and sometimes viciously — to Tosh’s defense. Some of these reactions were less than shocking. But other defenses hurt a little more. Patton Oswalt and Louis C.K. — wildly successful comics generally known for progressive politics, an (admittedly imperfect) history of supporting tolerance and equality, and a propensity for smart social commentary — tweeted in support of Tosh, too. Oswalt, for one, later retweeted Lindy West’s aforementioned great article on this very topic, but it was only after retweeting a handful of other comments that simultaneously defended Tosh while deriding his so-called “heckler.” All of these tweets are still on his timeline, so it’s bit of a mixed message.
One of those retweets is from comedian Mike Drucker, who tweeted: “If you don't like a comedian, leave. Don't fuel a fire you don't like.” I’ve seen this sentiment expressed a lot, in the past couple of days — from comedians and non-comedians alike. Some of your peers seem, above all else, outraged at the idea that anyone could side with a heckler.
I know you don’t like being heckled. You’re right. It’s really rude. You’re also correct when you remind me that you have the right to say what you want. To be paid to say what you want while standing on a stage with a microphone (above than and louder than everyone else in the room), though: that is a privilege. So what I want to know is this: what are you going to use that privilege to say?
Are you going to use it to make me feel like I’m not a wanted or valued member of your audience, or are you going to make me feel like I am? (A hint: it’s not hard to accomplish the latter. Mostly just don’t say it would be funny if I were to be gang raped in your audience.)
Comments like Drucker’s sound like this: “If she really wanted it to stop, she would have made it stop.” They sound eerie. They sound like some of your peers suggesting that the onus of not having threatening, painful rape “jokes” hurled at your female audience members lies not with you, the man with the microphone and the stage, but with those very female audience members.
What do you want to use that stage to stand up against? I’m paying attention to that.
Here’s what you’re asking for when you’re asking people to blame the heckler, to accept a joke like Tosh’s: you’re asking me to laugh at other people laughing at rape. Is that really what you stand for? I had that chance once. I was in my college cafeteria. I was watching the next table over. The two young men who, the night before, had raped my friend – MY friend, my loving, strong, kind, whole human friend – were relaying their victory story to their friends, who were laughing uproariously.
It wasn’t all that funny.
Anyway, let me know if we’re on the same page. I came here to laugh. I came here to be a part of your audience. If I don’t belong, just let me know now. I’m happy to leave if you really want. Don’t worry; I won’t even come back.