An Open Letter to Daniel Tosh and People Who Still Think Rape Jokes Are Funny


Dear Daniel Tosh,

According to this blogger, you've got some serious explaining to do that goes beyond a "sincere apology" and dead baby reference (screenshot below) that you seemed to deem an adequate response to your recent actions.

With nothing else to work with except your past problematic sketches (nicely compiled by Amy Odell from BuzzFeed here) and your assertions that the blogger's allegations are out of context and misquoted, I'm going to forge ahead with the assumption that the blogger was being truthful in her telling of the story. 

I've written about why rape jokes aren't funny before and received feedback that for some survivors of rape and sexual violence, joking about rape can be a path towards healing from that violence. Healing from sexual violence is a very personal path and I do understand that humor can be effective. But I generally think that humor does not take the form of a stranger joking about your own gang-rape.

According to the blogger, when she stood up and questioned your rape joke schtick, you responded by saying, “Wouldn’t it be funny if that girl got raped by like, 5 guys right now? Like right now? What if a bunch of guys just raped her…”

No Tosh, that would not be funny. Because one in six women in the U.S. is a victim of sexual violence. And that's not funny. I'm going to address two arguments now that are so often used in favor of telling rape jokes: 1) Don't take away my free speech, I have a right to say whatever I want and if you don't like it, you can leave. 2) Terrible things happen in the world, we should be able to joke about them because it can raise awareness/alleviate some of the sadness/lighten the mood/etc.

1. The "Free Speech" Argument

Every time I seem to get in a discussion of why rape jokes aren't okay, the first cry I hear is that I'm limiting the right to free speech. This is one of the most difficult arguments to disentangle, and there have been numerous people who have tried to explain this (ex.  here and here).

First, I truly cannot limit your speech unless I tape your mouth, which I promise I won't. If you choose to keep thinking rape is funny, all I really can do is what the blogger did and walk out after disagreeing. But, in arguing for a more compassionate world and telling you that your rape jokes have a hand in supporting rape culture, potentially harm the individuals who hear them, and contribute to the silencing of those who experience sexual violence, I am telling you not to say something.

Instead of your seeing this as an affront to your right to say whatever you'd like to say, I'm hoping you'll have some compassion and think of some more creative (and actually funny) jokes.

When people make the argument in support of rape jokes about free speech, the crux of the problem gets lost. And the problem is the potential for harm  – harm to the individual and harm to society in trivializing a very real, violent crime that is already heavily silenced. 

2. The "Awareness-Raising" Argument

This argument in support of rape jokes is interesting because I can see how in very specific circumstances, it could be potentially true that humor can raise awareness of the problem of sexual violence in our society. The Good Men Project has written on this aspect of rape jokes before, and if planned very well, a joke can  show the audience and society how utterly ridiculous and terrible sexual violence is. For example, this poster of sexual assault prevention tips is funny because it turns all of our "how to not be assaulted" tips shoved towards (generally) women by society on their head and shows how silly it is to tell someone how to not get raped instead of simply telling someone not to rape in the first place. 

But if you run with this argument in support of rape jokes, you should know you're tip-toeing on a very thin line of humor that's pretty difficult to achieve in your everyday stand-up comedy sketch. And if you're joking about an individual in your audience getting gang-raped Tosh, I'm not sure you're capable of tip-toeing this line well, and I would advise you to steer clear all together. 

Tosh, you are currently at an amazing and terrible moment in your career. It's terrible for (hopefully by now) obvious reasons. It could be amazing because at this moment, you have the opportunity to apologize (in a version that's longer than 140 characters) and also to make an example of your situation and stop being offensive in your humor. You can show the world and comedians that there are more complex, interesting, and (ultimately) better ways to make someone laugh than by being offensive. And you can do it while people are watching and waiting to hear from you in the fallout of this event.