Daniel Tosh Incident Aftermath: Why Do Rape Jokes Offend?

Daniel Tosh Picture

Picture of Daniel Tosh Telling a Rape Joke. Taken from Eonline.

This may seem like common sense, but when someone says “rape jokes aren’t funny–they just aren’t!”  Why do they feel that way?

If you read my last post, you remember I wrote about why comedians even use rape jokes in the first place.  In this post I’m going to look at three of the reasons I mentioned, and show you the flip side of them.  They are:

  1. Superiority or Insecurity
  2. Coping with Tragedy
  3. Elements of Truth

1) Feelings of Superiority or Insecurity:  When writing comedy, you’re not supposed to put down those “below” you (so to speak).  While the target of jokes may  not actually be inferior to the person telling them, the general rule of thumb is not to make jokes about them unless you can relate.  For example, don’t tell jokes about the handicapped unless you are disabled yourself.  

So when comics make rape jokes, people can get offended if they don’t think it’s an issue for the comedian, or if the comic hasn’t had to deal with it.

2) Coping with Tragedy:  I mentioned that comedians as well as many people in the audience can’t relate to what it’s like to be raped.  They use humor to make the topic seem less terrible.  For people who have suffered from rape, or know someone who has, it’s different because they already know what it’s like.  Even though people do use humor to cope with personal tragedy, it’s best the jokes come from them–when they are ready.

Whenever you make a joke about something someone is suffering from, it will upset them.  It will upset them a lot.  It will translate as you picking on them, and no one likes to be made fun of.

3) Elements of Truth:  People don’t always agree with each other over what’s true and what’s not.  For example, there is a huge disagreement over whether or not rape is exclusively a woman’s issue.  If you believe one thing and people in the audience believe the other, well that’s asking for trouble.

Sometimes comedians are just ignorant.  For example, there was a comic (years ago) that had this bit about rape.  His premise was that he was the “gentle rapist.”  He thought the problem with rapists is that they are rough and mean, when the issue, in fact, revolves around them not respecting the word “no.”


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