Daniel Tosh: Happy Thoughts

Put in context, that smile is scary. (Wikipedia)

I was at this open-mic once where a guy asked, “Ladies, would you let a vampire eat you out on your period?”

Funny? Not at all. Not to me.

Distasteful? Perhaps.

Permissible? Of course.

But when Daniel Tosh was joking about another surely distasteful topic—rape, he was interrupted by a heckler who yelled, “Rape jokes are never funny.” You know, because there exists a compendium of rape jokes, and she’s read them all.

He said, “Wouldn’t it be funny if that girl got raped by, like, five guys right now? Like right now?”

Here’s the girl’s experience in her own words.

So Tosh then starts making some very generalizing, declarative statements about rape jokes always being funny, how can a rape joke not be funny, rape is hilarious, etc. I don’t know why he was so repetitive about it but I felt provoked because I, for one, DON’T find them funny and never have. So I didn’t appreciate Daniel Tosh (or anyone!) telling me I should find them funny. So I yelled out, “Actually, rape jokes are never funny!”

The blogosphere and Twitter exploded calling Tosh everything from ‘not-funny’ to ‘threatening rape.’ As one would expect, he tweeted an apology.

It would have been fine if he had just generally joked about rape. What he said in response to the heckler was bad. It was almost a threat—however empty; in a way he was reminding her of her vulnerability. He should not have said it.

Tosh’s statement has been justified by some on the basis of free speech. That’s a ridiculous argument. No one doubts the legality of what Tosh said. We are only suggesting that as a civilized person, he shouldn’t have celebrated the prospect of a gang-rape.

But that doesn’t mean he was prescribing rape as a means of control. It was just a reaction. Consider his situation. You’re on stage, being judged every few seconds. Your style of humor is outrageous, and that is prone to backfiring. You’re setting up your joke, saying rape can be hilarious, the tension builds, you’re getting to your punchline, and a sanctimonious idiot from the crowd heckles you—and that’s what this woman was, make no mistake. She didn’t deserve what Tosh said, but let’s not, in our rush to castigate him, excuse her for what she did. It’s a comedy club. Not the Iowa caucus. If you don’t like what you hear, you walk out. You don’t weigh in. Heckling a comedian is a dick move, and you force him to smack you because it’s a top-down situation. If a comedian loses control of the room, he can’t be funny. You can’t expect someone to go easy on you when you’re screwing with his job.

“It might not have been the reaction he was expecting, but he had to expect a reaction” — Vincent Vega, Pulp Fiction.

A comedian’s insulting response is based on many things. If he can’t see you—which he can’t if you’re beyond the first couple of rows because of the stage lights (don’t ask me how I know)—he can’t joke about your height, weight, clothes, or anything else that’s politically correct. He has a split second to come up with something to rub your nose in the ground, and sadly, what came to Daniel Tosh at that moment was an unfortunate set of words. Should he apologize? Yes. Is he the villain of the piece? Come on!

English: Daniel Tosh at Boston University

Look at that innocent face (Wikipedia)

Let’s consider something else here. George Carlin once responded to a heckler with, “Will somebody please put a dick in that man’s mouth? Cause that’s what he wants.” People just laughed. Could he have said that to a female heckler and gotten away with it? Similarly, if Tosh had said about a male heckler, “What if that guy got raped by five guys right now? Like right now?” Would it have been this inflammatory? No. Nor are all those castration jokes I’ve heard getting big laughs in comedy clubs. But it’s wrong to point that out. It would dilute the indignation of those treating this story as a referendum on rape jokes.

So while this woman has our sympathy, let’s not make her out to be some martyr. She hasn’t dedicated herself to the cause of women. She’s just someone who interrupted a comedian because she didn’t like his act. And now that Tosh has apologized, perhaps we should forgive him.

25 thoughts on “Pish-Tosh

  1. A concise rant! Sadly, some topics aren’t ready to be let in to the realm of comedy, and this woman just jumped at one. But, would any another heckler have received this much hoopla?

    • Good question. It’s hard to understand why some issues acquire a tipping point and get viral. On another day, this whole thing would have been buried under pictures of kittens.

  2. I’m a big Tosh fan, so I was a bit perplexed by the hype. I’ve heard him say much more offensive things on his prime time cable show…at least things that are offensive to people who are easily, erm, offended. I’m not one of those people and, when it comes to comedy, people need to just back off. If you don’t find it humorous and you happen to be in the crowd, then don’t applaud or just boo a little. Heckling is the signature of an attention-seeker. Someone desperate to focus the comedian’s attention on themselves – at whatever cost. Sure, in the press or in general conversation, rape is NOT funny. However, if you attend a Tosh show and expect family-style humor, you’re an idiot and you probably deserve to be insulted. Sure, it’s nice that Tosh apologized, but as a blogger, if I’d been confronted similarly, I probably would have told the person to feck off. It’s a humor blog (or a comedy performance). Lighten up!

    Great post, Bharat! And thanks for being brave enough to take it on. You’re up there with Tosh, in my book!

    • This woman made a pre-emptive strike against the “If you don’t like Tosh, don’t go see his show” argument by saying that she had gone to watch Dane Cook, and Tosh came on after him—you know, as if Dane Cook is the Dalai Lama.
      I think this heckler just wanted attention.

      • I think I may just have to change my opinion about Dane Cook. As per US Magazine:

        Fellow comedian Dane Cook slammed the attendee via Twitter, without referencing Tosh’s incident directly. “If you journey through this life easily offended by other people’s words I think it’s best for everyone if you just kill yourself,” Cook tweeted.

      • Yeah. Dane Cook has responded well. I remember at a comedy club once, the emcee said, “People seated close to the stage: think of this as Sea World. You’re gonna get splashed a little.”

        And to be honest, I don’t mind getting ribbed a little if it adds to the fun. In fact, I ask to be seated up in front. If everyone in the audience gave up a little of their ego or dulled their sensitivies, we can all have a fun night—which is what we are there for.

      • I’m right there with you. I love sitting up front. And I love it when a comedian chats me up (including Joan Rivers…so true!), but I never heckle them. That’s just begging for trouble, plus it’s disrespectful. Being a comedian is crazy hard and those men and women are busting their asses up there. It’s their job. I doubt most people would like it if someone showed up at their place of business and criticized how they did their job.

  3. Tosh’s style is well known (or at least known to those in attendance I presume). So it is strange that the lady chose to stick around and then got so mightily offended.

    Now I have always felt jokes on A rape are of course offensive. But jokes ABOUT rape…depends on the context, the comedian and the point that the person wished to highlight.

    So I have to agree with Dane Cook – can you go through life this easily offended? If you do and you know you do then it’s best you stay at home an not attend a comedy routine.

    • Fair enough. The offensiveness of jokes is subjective. Whether a kind of joke is funny can only be known after it’s told. And you’re right, if certain jokes universally offend you, it’s best to avoid comedy clubs.

  4. My feelings exactly. I think once you cross a line and start to heckle a stand up in the middle of his/her show, the tables will turn and the comedian almost has to heckle back to maintain their credibility. Granted, what he said was harsh, and like you said, he apologized. If you’re easily offended, you probably shouldn’t be going to comedy clubs in this day and age.

    I seem to remember Carlin did a whole skit years ago on how you can make anything funny and he did whole series of rape jokes.

    • You’re right. Carlin did a bunch of jokes that the hypersensitive could have made an issue out of.
      Heckling a comedian is awful. People forget that while they’re drinking and laughing, the guy on the stage is working. He has written and rehearsed what he’s saying. There’s effort that’s gone into it. And those easily offended should just shut up or butt out. If she was that offended by a rape joke, she could have gone home and blogged her brains out. Interrupting Tosh was a way of getting attention.

  5. I think Tosh should not have apologized at all.

    Radio talk show hosts such as Rush Limbaugh et al are frequently say things that are “offensive”, and create a media storm. But they usually don’t apologize – and talk radio is actually a platform where the public apparently expects the host to be at least somewhat politically correct (I’m not sure what makes people think that expectation is justified though). Now, stand up comedy is the one remaining platform where it is still acceptable for someone to say what he/she wants to. I’m not sure why that is, but maybe because everything is supposed to just be humor and that makes it more palatable. But if comedians feel that such apologies are necessary, stand up comedy may slowly end up losing this unique “freedom of expression” still afforded to it.

    • Comedians—while on stage—had some qualified immunity that they’re fast losing. I just felt that he should have apologized because it was a scary thing to say. Perhaps she felt offended. Of course, any other group offended similarly will be asked to grow a thicker skin, but there’s extra special treatment given to women here.
      I agree that comedy seemed like the last bastion of free speech, and it may be losing it

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  7. Wow – this is probably the most sensible post I’ve seen on this subject. I always like asking the question – “What if it was a…”

    So in this case, “What if it was a guy and not a woman…” I don’t think there would be any outrage. And I have a problem with selective outrage like that.

    Finally – it’s a comedy club. Not for those expecting any subject to be sacred.

    • Thank you. You’re right. If a guy had yelled that out to a female comedian, for instance on a castration joke or something, believe me there would have been blogging bedlam. Radical feminists would be insisting that this man’s heckling was but an example of patriarchal parochial male imposition on a woman’s right to free speech! 🙂

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  9. I’m a big Tosh fan, it’s one of the only shows I bother to DVR, and then actually watch. I’ve got mixed feelings on the back-and-forth surrounding this event though, and that having been said, I applaud your honest piece on it. =/

  10. I only find reinforcements to my opinions in your logic. If only we could disagree on something, we’d probably have a wise debate. I’m still waiting for that emancipatory moment! Anyway, Tosh’s comments may be unsavory because rape certainly isn’t a funny subject. But so are subjects like child sexual abuse, racism and we hear comedians go all out on them and no one seems to mind. Jokes are almost always a mockery or distortion of something, someone or some idea or a double entendre. The sole purpose of it is to evoke laughter. Of course, the context in which a joke is made does matter. In this case, I’m not sure what that context is but I’m sure it wasn’t as inappropriate as it is made out to be and demanding an apology for it is absurd. That way any joke on the above subjects at any point should be considered insensitive and all comedians who have made jokes on them should come out and apologize! Isn’t that ridiculous!

    • I agree that people shouldn’t demand apologies for a comedian’s material. Also what happened here was that he responded to a disruption of his routine. It’s nice that he apologized, but to keep maligning him is unfair.

  11. Being a stand-up comedian, you would think he wouldn’t resort to the spineless and threatening words he used.

    If he didn’t have the class to apologize without anyone asking, it would only make it worse in the long run. If he really wasn’t going to admit he was wrong to do so, he should consider himself lucky to got put on the spot.

    If you honestly can’t understand how Carlin’s response to heckler is only remotely related than it is hard to take you seriously. While it still would have been the wrong response, had Tosh responded with Carlin’s line I bet so many people wouldn’t have been as pissed off as they were.

    • How can any words be threatening and spineless at the same time?

      If he really wasn’t going to admit he was wrong to do so, he should consider himself lucky to got put on the spot.

      I don’t think this statement of yours is coherent.
      Carlin’s response was aggressive, funny, and decisive. Tosh’s response was no more a call-to-action than Carlin’s. But Carlin got a pass because he said it to a guy. And as for

      …I bet so many people wouldn’t have been as pissed off as they were.

      , pardon me if I don’t take you seriously here.
      Thanks for visiting and commenting.

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