06.10.134:45 AM ET

Why It’s Okay to Tell Rape Jokes

Roseanne Barr says anyone who targets an artist for being ‘too offensive’ only helps move public opinion away from freedom and toward the tyranny of surveillance.

To see a picture of the loss of our freedoms in the United States, click here.

These days, we pay attention to lots of issues and incidents that should be dwarfed by glaring scandals like the ongoing destruction of Iraq, veterans sleeping on the streets, Monsanto poisoning the planet with Round Up, etc. etc., ad nauseam. The issue of rape culture is a critical one, and rape jokes definitely figure in, but how?

Lindy West raised a ruckus about the issue recently in comedic circles. The best part of Lindy’s piece is that she takes the facts to the mat, proving that males are hostile to her and to most women who try to confront the culture of rape. She pointed out that her white male cohorts in comedy should be more intelligent than to use hate speech that blames the victims rather than the rapists. I totally agree, and applaud her bravery to speak out and to weather the assault of rape threats, crude, hateful insults and other threats of violence that have been sent to her in response to her efforts.

However, I like to point out class issues, especially when they are not included in a particular analysis. So here are my two cents, which I offer free of charge. Comedy clubs are a testing ground for comics, and the freedom to be bad and to be offensive are part of the training process itself. Many males, as well as females, have been raped as children or as adults. Sometimes, writing jokes about rape, then telling them to an audience, is part of the healing process, if you are a comic. If people don’t laugh, but boo you or throw things in your direction, you will remember that and take it under advisement, as you craft and recraft your particular trauma until it is digestible for those who pay to see you in a club. Eventually, you will either be banned from that club or promoted to a bigger venue, depending on the size of the laughs you deliver; when people are happy and laughing, they want more alcohol! If you don’t make people laugh, they won’t pay for booze, and you will not be back again soon.

Free speech can be messy and bloody and offensive; if you aren’t prepared for the grossout, stay out of comedy clubs that birth comics like Sam Kinison and Lenny Bruce, George Carlin, and Bill Hicks, and stick to ones that birth comics who do Jay Leno’s show.

I was not allowed to work in a popular comedy club in Denver in 1980 because I told rape jokes, and some women, delicate flowers that they were, took the utmost offense to my presence and my directness. They daintily made their objections known to the men in charge, suggesting that they should act to protect the innocence and honor of respectable woman patrons. My obvious desire to destroy their cherished Judeo/Christian family values with my obviously sick mind and my man-hating tongue were not acceptable where decent people gather to laugh at minority groups and women comfortably.

Were said values destroyed, the women might become angry and feminist, and take over the world, ruining it altogether with their vaginal fumes and angry, flaming, voracious, bottomless sexuality. It would then become tiresome and embarrassing to remain indifferent to the problems caused by one’s own greedy consumption and waste. The unwashed working classes would first lose their gratitude to God for their meager pay of beans, and not stay in their respective places. That, if left unchecked, could lead to one’s head on the end of a stick paraded through toney downtown areas.

More prisons would be needed, and, when the entire tax base was behind bars, one would find oneself royally fucked. Then, one might find one’s self making and serving one’s own food, to one’s self, and cleaning up one’s own messes or raising one’s own children. Then who would have the leisure time to plan designer ball gowns for benefits to aid the less fortunate? Endless money-laundering events might then be exposed as mere spectacle, instead of selfless philanthropic efforts (that qualify their organizers for tax breaks).

The troublesome part of Lindy’s “argument” with her white male comic cohorts is that it’s taking place at a time when people are being arrested off America’s streets for little more than being part of a particular ethnic or racial group. Anyone who targets any group or type of artist for being “too offensive” is helping to move public opinion away from freedom and toward the tyranny of surveillance.

Please know that when you address yourself to “white male comics,” lots of us out here are a little bit disturbed at this distinction. It’s privileged thinking to be unaware of the plight of working-class boys and young men in America, those who are being locked up for pot so that they can, at the height of their physical strength, work in privatized prisons for corporations that pay them less than 20 cents per hour. Most of the house paint sold in America is now made by prison labor, in what would be called a Labor Camp, back in the days of the German “Homeland.”

Hispanic, black, and working-class white boys live in rape culture’s belly, where violence, rape, and being shot dead in your home are normalized, as is the case wherever there is desperation, lack of fair governance, denial of education, drugs, and weapons of self protection/mass destruction. Are you unwittingly creating a racial/class divide in comedy clubs? (“Do you want to be seated in the non-rape-joke section, sir? It’s separate yet equal.”)

I would be honored to debate Lindy, at any time, as the good points she makes are important ones. This should be the subject of our debate: Is rape culture funny or not? I will argue that, yes, it is indeed more than funny—beyond hilarious, in fact—and should be laughed at and scorned at each and every opportunity.