A tale of two apologies
I didn’t want to talk about Tosh anymore.
Despite the fact that I made a few posts about it on Thursday and didn’t bring it up again, over the weekend my Askbox was overloaded with dudes telling me why I’m wrong and asking why I’m on a witch hunt against a hard-working comedian and why do I hate humor and what about FREEDOM OF SPEECH? and all that bullshit. SO HERE WE ARE AGAIN.
I heard two apologies yesterday - one related to the Tosh thing, and one not. They were both from comedians. The first was Louis CK’s interview on The Daily Show.
When I reblogged the post about comedians defending Tosh, people said “well Louis CK was joking because he doesn’t watch the show, it was sarcastic.” If you saw TDS last night, you saw that Louis CK had actually watched Tosh.0 and was legitimately saying he found it funny — BUT, he wasn’t aware of the rape joke controversy. It was just bad timing. Which, fine. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt that he was on vacation and hadn’t been on the Internet. Well, except to tweet, I guess, and do nothing else. Whatever.
Then he says “comedians and feminists are natural enemies,” which, haha, I get it, humorless feminazis! We don’t like the way the current industry of stand-up comedy prioritizes the voices of straight cis white men over everyone else and defends anything they say as “their art” and the way they characterize us as humorless when we just have a sense of humor that doesn’t involve denigrating women. So I guess we’re enemies, then.
Then he says, “Stereotypically speaking, feminists can’t take a joke.” Seriously? You’re even admitting it’s a stereotype, and you’re saying it anyways - to huge applause! It’s actually worse than starting a sentence with “no offense, but…” or “not to be sexist, but…” It’s just getting up there and admitting you’re regurgitating something that probably isn’t statistically true. I thought stand-up comedy was about finding new and humorous ways of looking at things as opposed to repeating tired stereotypes, but hey, what do I know. I’m just a feminist.
He says he did some research and read a lot of interesting material about rape culture and how the constant threat of rape polices women’s lives. And then he’s like “So now I know about that, and I didn’t before. But I can still appreciate a good rape joke.” And then - AND THEN - he says, “women, we heard you, now shut the fuck up about it.”
So in other words: Louis CK got pulled into the rape joke controversy, and did some research on it and discovered that some people have legitimate reasons for not enjoying rape jokes. You know, apart from the fact that we HATE LAUGHTER AND FUN. Great. But he says that any joke about a bad thing (he specifies rape) is still funny to him. So this, I guess I’m calling it an apology, but it wasn’t. He falls into the “well both sides are kind of wrong, so no one should change, and I still defend my right to make jokes that hurt people” thing.
MST3K’s Bill Corbett got some heat on Twitter recently too. His son bought a Transformer toy and named it Tranny. Bill tweeted, “I’d MUCH rather have my son playing with a Tranny-the-Transvestite doll than anything associated with Michael Bay.” Some people were like, “Uh, that’s offensive” and his response was that humor sometimes offends people and everyone should get over it. Sound familiar?
Then, a few days later, this post came up on his Tumblr. An excerpt:
Let me admit it upfront: I had no idea. I thought the term was a shorthand for more accepted terms — maybe not the most reverent, but certainly not all that offensive. I assumed it became offensive only in context, when used with malicious and even violent intent — when clearly meant to hurt and belittle. In those two tweets above, the first seemed like an amusing bit of reportage of what my kid actually said. In my mind, the second one was mostly a slam on Michael Bay. But the more I look at the second one, the more I see how it’s not that simple.
I also did a lot of research, not only about the nomenclature but about the science (my old friend!) of it all, and about the appalling level of violence against trans people. I understand a LOT more than I did a week ago. Still a relative noob, but much, much more informed than a few days back.
I won’t use the word again.
It can be challenging for people in comedy and art to find better ways to do what we do, and avoid hurting people who don’t deserve to be hurt. But that’s my problem to solve, not anyone else’s.
I want to make people laugh, and occasionally think, and maybe — wow! — both at once. I want to have fun doing it. It may always mean being irreverent, skeptical, absurd, even indulging quite a bit of cynicism and sarcasm. But I never want to depend on continually kicking people who are already down to do what I do. I’d rather find another line of work entirely. (Bowling alley attendant comes to mind, since that might have been my last honest job before getting all artsy-fartsy and comedyish.)
I want to stand on the side of humanity. I want to be humane, even when being a goddamned wise-ass. There’s no tried and true path through this, but it’s really worth trying to find it. I want to make people laugh, not feel shitty about life. ”Leave the world a better place than you found it.” A twisty task for someone in comedy, but others have shown that its not impossible.
In both cases, a comedian did something wrong. They made light of a subject that is very hurtful and personal to people. They joked about a topic that isn’t taken seriously by the police or the court system or most of society.* In Louis CK’s case, he educated himself, but learned nothing. In Bill Corbett’s case, he educated himself, learned something, and shared it with everyone else.
(*This is why I’m not even bothering with all the “Well what else can’t we joke about? What about war and murder and serial killers???” Asks in my inbox. Those things are taken seriously by everyone involved. You don’t hear police saying “well, the victim SAYS they were stabbed 37 times by this person, but that knife could have been shoved into them by anyone! They were drinking that night! They were out after dark alone!” People openly DOUBT and attempt to erase the experience of rape survivors and trans* people. There is a god damn difference.)
So now we know that comedians CAN learn and change. If they want to. Louis CK and every other rape joke apologist can learn, but doesn’t want to change, because it might force them to think about what they say every once in a while, and if there’s one thing people hate, it’s introspection and self-evaluation.
In the mean time: support Bill Corbett and Rifftrax by buying some of their stuff. If you haven’t watched Twilight with the Rifftrax, your life has no meaning. Support comedy that’s funny without being tasteless and purposefully offensive. Support NON-LAZY comedy, where they’re actually thinking of jokes instead of repeating stereotypes. And for fuck’s sake, stop defending rape jokes.
Wow, so much newfound love for Bill Corbett.
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