So, it shocked some of my friends (and some of my fellow improvisers) when I started expressing my disgust at Daniel Tosh's (now old news by internet standards) "Wouldn't it be funny if five guys raped her... like right now?" These friends shook their fingers (some figuratively, some actually) and tried to dismiss my assertion that this comment was the opposite of funny. Arguments included:
- Freedom of Speech: Tosh has a right to say anything he wants. This is America.
- Nothing Is Off Limits in Comedy: You say rape is off-limits... slippery slope, somehow we're living in Soviet Russia and we can't make fun of our government anymore.
- Hecklers Deserve It: You open your mouth out of turn and it's your comedic funeral.
Let me address these flimsy excuses for Tosh's inhuman treatment of one of his paying customers:
- Freedom of Speech: First of all, it was Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. who added the asterisk to this freedom, pointing out: "The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic. [...] The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent." Now Tosh did not yell "fire"- but he did indeed use his words in a circumstance as to invite clear and present danger to this woman. Freedom of speech does not give one the right, in other words, to incite (or even seem to invite) physical harm to another. Tosh may not have intended to invite harm to this woman, but the fact is that most women (this strong one writing here, in fact) would have felt unnerved by this cavalier image perpetuated by the man on stage with the mic. Let me put it this way. Let's pretend the woman, instead of leaving the audience as she reported she did, had replied, "Yeah Tosh! Wouldn't it be funny if I had snuck a loaded gun in here past your security and was going to blow your head off?" Or, "Yeah, Tosh! Wouldn't it be funny if a bunch of my friends knew the hotel you were staying at tonight and went there and bashed your brains in?" Would that have been a comedic use of free speech? Or would that be harmful?
- Nothing Is Off Limits in Comedy: I agree. But this was not comedy. This was an attack on someone who (just guessing here) made Tosh feel annoyed, ashamed, or just pissed off. Or maybe all of the above. I'm ticked off that people keep calling this a "rape joke." Nope. Not a joke. Jokes consist of set-ups and punch lines, of funny stories, clever plays on words. This was an actual off-the-cuff statement Tosh made to an actual person in his audience. Go ahead! Make jokes about rape. God knows we gain power over things by laughing at them! But don't tell a crowded room that raping that specific woman would be funny. That's not a joke. That's an attack.
- Hecklers Deserve It: As an improv person, I have to admit a bias here. We improvisers need and love an audience that reacts and talks... so I have no problem with hecklers. And any comedian who demands golf claps or needs a tennis judge in a chair intoning, "Quiet please... quiet please..." needs to grow a set of brass ovaries and get over it. And I've attended live performances that have elicited similar audience reactions. I ran lights for a one man show about a gay man's exit from the closet... an audience member stood up and shouted, "This is masturbatory! This is masturbatory bullshit!" It absolutely changed the show... but you know what? That's live theatre, folks. If you want to avoid that... be a writer or record your stuff. Oh, and let's take a moment to remember that "Freedom of Speech" argument that people seem willing to extend to the well-paid comedian at the front of the room. One of my friends had written that he thought my admonishment of Tosh's comments amounted to "the thought filter police"-- and yet this same friend felt that the woman who yelled should have kept quiet. I can't be the only one who finds this hypocritical. But I don't think this was a case of heckling. Heckling, according to my iPad's dictionary, consists of interrupting a public speaker with "cruel or abusive comments or insults." How is the expression, "Rape is never funny" cruel or abusive? This is not a case of heckling. This is a case of an honest and personal reaction (and a brave one, too!) about a comment that was (at best) thoughtless and (at worst) cruel.
I feel more offended by people's defense of this guy than I do by his actual statement. That the public outcry in defense of Tosh so clearly misses the soul of the problem it uncovered is very very disturbing. This is NOT about a bunch of humorless feminists being offended (good gravy I am sick of hearing that any time women have the audacity to speak out), and that instead it's a snotty and mean attack on a woman. (And why, by the way, were people so offended by Michael Richards going off on a racist diatribe against a heckler, but everyone's rushing to the aid of this hipster dufus? It's okay to be a rapist but not to be racist? Explain please.)
So. I don't want to put Tosh in jail or anything. What do I want? I want people to stop defending this idiot and his idiotic reaction to someone speaking out during his set. I want people to stop watching his show, stop buying his tickets, stop defending him. I want him to have all his rights but nobody to listen.
Warning- That's a clip from George Carlin. So... you know. There's gonna be language and such.