Edited to add: Patton Oswalt has written a great, thoughtful apology. Please read it here.
Do you know what I like about you? You’re sensible. I mean, you’re really funny, too. To be honest, one wouldn’t be much without the other, but you’re happily a winning combination of both. I know that it seems like an odd thing to praise a comedian for – being, at the bottom of it all, reasonable – but it’s something I really enjoy.
I like jokes that come from a place of outrage or confusion at the awfulness of the world. I think we should use humour to draw attention to that gap between the unacceptable and the acceptable, even to point out its arbitrariness. Your jokes remind us that being at our worst is okay – it’s better than okay, it’s hilarious – but it’s still no excuse to treat other people like sht. And if you do, you will be called on it. And I love that. I think it makes us better. I think comedy can do that.
Which is why I was so saddened to read you defending Daniel Tosh’s rape jokes on twitter. I know what you’re thinking – oh god, another “self aggrandizing, idiotic blogger”. Another angry women who would rather scream than think. Another hyper-PC member of the twitterati who fails to take into account the creative process of the comic.
The thing is, I’m not any one of those. I’m not even angry. I’m not confused as to why you said what you did – I think I get where you’re coming from. I’m not going to speak in hyperbole, try to garner sympathy, or stir outrage. The only thing I feel, and all that I’m interested in expressing, is a sense of loss.
Because we lost you, Patton. You were, I thought, an ally in all this. In calling people out on their bullsht. On being, well, reasonable.
I am happy to defend some rape jokes on the basis that they’re funny or clever or thought provoking. Sarah Silverman manages to do all three at once. I don’t think we should shy away from joking about the darkest parts of our lives. But how is “Wouldn’t it be funny if five guys came in here and raped you right now?” a joke? I’m happy to defer to you, if you can explain it. It’s your business, after all.
See, I get that it might not sound like a threat to you. And maybe it’s funny to you (and Tosh, and others) because it is so unlikely? The distance between tragedy and reality is fertile ground for humour, after all.
But it’s not unlikely to me. Or for the woman on the end of that joke. Or for our friends, or family members. Or roughly half your audience members. It’s a threat we live with constantly; it’s a crime we are taught that we bring on ourselves. It’s something that our loved ones have lived through. It’s a barely veiled reminder that our bodies are contended territory. And finally, most importantly, for women around the world rape, and the threat of rape, is a means of control and punishment.
Imagine if Tosh had said that racist jokes are always funny. Imagine if a black man had disagreed, and Tosh had replied, “But wouldn’t it be funny if a bunch of skinheads came in here right now and beat you bloody?” Such an act would be a violent and discriminatory one perpetrated against a minority: just like the rape Tosh suggested. And yet, I don’t think people would be saying: just avoid his shows if you don’t like hearing it; don’t ruin it for the rest of us.
Shit like that is not funny because we know that it actually happened to people, and continues to happen. So why is rape – which is alarmingly prevalent – comparatively invisible? Why has this incident been met with a backlash against the woman who complained, and not the comedian?
You might, at this stage, be wondering why I’ve addressed this to you, and not Tosh. He’s the one that made the joke, right? But you are the one who – from a point of influence, as a member of this industry, as his peer – dismissed and silenced the women who protested.
And that, I think, is the greater problem we’re facing. It’s not just you, you see. Virtually any time a women raises her voice to say that she’s uncomfortable or offended, she is drowned out by a chorus of insults and threats. Insults like the ones that you have made, and threats like the one that Daniel Tosh made.
The message behind it all is: don’t stir things up. Don’t choose to take offense. Don’t embarrass yourself. Don’t be so entitled. Don’t ruin it for the rest of us. Don’t make a fuss. Don’t go to places you might be offended. Don’t expect more from anyone. Don’t use that tone. Don’t swear like that. Don’t be so loud. Don’t let your guard down. Don’t wear that. Don’t walk along on a dark street. Don’t tell anyone.
I’m sorry, Patton, that we’ve lost you to that damning chorus.
But we’re not going to stop raising our voices against it.