Sarah Silverman demonstrates how to make a rape joke

One of my favorite things about a lot of the feminist response to Daniel Tosh’s rape “joke” is the way it’s taken a nuanced approach to the issue instead of repeating the tired soundbite that no rape jokes are funny. As Maya said in the Weekly Feminist Reader: “If there’s one thing the Daniel Tosh episode has taught us, I hope it is that rape jokes can be funny.” It’s not that the topic is off limits for comedy, it’s just that jokes that target victims and perpetuate rape culture make you a lazy asshole. Humor is ideally suited to target our absurd culture around rape, though.

Sarah Silverman demonstrates that perfectly in this excerpt from her stand up show, which oddly enough was recorded on the same evening Tosh made his rape joke threat:

(Transcript after the jump.)

Also check out this video that contrasts uncreative jokes that just regurgitate our cultural messages around rape with smart humor that’s actually aimed at rape culture. The video is a collaboration between The Women’s Media CenterPop Culture PirateFem 2.0, and Women In Media & News.

(Transcript below.)

And here’s a CNN op-ed by the Women’s Media Center’s Julie Burton and Michelle Kinsey Burns to go with the video.

Sarah Silverman video:

Sarah Silverman: We need more rape jokes. We really do. I love that some people applauded that.

Needless to say, rape, the most heinous crime imaginable. Seems it’s a comic’s dream, though. Because it seems that when you do rape jokes that like the material is so dangerous and edgy. But the truth is it’s like the safest area to talk about in comedy. Cause who’s going to complain about a rape joke? Rape victims? They don’t even report rape. I mean, they’re traditionally not complainers. Like the worst maybe thing that could happen, and I would feel terrible, is like after a show maybe somebody comes up to you and is like, “Look I’m a victim of rape, and as a victim of rape I just want to say I thought that joke was inappropriate and insensitive and totally my fault and I am so sorry.” That’s right, let’s take them down a notch! They’ve had it too good for too long, am I right? Let’s take back the night back!

Obviously not that I need to back track and qualify this, I think you know me by now. Obviously no woman is asking to be raped. I do think there are some women who are asking to be motor boated.

Rape Joke Supercut:

Wanda Sykes: That’s a lot of fucking pressure, and I would like a break. You know what would make my life so much easier, ladies wouldn’t you love this? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if our pussies were detachable?

Sarah Silverman: Who’s going to complain about a rape joke, rape victims? They don’t even report rape.

Daniel Tosh: Beat it, slut! Go get raped on your own corner!

Louis CK: Unless you have a reason, like you want to fuck somebody and they won’t let you, in which case what other option do you have?

Tosh: Rohipnol, rape drug. I got her so good a few weeks ago, I replaced her pepper spray with silly string. That night she got raped. Hey buddy, no means yes.

Louis CK: How else are you supposed to have an orgasm in their body if you don’t rape them, I mean what the fuck.

They raping everybody, they raping everybody.

It would be considered heroic for me to rape you.

I said the worst thing you can do to a woman is rape her and then call her fat.

Dave Chappelle: I can’t believe you laughed about that.

George Carlin: I believe you can joke about anything, it all depends on how you construct the joke, what the exaggeration is.

Boston, MA

Jos Truitt is Executive Director of Development at Feministing. She joined the team in July 2009, became an Editor in August 2011, and Executive Director in September 2013. She writes about a range of topics including transgender issues, abortion access, and media representation. Jos first got involved with organizing when she led a walk out against the Iraq war at her high school, the Boston Arts Academy. She was introduced to the reproductive justice movement while at Hampshire College, where she organized the Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program’s annual reproductive justice conference. She has worked on the National Abortion Federation’s hotline, was a Field Organizer at Choice USA, and has volunteered as a Pro-Choice Clinic Escort. Jos has written for publications including The Guardian, Bilerico, RH Reality Check, Metro Weekly, and the Columbia Journalism Review. She has spoken and trained at numerous national conferences and college campuses about trans issues, reproductive justice, blogging, feminism, and grassroots organizing. Jos completed her MFA in Printmaking at the San Francisco Art Institute in Spring 2013. In her "spare time" she likes to bake and work on projects about mermaids.

Jos Truitt is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Development.

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Join the Conversation

  • Deb Jannerson

    I’m glad it’s being talked about that one’s career is not carte blanche, freedom of speech is not freedom from criticism, and RAPE THREATS AREN’T OKAY, STUPIDASS. But I wish people, including people I respect, didn’t keep turning the convo into whether rape jokes can ever be funny or subversive. That’s worthy of a convo too but really not what the Tosh incident is about. It’s like when Schwyzer’s apologists tried to change the subject to “DO YOU BELIEVE IN FORGIVENESS?” or when people unsatisfied with Glee’s domestic violence storyline debated whether Glee is “immoral.” When you get that general, you lose the thread and allow the conversation to be diverted from what actually happened, and, like “immoral,” “funny” is too subjective a word to be politically useful. (As for Ms. Silverman, she’s very hit-or-miss with me, but I was nodding along with her in that clip… until the motor-boating joke. Unwanted motor-boating is STILL sexual assault, and she’s STILL blaming assault on women’s clothing. ‘Nuff said.)

  • Lamech

    Once, again those jokes are not okay! Really stop defending rape jokes! Sheesh. Sarah Silverman didn’t demonstrate rape jokes could be funny; she demonstrated how they could be less offensive than Tosh’s, but that’s a really low bar to set.

  • Courtney

    Sarah Silverman is so creative and original with her humor, it’s always interesting to hear new material from her. Wanda Sykes’ routine is also brilliant.

    Tosh, on the other hand, is mostly incredibly frustrating. His show is mostly fat shaming/slut shaming/hipster racism. The problem with comics like him is that they take this space that was once a place for people to express their anger at an oppressive culture and turn it into a reflection of that oppressive culture where women are NOT welcome. We are expected to go along with this misogynistic, homophobic, cis-sexist culture because “it’s just humor” and apparently straight, white, cis-men have it really hard in this time of political correctness.

    Melissa Harris-Perry had a BRILLIANT segment on her show on Sunday. Jamie Kilstein of Citizen Radio said it perfectly – he said comedians were, for a long time, nerds and outcasts who found their niche in comedy where they could vent and make people laugh. But the bullies are invading our nerd space!

  • Ariadne

    I do not think that any rape jokes are humerous. Silverstann’s attempt flounders very badly. Why waste time defending rape jokes? What is the point? Are there not better, more important things to focus on or write about? While women for example in India or Afghanistan face real life and death situations white westerners are going to sit around and talk about how some rape jokes are just so funny? It really makes me wonder.

  • Katha Mania

    Do you know the egyptian movie Cairo 678? Its a movie about sexual harrassement and eventually there in the storyline you’ll get to know a stand up comedian that tries to make a joke about the sexual harrassement she had to go through on stage.
    Highly recommend that movie and was associating it, while reading the article here.

  • Jonathan Goodman

    I am a recovering victim’s husband from over 30 years ago. You and those comics mean well, but it’s not something that’s easy for me to laugh about.

  • Julia

    I actually logged on specifically to comment. I am a rape survivor (and there are loads of us), and you know what–I have laughed at rape jokes, though Tosh’s was lame, and his follow up was hideous. I have heard funny ones that don’t make the problem worse, but call attention to the problem and how effed up our rape culture is. I have heard other feminists make jokes about our rape culture, and laughed. If you don’t find it funny, fine…there are loads of things I don’t find funny (like Jackass!).

    See Lindy West’s article “How To Make A Rape Joke” over at Jezebel, and also check out Louis CK’s discussion at the Daily Show from 7/16/2012, and how blogs and women talking about our rape culture have opened his eyes to the lives that this culture forces us to have.

  • Melanie

    It’s more than insulting that you call it a “tired soundbite” when some feminists state that rape jokes are never funny. Many rape victims are triggered regardless of whether it’s a “good” or “bad” rape joke. It is self-righteous to claim they are just wrong in their assessment when they are the ones being triggered. You may have a case that it is _less bad_ to tell rape jokes that take on rapists and rape culture as the butt of the joke rather than rape victims. But don’t you dare frame rape victims – particularly ones who may have been more severely traumatized and thus can’t handle ANY rape joke – as somehow conservative, prudish, or “tired” and speaking in “soundbite[s].” I call bullshit.