Thank you to my friend and LGBTQ ally Jennifer Carey for inspiring me to write this article. Allow me to start by admitting that I have never found Tosh to be funny. White male privilege is very seldom funny to me, unless the man has amazing talent at weaving it into something we might call wit. I would just as soon call George W a wit as I would Tosh.
I realize that comedians like to think of everything as fair play when it comes to humor and there is a very natural and understandable reaction against censorship. What I would call attention to is what I would call bad form, or when one’s privilege overtakes the comedy and thus loses the laughable moment. For example, Tracy Morgan crossed a line when his joke involved killing someone who is gay. Tosh also crossed a line with his contemptible misogyny in defending rape jokes. Really? Rape is something funny? Racism is not funny, as Michael Richards found out and justifiably lost his career. Where is the line? Is it possible to cross the line? When someone describes his work as Tosh does:
I’m not a misogynistic and racist person…But I do find those jokes funny, so I say them.
it’s pretty clear he’s lacking both in awareness and a good comic sense.
I believe there is a line of what is acceptable, but I also believe that someone with enormous self-awareness and great aplomb can cross that line. Curtis Luciani does a fantastic job of articulating self-awareness and what is bad form:
1) Rape is way, WAY more prevalent than you seem to think it is. Are there more than five women in your audience? You do the math, and then you run the little fantasy scenario that I just put together in your head, and you tell me how it feels.
2) I ain’t buying any of that “If I can make jokes about genocide, why can’t I make jokes about rape?” Horseshit, unless you made those genocide jokes during a gig at the Srebrenica Funny Bone. You got away with making a joke about genocide because your odds of having a holocaust survivor’s kid in the audience were pretty fucking low.
And if you did happen to have one in the audience, and he heckled you, walked out, and wrote something nasty on the internet… would you be more likely to be a human being and say “Wow. I can understand why that person’s authentic response to what I was doing was so emotional and negative. Maybe my genocide material just isn’t good enough to justify the pain that it inflicts. Maybe I need more skill in order to pull this off.” Or are you gonna be a lousy piece of shit and say, “Yeah, I apologize, I guess, IF YOU WERE OFFENDED.”
Your job as a comedian is to take us through pain, transcend pain, transform pain. And if you don’t get that, you are a fucking bully, and I’ve got zero time for bullies.
Well said, Curtis. One job of a comic is to help people laugh at pain and transform it into something comical. When one causes harm, shame, or stigma it is no longer “comedy” but pathetic bullying rooted in hate.