I was reading Sociological Images this morning and came across their post on Rape as a Device in Pop Culture and it said exactly what I've been wanting to post about for a while.
Gwen Sharp, the post's author, actually capitulates from Margaret Lyons at The Vulture posting about how prevalent rape jokes are on TV. Lyons sums it up for me by saying that rape jokes, "are by and large just shorthand for outrageousness, a go-to vocabulary to create a patina of audacity without actually saying anything important, or even funny."
A few weeks ago I was at my friends' improv show, and there were a lot of rape jokes. Rape, sexual assault, domestic violence, and child molestation jokes actually were all heavily featured throughout the night. I've never done improv, but I understand the basic concept, and I know about comedy from a writer's and audience member's perspective. You have a finite amount of time to create a situation that will make the audience laugh. There are some jokes (in my opinion, better ones) that depend on building on each other, which is why I think Arrested Development is so goddamn genius. Sitcoms and improv tend to rely more on immediate comedy like one-liners and physical comedy, which can be great. However, there are some things that are just cheap shots. Rape as a punchline is one of them. I don't think it's funny, I will never think it's funny, and it only creates animosity between me and the performer I'm watching when there is a rape joke being made.
I feel like I shouldn't even have to say this, but I have a sense of humor. I am very funny. I think I've really only been seriously accused once or twice of being a humorless feminist, and one time it was because a creepy dude I knew was making inappropriate comments about my body and I called him out on it, and when he tried to play it off as a joke and I said it wasn't funny, he said that I wasn't funny. Specifically something like, "you used to have a sense of humor."
Oh, sir. I am funny. Whenever I hear shit like that I think back to a professor I had freshman year who said, "If you don't laugh at my jokes, fine. It's not because they're not funny. I'm funny. It's because you don't get them." I generally take this attitude in my own life. But also the reverse is true. If I'm not laughing at something, it's not because I'm humorless, it's because it's probably stupid and not funny.
Anyway, using rape as a punchline is a cheap way to get laugh. Mostly I think it makes people uncomfortable, as it should, because rape is bad, and people laugh because they don't know how else to react. This kind of "outrageousness" in comedy is so so so stupid. It can work! Some people do it right! Kristen Wiig is perfect at it. The woman is insane, and it's so good. She's also really smart, and that's part of it. But jokes based purely on shock value are like literally the lamest things ever because it says that the performer (or writer) isn't creative enough to do something actually funny and smarter. There were many uncomfortable moments in the improv show I went to a couple weeks ago and the friends I was sitting with and I were over it about halfway through because it was so bizarre. There was one moment in particular, when a visiting performer was doing something like reading off a list or from an instructional booklet or something and one of the things listed was "Rape." There were some uncomfortable laughs in the audience, but he lost all rapport with me. I didn't think he was very good before, but now I had some proof that he was a lazy performer. Alright, over it.
So check out the posts on the Vulture and Sociological Images and see the video compilation the Vulture put together of clips from rape jokes from the past season of sitcoms. Unless you're really over it, in which case, watch something actually funny.