I want to talk about comedy today, partly because comedy seems to be all anyone’s talking about today (fitting that it’s April Fools), and partly because the discussion of Ari Shaffir, Trevor Noah and Patton Oswalt has reminded me of my own experience with off-color jokes.
First, my story: It was my first date with this guy. He had heavy eyelids and deep brown eyes and a soft, melodic voice. He recited a poem to me before asking me on the date. He seemed so charming and sensitive. I met him at his house and we decided to drive one town over for burgers.
“Let’s take the backroads!” he suggested.
“All right,” I agreed, “but you’ll have to direct me. I don’t know how to get there from here.”
I drove and he was copilot, but as he gave my directions, I felt we were head further and further out into the countryside, instead of toward town.
“Are you sure this is the way? It feels like we’re heading to the boonies,” I said.
“No,” he laughed. “I’m just taking you out into the middle of nowhere so I can rape you.”
He chuckled. My heart raced.
“That’s not funny.”
“It’s just a joke, because obviously, I would never do that. That’s why it’s funny. I’m clearly not a rapist.”
“What if I were a rape survivor?” I asked.
“If you were, you would obviously tell me,” he said, as if he had created a super supportive environment with rape jokes on our first date. I’d like to say I dumped him right there, Dad, but sadly, it took me a couple more dates to realize he had no respect for personal boundaries.
But what does this have to do with comedy?
There are a lot of comedians in the news right now for making jokes people deem inappropriate, in bad taste or cruel. Ari Shaffir called out a fellow comedian by name in a national special, laughing at her for having one-arm and being fat. Trevor Noah, the future Daily Show host, has come under scrutiny for posting Twitter statuses joking about Jews and violence against women. And today Patton Oswalt went on a 53-tweet twitterstorm about how people are too sensitive about privilege, oppression and triggers.
Now, I think what Ari Shaffir did was mean and unfunny. I think Trevor Noah’s jokes were in poor taste, but I’m willing to see how he does as Daily Show host. And I think Patton Oswalt’s tweets completely missed the point, which is this:
Comedy is not an excuse to be mean. Saying “it’s comedy” doesn’t make something un-terrible. The guy who laughed off threatening to rape me with “it’s just a joke” didn’t make his threat suddenly okay. Comedy is not an excuse.