On Daniel Tosh, and the (Non)Discussion of Rape


What we should be raging at is his fucking smirk.

Generally speaking, I’m hit or miss on Daniel Tosh. If he had one of those Comedy Central Present specials, I imagine that, while I would laugh maybe 5% more than I usually do when I watch one of those specials, I most likely would have forgotten about him. I saw his various one-hour specials before, and, again, maybe laughed at one or two of his jokes, but for the most part promptly forgot him.

There was a small part of him I did like, though: he definitely was smarter than he let on. His bit consisted of hitting a joke, then rambling on about it (kinda similar to early Kevin Nealon), eventually ending with a surprising twist or reference that seemed WAY out his league, like a callback to Carol Burnett. There was potential for him to be something pretty cool, funny, and informative at the same time. Of course, he had a few racial/sexual gags in there, but they were fairly toned down and, again, came from a fairly smart place.

So it’s really no surprised Comedy Central tagged him for Tosh.0, a Soup-esque take on various internet videos. In Daniel, they could filter humanity’s insanity through a engaging comic personality, filtering hilarity with a clever point here and there. Indeed, early in the show’s run, it was like watching Youtube with a bit of Wikipedia on the side. He would also have pretty astute observations of said videos, noticing odds and ends in the background and off-screen. I may not be a fan of Daniel Tosh, but the show was suited perfectly for him. And, yeah, I was more than happily amused by the show.

Unlike other “make fun of the internet” shows, Tosh.0 was strangely appreciative of the wacky shit that was sent it, to which I would attribute its sudden popularity. Other shows would ridicule and laugh at the participates in the videos; Tosh and company would “thank” people sending them in, and the Web Redemption segments had an underlying sweetness to them (especially to younger participants), allowing them to meet famous people, get involved with well-done videos, and otherwise have a good, goofy time, leaving Daniel himself as the butt of the joke.

I suppose, then, it was inevitable that, over time, it became weaker in insight and broader in raunchy comedy. Early in the show, his astuteness would get little to no laughs, which of course would result in the canning of said references. So there goes the wit, and in comes the sexist/racist jokes at a rapid pace. I’m rarely offended, so it didn’t bother me, but it definitely bothered a lot of people. He once aired a video of someone falling down an elevator shaft, who was actually killed. His ‘touching women bellies’ segment got an angry response from Jezebel. And so on.

So here we are on the incident in question, where Daniel Tosh tells a bunch of rape jokes, a woman yells out, “Rape jokes are never funny!”, and Tosh responds, “Wouldn’t it be funny if that girl got raped by like, 5 guys right now?” Understanding Tosh’s style, I can see that his “joke” was more in the irony of that happening, not in the comment itself. I’m a bit perplexed that people are perceiving it to be a threat.

But I DO understand those who are offended over the idea that the act itself would be funny, which it wouldn’t be, and I hope to god that wasn’t Tosh’s intention. I hate to come off thinking I’m defending him, since I care little about him either way, but the joke, as I see it, was in the attempt at irony. I was asked that — if he told a bunch of lynching jokes, and a black dude yelled out “lynching is never funny,” and Tosh responded with “wouldn’t it be be funny if that black dude was lynched by 5 guys right now?” — if I would find that funny. Hmm. Honestly, I kinda smirked at the idea. I don’t think I’d be offended. I doubt Tosh would actually want to see a lynch, no more than he would want to see a rape. but they’re both in poor taste. Also, didn’t we sort of go through that with Michael Richards?

I’m filtering the experience through two Louis CK bits. One, where he handles a heckler, calling her a cunt and tells her to “die of AIDS”:

And this second one, where he discusses the word “faggot” with a fellow comedian, who happens to be gay.

I really recommend watching both those videos, especially the second one. Nick Dipaolo, ending the segment with “Okay, thanks, faggot” is terrible, but terribly important in the scheme of what Louis CK is getting at. There can be tremendous pain behind the words we say, but for the sake of comedy we need to be allowed to say it. So maybe the difference is that Louie’s claim that his heckler die of AIDS is less of a direct “threat” than Tosh’s claim his heckler “be raped by 5 guys.” But then again, both are theoretical gags – one based on absurdity (imagine him saying that in the mid-90s), one based on the irony of the moment, but say what you will – both are pretty terrible.

Tosh also had the unfortunate timing in a burgeoning controversy concerning women issues. Lena Dunham show Girls; the gynecological invasive issues with Congress; contraceptives implying sluttiness; the threats against Anita Sarkessian – a douchebag-esque white male casually commenting on a woman being raped in public is only adding fuel to a raging inferno, and more and more people are getting pissed. I don’t blame them. It’s a serious problem.

But the truth is we honestly DO NOT KNOW how to discuss rape, and the reason is because we can’t determine any degree of discussion. We know, broadly, rape is terrible, but we portray it like a soap opera on Law and Order: SVU. We joke about prison rape and pedophilia, and discussions of rape usually end up in a bizarre argument on when the rape of a woman is worse than the rape of a male, whether heterosexual rape is worse than homosexual rape, and/or some sick combination of the two. We’re all over the place, which leads us nowhere. It’s unfortunate, because of the seriousness of the topic.

In the end I suppose that I fall on Daniel’s side, although I find his comments ugly and mean, and definitely believe he should apologize (which he did). And yes, the incident furthers a social idea of rape-as-whatever when it comes to dealing with it. But it stands in line with murder, nigger, faggot, AIDS, and a host of other terms that George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy, and Louis CK and other famous comedians addressed. And you have to really convince me that Tosh did something that stands apart from them, other than being one-tenth of their total talent, an argument which is problematic, in itself.

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