Rape is Hilarious, Part 35

[Trigger warning.]

Really, Ricky Gervais? Really?
Ricky Gervais has hit back at critics of a controversial joke about drink-driving in his new stage act - insisting the gag is "justified comedically".

The British funnyman launched his new stand-up show, Science, in Scotland in August, but the routine caused a stir when a reviewer picked up on a punchline about the consequences of driving a car while drunk.

Now Gervais has spoken out to defend his craft - insisting that, although the joke is "a big taboo", the reviewer for U.K. newspaper The Independent misrepresented what was said and twisted its meaning.

In a posting on his blog, Gervais writes: "I do the following joke live when talking about the perils of drink-driving: 'I've done it once and I'm really ashamed of it. It was Christmas - I'd had a couple of drinks and I took the car out. But I learned my lesson. I nearly killed an old lady. In the end I didn't kill her. In the end, I just raped her.'

"The joke clearly revolves around the misdirection in the term "nearly killed", suggesting "narrowly avoided". But, as it turns out, "nearly killed" means something much, much worse. A big taboo I'll admit, but justified comedically I feel.

"This is how a journalist in The Independent recounted the joke: 'I nearly knocked this old woman over... but I didn't. I raped her.' He then went on to say how disgusting and unfunny that joke is. He's right. It is both disgusting and unfunny. But that's his joke, not mine. It's nothing like mine. It contains no joke at all. He has shown how qualified he is to talk about humour."
Okay, first of all, the headline for this item is "Gervais Defends Drink-drive Gag." Yeah, uh, I don't think the drunk-driving part is the most objectionable part of this "joke."

Secondly, if I'm understanding correctly (and whilst giving Gervais the most favorable interpretation of his defense), Gervais is attempting to justify the joke by saying he's not making fun of rape, but merely using it as an example of something "much, much worse" than narrowly avoiding being killed by a drunk driver. The comedy is in the misdirection, he insists, not in treating rape as something inherently funny.

Okay, fine, whatfuckingever. Despite the fact that I strongly disagree any comic could use rape in that way without a significant portion of the audience laughing at the idea of the theoretical rape itself (see: the rest of this series), let's just concede his point for the sake of argument.

Sure, rape itself isn't the punchline. Fine. So then I have only one question: Why don't you give a fuck about the rape survivors in your audiences, Ricky Gervais?

As I've said before (and will no doubt be obliged to say again): I will never understand why anyone wants to be the total douchebag who blindsides someone by evoking her (or his) memories of being raped, in the guise of "humor."

I can't even tell you how pissed I'd be if I paid to go see Ricky Gervais only to discover I'd laid out hard-earned money (money earned challenging the rape culture, no less!) to see a show that included this "joke," because—silly me—I don't like being slapped upside the head with rape jokes when I'm trying to have a good time.

Quite honestly, it's not even because I particularly find such "jokes" personally triggering anymore; I generally just find them pathetic and inexplicable. I'm more bothered by the fact that this kind of humor (irrespective of the comic's intentions) normalizes and effectively minimizes the severity of rape and thus perpetuates the rape culture.

And I'm bothered by the thought of a woman who's recently been raped, who's just experienced what may be the worst thing that will ever happen to her, and goes to see her favorite comedian and have a much-needed laugh—only to hear him using that horrible, life-changing thing as part of a "joke."

I still don't understand—and I don't believe I ever will—why anyone wants to be the guy who sends that shiver down her spine, who makes her eyes burn hot with tears at an unwanted memory while everyone else laughs and laughs.

Millions of people who have survived sexual trauma, particularly (but not exclusively) those who survived multiple events or whose assault was accompanied by significant non-sexual violence, have post-traumatic stress disorder. (I am one of them.) This means that many of the victims of the most brutal rapists are the most likely, when triggered, to suffer a physical reaction. It is the height of callous indifference to prioritize a "joke" over the very real possibility of causing a survivor to have a panic attack in the middle of a full auditorium, left with the decision of staying put and suffering acute anxiety or standing up and walking out, taking the risk of possibly catching the comic's attention and becoming the center of attention at the worst conceivable moment.

Isn't that just fucking hilarious?

I'd love to hear how Gervais finds that "justified comedically." I suspect the explanation would be one of the many tiresome variations of "everybody's offended by something," even though any decent person with a shred of intellectual honesty knows, whether they'll publicly admit it or not, that being involuntarily and physically triggered is not the same thing as being offended.

This is hugely disappointing. Not merely that the joke was made, but that it's being so vociferously defended. The painful irony is that Gervais' defense of his "joke" is itself dependent on acknowledging that rape is a horrendous thing, and yet he's still willing to include it, and defend its inclusion, in a punchline for a general audience, which certainly includes rape survivors, people who paid money to go out and laugh—not have the grim specter of their violation invoked for yuks.

The thing is, I'm not sure he really understands how heinous rape actually is. I don't believe any man who will cast himself as a rapist, even (and perhaps especially) for a laugh, has any clue what they're saying. If they really understood what a (conscious) person being raped felt, looking up at the person forcing himself on hir, the abject terror, feeling his hot breath on hir neck, the stomach-churning revulsion, listening to him grunting and groaning, the red hot anger, struggling and clawing and resisting and succumbing and already feeling the creeping blame, the shame cutting through me like a knife, the horror of it, the unimaginable horror, oh god I can't believe this is happening, no goddamned person would ever cast himself as a rapist for a fucking joke. Not someone who understood. Not someone who'd ever even tried to understand.

[H/T to Shaker Jen. Rape is Hilarious: Parts One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight, Nine, Ten, Eleven, Twelve, Thirteen, Fourteen, Fifteen, Sixteen, Seventeen, Eighteen, Nineteen, Twenty, Twenty-One, Twenty-Two, Twenty-Three, Twenty-Four, Twenty-Five, Twenty-Six, Twenty-Seven, Twenty-Eight, Twenty-Nine, Thirty, Thirty-One, Thirty-Two, Thirty-Three, Thirty-Four.]

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