On the offensive

Does offensive material have a place in comedy?

By Natalie Serafini, Staff Writer

Free speech versus offence usually isn’t too tricky for me. As a person who likes to state her opinion, I’m a strong advocate of freedom of speech, regardless of who might be offended. I generally ascribe to the belief that if you don’t have the right to state your opinions, then you don’t have a whole hell of a lot. Yet the Daniel Tosh rape joke incident doesn’t seem to fit in any tidy notion of what freedom of speech means. While there are a number of different versions of what exactly happened, the basic premise is that a woman went to a comedy club where Daniel Tosh was performing. Part of his gig was stating that rape jokes are always funny. The offended woman heckled him, saying “Actually, rape jokes are never funny!” Tosh responded (and here the lines get a bit blurred) with either “Wouldn’t it be funny if you were raped by five guys right now?” or “She sounds like she was raped by five guys.” Following the incident and the outrage over Tosh’s statements, there’s been some back and forth on free speech and censorship, especially with regards to placing limitations on humour.

I generally don’t think rape jokes are funny. Essentially, I’m disgusted by rape jokes because I’m disgusted by rape, and few jokes that I’ve heard have prompted me to laugh about it. I’m not going to say the jokes can never be funny though, because I think that in the right words, extremely dark humour can be both funny and constructive. Almost anything has the potential to be funny, but not everything is necessarily a laugh riot.

The claim that “comedy shouldn’t have limitations” has, well, certain limitations. The caveat in that statement is that you have to actually be a good comedian. I mean, if it’s not funny, it’s not comedy, right? People have compared Tosh to George Carlin, who apparently argued that rape jokes are funny. Truthfully, though, that’s like comparing a two-year-old to Albert Einstein: George Carlin was on a whole other level. He was funny. Dark humour is generally approached with intelligence and wit to portray something serious in a humorous light. With Tosh’s brand of humour—which is intentionally immature and offensive—there is neither intelligence nor wit, meaning that his attempts at dark humour emerge with all the sophistication of a fart joke.

Tosh is welcome to say what he likes, but let’s not defend his actions and say he’s “just being funny” or “trying to make a point.” Tosh doesn’t do satirical humour, he does purposely offensive humour, and this is where freedom of speech loses all meaning. Once you start using free speech to be deliberately offensive, not prompting people to think, feel, or laugh on a deeper level, then your words have zero meaning. At which point I say: yes, you’re welcome to say whatever the hell you want to say, but I’m not listening to the moron with the megaphone.

[quote style=”boxed”]With Tosh’s brand of humour—which is intentionally immature and offensive—there is neither intelligence nor wit, meaning that his attempts at dark humour emerge with all the sophistication of a fart joke.[/quote]

It’s even more apparent that Tosh wasn’t trying to make a point, based on the fact that he half-heartedly apologized for his “misquoted” and “out of context” statements. If he were trying to make a point about rape, or comedy, or anything else, then he would have stood by his statements—whether by saying “This is my comedy” or “This is what I believe”—and not backed down by apologizing. If he’d done that, then I would say we have a difference of opinion and I still don’t think you’re funny. But it’s apparent that his statements are simply offensive for the sake of being offensive.

I don’t think comedy should be censored, because there are comedians out there who are intelligent, say what they mean, and are hilarious while doing it. You have to realize that as the audience, we have the power to ignore those who don’t amuse us. If you think Tosh is funny, have at it. If you don’t, ignore him.