Is sarcasm an excuse for awful comedy?

Seriously, people, Daniel Tosh does not mean it.

I’m not even saying that’s an excuse.  There may well be moral turpitude in telling outlandishly awful jokes about rape, spousal abuse, and body dysmorphia, whether you mean it or not.  But the same way as you can objectively say that Hamlet is about a prince in Denmark (whatever else it might also be), I think it can be objectively stated that Tosh is kidding.  Whether he goes too far is open to debate, but he is fucking kidding.

I’ll go into my evidence in a minute, but I showed a female friend the Tosh special Happy Thoughts the other day (I don’t know what I was thinking) and I realized midway through that it might be a bit much.  I asked her afterward if she hated it.  Her measured response was “There were parts of it that I didn’t agree with.”

Maybe I’m being defensive of my own choice of media, but she said it like she couldn’t tell the difference between a stand-up comedy routine and a TED talk.  Of course you wouldn’t agree with it when Tosh says (in reference to hitting women) “Keep an open palm; that’ll keep you out of prison.”  I’m pretty sure Tosh doesn’t “agree” with that either.

Other than the fact that he would actually be in prison rather than touring theaters if he did, primary evidence exists within the routine.  He follows that statement up immediately by saying “I don’t know if that’s true.”  (Another comic understatement.)  “Just in case someone goes home tonight and decides to beat the shit out of his wife … ‘Well, I kept an open hand!  Your Honor, the comedian clearly stated …..!'”

On the other hand … the qualifying follow-up draws attention to a pesky fact … Tosh knows that by saying it, someone just might be inspired to go home and beat their wife.  That someone would have to be a grade-A moron … slim comfort to the freshly-beaten wife.

Does this really happen?  Has anyone ever committed a crime because they interpreted a comedian’s joke as permission?  I don’t know, because, like Tosh, I don’t research (though he might have been joking about that as well).  A cursory Google search didn’t help.  But that’s the eternal question.  Do violent video games lead to violence in the culture?  Will exposure to R-rated movies make kids desensitized as adults?  Last I heard, the jury was out, and gut opinions rule this arena.

My gut says that Tosh is hilarious.  Disgusting and wrong, but hilarious.  It’s an act; I see through it, and that’s part of it, to realize that Tosh is in on the joke; that there’s self-deprecation in the stupidity of his oafish persona.  I don’t blame someone for not liking it.  Let’s just not do this like Tosh is an actual advocate for rape and child molestation; that’s willfully missing the point, or (yes, I’ll say it) honest-to-goodness “not getting the joke.”

Case in point … Tosh rants that he gets pegged as a bleeding-heart liberal but he actually conservative.  His first evidence for this:  “I hate the poor!  I’ve said that forever.”  Anyone at Fox News want to claim him?

Tosh’s most recent stand-up special, People Pleaser, shows Tosh deliberately adapting his act to the controversy he has generated (and no less funny for the effort).   More than ever, he follows his more rowdy jokes with meta-commentary that calls attention to the artifice of the Tosh persona (a chauvenistic fratboy with a clueless sense of entitlement and a childishly thin skin).

This is most explicit when he acknowledges the controversy that got him what he accurately describes as “a ton of bad press” a year or two ago.  Tosh pushes back against the notion that “There’s nothing funny about <blank>.”  When expounding on this subject in front of an audience and bringing up the subject of rape, a woman in attendance had shouted back at him “There is nothing funny about rape!”

“I’ve never defended myself in public, despite misquotes,” Tosh muses on the incident.  “Mainly because I’m rich.  [*Laughter*]  I figure fuck it.  I say awful things for a living; there’s consequences.”

He left out his response to that woman who shouted up at him.  He responded to the heckling by saying to the audience “Wouldn’t it be hilarious if that woman was raped right now?”

So … not funny?  Reasonable people can disagree.  think that comeback is funny.

Stay with me.  What if Tosh had said “Wouldn’t it be funny if that woman was raped in the parking lot on her way to the car?”  That’s not funny.  That’s plausible and scary.  What Tosh actually said brought to mind the image of someone standing up in the theater, in the middle of a comedy show, and raping someone in front of hundreds of witnesses.  So absurd you almost have to … I guess “laugh” would be the word?

A fine-line distinction?  Maybe … but keep in mind that Tosh picked the right one (or at least the most debatable one) on the fly in response to a heckle.  What are the odds he would have threaded that needle if he was expounding off-the-cuff about his actual personal views?

Still, if my liberal feminist friend can mistake a comedy routine for a statement of purpose, maybe a violent regressive can do the same …..

Do you think Tosh and other highly-provocative comedians go too far?  Can comedy cause crime? 

One Reply to “Is sarcasm an excuse for awful comedy?”

  1. Yes, I think sometimes they do. Everyone has their personal comfort zone about what is funny or not. And everyone has the right to go to a comedian’s show or not. You should know what you’re getting into.


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