In recent months since the Edinburgh Fringe Festival there has been a big furore in the world of stand up regarding offensive comedy and the biggest bête noire has been the "rape joke".
As a comedian and comedy writer, I'm uneasy with the term "rape joke" being a catch all for some genre of joke which is unacceptable, surely like all subjects there are funny ways of broaching it and there are callous, tactless ways.
I remember a very old joke that goes;
"I've just been graped!"
"Don't you mean raped?"
"No, there was a bunch of them!"
Which, essentially, is a "rape joke" but I'm sure that most people wouldn't find this example of wordplay particularly outrageous although if you analyze it to the nth degree it clearly implies that the subject of the joke has possibly been gang raped, surely beyond the pale for humour?
Tom Basden's excellent BBC Radio 4 show "Party" recently featured a "rape joke" in so much as one of the characters mistook someone describing a "field of rape" as something akin to "the killing fields of Cambodia". Again a "rape joke" but one that was deemed acceptable for national broadcast at 6.30pm. Just think about that for a moment, it was a joke about the possibility of there being a field in which multiple rapes had occurred, so much so that the field itself had been renamed the "field of rape", again a joke about a questionable subject but handled in a relatively delicate and amusing context.
Personally, as someone who deals in puns and silly one-liners, I wouldn't want to upset an audience but I do think it's dangerous to try to limit what comedians can, and can't, joke about, if "rape jokes" are banned then why not jokes about murder, genocide, celebrity deaths, illnesses, erectile dysfunction, people falling over and any number of other subjects with a victim?
Some comedy promoters in London have even gone so far as to introduce a voluntary "Pledge" scheme where stand ups can sign up to agree to never perform jokes about rape, which seems to me to be a dangerous thin end of the wedge towards censorship.
A lot of comedy is about confronting taboos, death, sex, religion, etc, etc, Monty Python wrote a song and a sketch based on a crucifixion, not generally a subject seen as ripe for comedy but now considered a comedy classic.
I guess context and intention is everything with regard to any joke which could be considered offensive, which makes everything a grey area rather than black and white, one of the beauties of comedy is that there is no overall arbiter of taste and moral decency, which is what allows it to be a constantly evolving art form.
I can totally understand comedy clubs and promoters wanting to avoid upsetting their audiences but I think this should be done with selective booking and making sure they know the acts they have on the bill rather than any form of censoring of comics.
Anyway, that's my tuppence-worth as a comedian/comedy writer who has only ever written one "rape joke" which was the following;
I admit that at University I did molest a prune but I deny that it was date rape.
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