Tosh.Opus

by Brian McKim & Traci Skene on July 16th, 2012

We spent the better part of the last four days in Los Angeles, wallowing in standup comedy, performing standup comedy, talking to standup comics and those who respect them.

Naturally, the conversation drifted… or swerved… or careened directly and purposefully into the topic of The Great Daniel Tosh Rape Joke Controversy.

Is it over? Has the apology been issued and the wounds healed? Is the grievance industry on to the next affront? Are we wasting time fighting a five-day-old battle that is better left alone?

Ha!

Those intent on making some sort of ideological hay out of this whole mess are not letting up.

Judging from what we witnessed on two segments of an MSNBC.com show, Jamie Kilstein is the slimiest weasel in this business currently and Lizz Winstead is a close second. Winstead says that the defense of freedom of expression by her fellow comics is “hilarious” because it’s indicative of “narcissism.” Kilstein referred to Tosh as “the rich dude on stage with a microphone.” (Rich? Do you think that anyone in the audience cares if Tosh is rich? If any of their comedy idols are rich? We suspect the only person who cares about Tosh’s tax return is Kilstein.) And he characterizes Tosh’s remarks as “violently threatening her.”

“I say stuff, but I also don’t want to be a douche,” Kilstein says. Congratulations! You may not want to be a douche, but you seem to be! Apparently, it’s effortless!

Kilstein trots out the old trope that all comics are victims who have been bullied and that’s why we’re doing standup. Total bullshit, of course, but he uses the tired cliche to glorify himself and others– who are “punching up”– and characterizes Tosh and others as tyrants or bully comics who are now punching down.

Winstead speaks a bunch, but, curiously, says little. And what little she says is ambiguous. What matters most, we suspect, is that she has attached herself to a national/international controversy, she has made it onto another television show. Of course, they all seek to distance themselves from Tosh.

Elon James White talks mostly about himself, but sheds little light on the subject.

What is particularly galling about this circle jerk is that none of the participants seem to be sticking to the script we were handed. When SHECKYmagazine.com commented on this incident, we went by the account that appeared on the original tumblr.com blog called Cookies For Breakfast. Based on that, we determined that Tosh was responding to a heckler and he said an outrageous, exaggerated and ironic thing– that couldn’t be taken serious and that could in no way be interpreted to be a call for gangrape. We advised all to calm down and we also counseled that this was yet another in a series of incidents in which the perpetually offended sought, by intimidation and by the rousing of the mainstream media, to hem us in as artists and performers by telling us exactly what we can and cannot comment on when we do standup comedy. And we excerpted or linked to some of the over-the-top (and, in some cases, hate-filled) commentary on Tosh that followed on social media.

What is truly astonishing is to hear comics misquote or mischaracterize that which appeared in the original posting on Cookies For Breakfast. They are saying that Tosh “told everybody in the audience to rape her,” in so many words. Of course, this isn’t so. It makes for a great story if he did. But we’re going by her account. And, if we are to be scrupulously honest, he said no such thing. He said (again, according to the victim), “Wouldn’t it be funny if that girl got raped by like, 5 guys right now? Like right now? What if a bunch of guys just raped her?” Words mean things. That statement can, in no way, be interpreted as encouraging the audience to gangrape someone. Anyone who contends so is being dishonest. While we’re not unequivocally sure if they were his words, they’re the quotes from her account which she has yet to refute. They’re most certainlye not a call to rape. They are, as we apparently must repeat ad infinitum, an exaggerated, ridiculous rhetorical question which no decent person could interpret as a call to action.

What we personally learned in the past 72 hours or so paints a vastly different picture of what happened at the Laugh Factory last weekend. Of course, MSNBC could have perhaps tried to find someone who was present, but that would have entailed some real reporting… like a phone call or two, or maybe some emails or something.

Of course, we realize that MSNBC, a division of General Electric, doesn’t have the gargantuan budget and resources that we do.

But they can, it seems, place a few phone calls in order to summon three obviously biased comedians to the studio to reinforce their contention that Daniel Tosh is evil personified.

Take a look at the picture they used, 1.5 seconds after using the word “rape” for the first time in the report:

It’s a travesty. MSNBC should be ashamed of themselves. Apparently, they’re shameless. “MSNBC… Slump Forward.” They’re dead. Slumped over the steering wheel of television journalism.

We have been able to determine, through our casual conversation– and not through any tireless sleuthing or expensive “crack reporting”– a few facts that cast the interaction between Tosh and the Laugh Factory patron in a vastly different light.

Apparently, Tosh does a bit about… semantics, perhaps? From what we can tell, he delves into the subject of what comics can– and cannot– say. It’s a bit that he’s been doing for some time apparently. The premise of which is that he takes issue with the contention that certain topics are NEVER to be the subject of a comedy routine. Among them, he lists “rape.” (It is perhaps wise to discount Factory owner Jamie Masada’s account of the incident– he says that Tosh opened the discussion up to the audience and asked them what they might want to talk about!)

So, far from being a reactionary bully who was impulsively “hurling violent words about sexual violence” at a hapless, helpless victim. Tosh was doing a bit that sought, essentially, to stake out the boundaries of standup! It is the height of irony that, in all this discussion, Tosh is seen as a troglodyte. And those defending him are portrayed as knuckle-dragging cretins who enjoy non-consensual group sex whenever they can get it.

And, of course, let’s not even attempt to defend the audience. No! Tosh “incited a roomful of drunk people into guffaws about how hilarious it would be if a woman in the crowd was beaten into submission and gangraped.” (Actual quote from a Facebook comment!) Why have the batteries in everyone’s Civility And Over-The-Top Rhetoric Detectors suddenly gone dead? What the fucking fuck? How can any sane person (who wasn’t there) make such gross generalizations about a group of people assembled at a comedy club on a Friday night on Sunset Blvd. in Los Angeles, California, in 2012?

And how, we ask forcefully, can a standup comic with any sort of experience or any sense of honesty or decency make those same generalizations? How can our fellow comics assail Tosh– arguably one of our most successful and high-profile colleagues– based on such little evidence? Should not the default be to– at the very least– defend him until more evidence comes in, lest we err on the side of those who seek to limit our freedom of expression? Or is the career going so poorly that we automatically take the invite from the third-tier cable outlet– and sing the appropriate song– in the hopes that it will lead to some sort of gig that will enable us to pay for our 475 sq. ft. studio in Manhattan without having to sully ourselves by going over the bridge into Jersey and entertaining those gangrape fans at a one-nighter in Ft. Lee?

We’re appalled to witness this “ideological gangrape.” (Ours. Credit us.)

Also appalling is the gutless gang of comics who make a weak show of “defending” Tosh while simultaneously conceding that just maybe, when it comes to certain subjects, our speech should be limited. They cloak this nonsense jabbering about “responsiblity” or they say that “it’s okay if it’s funny,” or it can’t be offensive if “the joke is intelligent.”

It doesn’t matter. Whenever a comic encounters someone who says, “(Fill in the blank) is NEVER funny,” (and the key word is “never”) the conversation should end right there. It matters not if the statement is uttered by a drunk patron, a sober patron, a college professor, a newspaper columnist, your grandmother, the guy who picks up your dry cleaning, a fellow comic. There is no discussion. These folks “have a right to their opinion,” but their opinion is wrong. Utterly, totally, undeniably wrong.

It is wrong. Nothing should be off-limits– be it offensive or outrageous or ill-thought-out. This essential freedom is an integral part of our creative process. Every comedian should have said, “That woman is wrong. There are a lot of funny rape jokes out there.” And any discussion of “responsibility” or “apologies” or “taking flak” or “hurtful speech” is secondary to the larger issue of freedom of expression. Especially if we’re going on less than complete information.

A comic we spoke to– who witnessed the entire exchange– said that the comedy club patron spoke up, Tosh responded as was reported, got a huge laugh, and immediately went back to his act. Our witness also said that the complaining patron didn’t immediately leave and that, when she did exit, few, if any, noticed.

It is odd that no one in the mainstream media bothered to find out– beyond talking to the proprietor of the club– what happened that night. We’re frequently told that the world we’re entering– where Americans no longer get their news from TV or newspapers or magazines but from blog posts and tweets and Instagram photos– is a bleak, lawless and ultimately dishonest one where no one knows the truth and where facts are hard to come by and people are left to cobble together rickety opinions from disparate and untrustworthy sources. What we witnessed, however, was a mob who sought to ignore the few facts they were given while assembling– not a story– but a case. A case against a comedian. And they did it with the weak and biased assistance of such outlets as Mediaite.com and a lonely, anonymous blogger who was quoting an angry, anonymous (and humorless) woman. And they had help from supposedly “legitimate” legacy media outlets like MSNBC.

Even the vaunted Huffingtonpost.com, Yahoo.com and TheNation.com assembled shoddy, prejudicial collections of tweets and various other dubious bits of ephemera– from a host of questionable, possibly biased sources– to smear an artist in the name of some sort of rarified ideal that no one should ever make light of a subject that has been deemed “off limits.”

It is shameful.

On a lighter note: As The Male Half of the Staff was relaxing after a set at the Comedy & Magic Club this past Wednesday evening, a club staffer poked his head in the green room and took the time to tell TMHOTS just how much he enjoyed SHECKYmagazine.com’s most recent posting– about the Tosh controversy. He stated that it was apparently a particularly pertinent posting in light of the fact that TMHOTS does a “rape joke.” TMHOTS paused for a second, puzzled… before realizing that, yes, indeed, he DOES do a rape joke! Any idea that we here at SHECKYmagazine.com crusade wholly (or even in part) for purely selfish reasons are just a nasty rumor, as evidenced by the total obliviousness of TMHOTS to his own creative output. Of course, the more cynical among our readership may view that as TMHOTS’s total obliviousness to the sensitivities of those who have been, are currently or will soon be victims of rape. And further evidence of his total lack of awareness of his status as White Male Oppressor. To that, The Female Half of the Staff would respond: “Go fuck yourself!”

On a technical note: The Male Half tried doing this joke while substituting “attempted rape” with “attempted murder,” but it doesn’t get that big of a laugh. It may have something to do with the fact that rape (or attempted rape… or copping to attempted rape) is viewed as more horrific than murder (or attempted murder… or copping to attempted murder) and thus the joke is more “shocking.” And probably because “murder” has two syllables, whereas “rape” has one. Plus “rape” has that hard, punchy “P-sound” at the end. To the radical feminists in the audience, we would say that, sometimes it has nothing to do with rape and everything to do with mechanics… and the expectations, taboos and sensibilities of the audience.

On an even lighter note: The Male Half got into a Facebook skirmish with a fellow comedian (who he’s known for 14 years) over The Tosh Incident. This particular comedian savaged Tosh, saying there was “no joke” and that Tosh “just wanted her raped.” TMHOTS responded by making a few of the points we’ve been making here at SHECKYmagazine.com only to be called a “complete asshole!” That was followed by:

Your self righteous diatribe is ridiculous and makes YOU look like a bully. How about this Brian…I hope you get ass raped over you trying to insult me in a public forum. How’s that for ironic douche bag?!!! OH, NOW I’M FUNNY!!!!! NOW I GET IT!!!! By the way, your act will never get you in trouble because it doesn’t make any “real” controversial statements, so feel free to weigh in on shit you know nothing about. Rent a car jokes are safe. Stop trying to be so relevant when you’re not. Now follow the pack and continue to feel important with your blog that nobody reads.

It is puzzling. Comics do this all the time. Having lost an argument (or, worse yet, thinking they have won an argument!), they resort to the “You aren’t funny/ you are a hack/ I never thought you weren’t funny” mode of attack. It’s laughably juvenile.

His postings smack of nothing more than an attempt to draw a line between himself and Daniel Tosh, whom he views as an inferior, outmoded reactionary. We’ve seen it in other postings this past week. Weasely comics seeking to elevate themselves while simultaneously seeking to denigrate Tosh.

Beyond that, The Male Half is confused. If his act is so banal, why then do he and The Female Half so vigorously defend the freedom of expression of those who are far more controversial? And, furthermore, if The Angry Facebooker is so cutting edge and avant garde, why then is he so willing to throw Tosh and others of his ilk under the bus?

It is a staggering myopia. They can’t see how this might one day come back to bite them in the ass.

“Oh… it’ll blow over.” That’s what some of our colleagues have said. We understand how some folks would say that. It’s what we like to call “wish-y thinking.” It’s what you wish to happen. But it ignores the possible consequences.

Like?

Well… yesterday, at Comic-Con (the annual gathering of geeks and comic freaks in San Diego), Comedy Central, at what was no doubt a meticulously planned and calculated event, revealed the pilot for Tosh’s new animated series, Brickleberry. CNN reports:

The animated show about forest rangers focuses on adult characters. Rumors swirled (but even RumorFix commenters were pointing out inaccuracies) in the run up to the panel that the cartoon was frantically getting scrubbed of any rape jokes before its Comic-Con debut.

Yay, free expresssion! Wahoo! Daniel Tosh can create a twisted, animated series for Comedy Central… so long as it doesn’t have any jokes about rape, all right? Okay! Sounds good! Seth MacFarlane is probably bursting with pride.

Further on in the article, there is an account of a comedy team, Paul & Storm, who did a show nearby the Comic-Con:

The night before the “Brickleberry” panel, nerdy musical comedy act Paul & Storm presented a skit at w00tstock that analyzed levels of inappropriateness and their relative possible humor.

…The comedic duo proceeded to plot examples of inappropriate topics on an X/Y axis, defining which topics were safe or not so safe for a comedian to tackle.

Rape was not plotted on their skit’s graph.

“Apparently in (Tosh’s) act, he was trying to make that point that anything can be funny,” said Paul Sabourin of Paul & Storm, “but from what I can tell he was doing it in a pretty unartful way.”

Later on, Storm makes a point about how a comedy club is a place “where things were expected to get uncomfortable,” but, “Now, of course, anything that’s said anywhere can potentially be said everywhere.”

“Exactly,” Sabourin said, “just ask Michael Richards.”

Does anyone feel a chill?

Essentially what he is saying is that, in the wonderful new rape-joke-free world, comedy clubs will be stripped of their context.

Does anyone need further evidence of the effects of these blog-, tweet- and activist-driven jihads, fueled by such hacks as those at TMZ.com, Mediaite.com and MSNBC? In countless interviews, blogposts, tweets and Facebook status updates, Tosh was (unfairly) linked to Michael Richards. Now, the meme has taken hold. Tosh was, near as we can tell, doing a bit about the boundaries of standup comedy when he was interrupted by a self-centered, self-important, humorless boob. 72 hours later, he’s assailed by thousands on various social media.

One week later, in a report on Comic-Con on CNN.com, it’s implied that his pilot has been scrubbed of certain references. And performers at that conference say that “a simple apology, and one that’s unequivocal, is usually a good thing.”

Mission accomplished.

Check out the total horseshit in Slate.com! Slate says that any topic can be joked about “when done correctly.” Uh huh. They leave it unsaid as to whom exactly shall determine when a joke is “done correctly.” It is this ambiguity that is extremely dangerous. And it is this ambiguity that they count on to purge standup of any topics they deem unacceptable.

But, just to be helpful, the author (who is some asshat who worked as “a sports editor at Yahoo! U.K. in London and as a contributor for the Riviera Times in Nice, France.”) is now a fucking expert on standup comedy and offers these helpful tips:

A joke that ridicules the victims or potential victims of rape is just as terrible as one that mocks victims of lynching. If you’re going to make a joke about rape—- or lynching, or the Holocaust—- you should, as Lindy West pointed out in her excellent response to the incident on Jezebel, make damn sure that you are not ridiculing victims. And you should try to make damn sure that your joke has a larger point—- that the joke, in other words, is worth it.

Perfect! Slate has figured it all out. Now, jokes have to be “worth it.”

Sadly, some of our fellow comics would read the above and say, with a straight face, “Well, my jokes are worth it.” And they would be oblivious to the horrifying re-arrangement of the dynamic that they previously worked in. Now, they had better beware of the “P.C. Police.” There are other people participating in the creative process. And they don’t have our best interests in mind. Creating our standup no longer seems to be a matter that is between us and the audience. People who aren’t even present when you perform will be able to make judgments, without all the facts, with incomplete information.

And, finally, this past weekend, in two separate incidents, two comics– Tammy Pescatelli and Eddie Griffin– had drinks thrown at them by audience members who were offended by what they said onstage. Coincidence? Perhaps. Perhaps not.

First they came for the rape jokes, and I didn’t speak out because, after all, my rape jokes are insightful and done correctly. Keep dreaming.

Of course, the P.C. Police don’t have any power to arrest anyone. They are merely “deputies” who have been invested with the power of those who seek to shape, carve and mold the way we (comics, performers in general, anyone) talk about things.

Are you going to force us to dredge up the experiences of Lenny Bruce? Remember what happened when it was discovered that he was using the word “cocksuckers” onstage. From an account in Salon.com, back in 2003:

Bruce brought the house down. But among the guffawing hipsters, goateed existentialists and black-bedecked jazz fans (tenor great Ben Webster was also on the bill) was a man who was not laughing. He was a San Francisco policeman named James Ryan, who had been sent to the club by his sergeant, James Solden, with instructions to see if anything of a “lewd nature” was going on.

…After a brief conference, Ryan and Solden decided they had heard enough to arrest Bruce. As the crowd from the 10 p.m. show left, Ryan and Solden informed Bruce and the club owner they were arresting the performer for obscenity and escorted Bruce to the police call box in front of Enrico Banducci’s Hungry i.

Hey! Guess what? The bit Bruce was doing was “worth it.” And it made a point. And it was done correctly. All that didn’t matter to the officers. He was arrested anyway.

Do you trust ANYBODY else to make the call that your shit is “worth it?” That it’s “done correctly?” That it makes a point?

These folks seek to herd artists into doing their art “for the good of society.” And, conversely, they seek to ruin those who don’t feel inclined to do their art for the good of society. Pardon us if that doesn’t give us the fascist willies.