Laugh, Leave, or Shut Up

Gilbert Gottfried is the kind of comedian you either love or hate. And he just gave the lovers another reason to keep on loving him.

Daniel Tosh came under fire recently for some jokes he made about the ever-so-touchy subject of rape. (Get it, “touchy? Oh look, I just made my first rape joke!) Gottfried, being no stranger to being attacked for jokes the masses have found offensive, came to Tosh’s defense in the form of an op-ed for Gottfried did not defend Tosh’s jokes, but his right as a comedian to make them:

If you have never in your life seen a comedian perform, here are the instructions:

If a comedian tells a joke that you find funny, you laugh. If he tells a joke you do not find funny, don’t laugh. Or you could possibly go as far as groaning or rolling your eyes. Then you wait for his next joke; if that’s funny, then you laugh. If it’s not, you don’t laugh — or at very worst, you can leave quietly.

He makes it sound so simple. Because it is. He references George Carlin’s old declaration, “It’s the duty of a comedian to find out where the line is drawn and then step over it,” adding:

I don’t want to compare myself to George Carlin because when I first heard his quote, I laughed and said, “He said dooty.” I guess he was more intellectual than me.

But laughing at “dooty” doesn’t make Mr. Gottfired unintellectual, and I suppose he knows it. He’s just taking a break from making a salient point to make fun of himself, like any good self-loathingly-Jewish comedian would. But his main point still stands. And that’s why I’m here now, quoting Gottfried quoting Carlin. Because it is important to point out that they are right. Some touchy subjects, be they rape, natural disasters, or the Holocaust, will always offend. Because they hurt. But that’s exactly why we have to find ways to make fun of them. They are issues that are simply too serious not to laugh at.

Rape jokes are incredibly hard to make funny. Most comedians may do a shitty job handling them. But that doesn’t mean others shouldn’t try. And as the audience member listening to a comedian making an attempt, you hold a powerful position. You get to decide whether they succeeded. But don’t make that decision for other audience members by heckling. Instead, voice your opinion by just shutting up. Because here’s the secret: Silence hurts a comedian far more than any heckle could.

Thank you, Mr. Gottfried, for reminding us all, comedians and audience members alike, how simple it is.

What do you think?

About The Author


Megan Sass is a natural redhead. She is also a writer, actor, and Hebrew School teacher. Turn-ons include: Boxer Dogs, Falafel, and Fanboys (especially those residing in the capital of the DC Universe). You can follow her on twitter at @Megan_Sass.

3 Responses

  1. Gili Malinsky

    I agree with Sass and Gottfired. That said I don’t know how I would have handled a rape joke. Hopefully not by heckling. Maybe by leaving the room.

  2. David

    When the heckler responded to the profound discomfort Tosh had inspired, his response to her was this: “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…”

    If we suppose the original joke had been about race, and a black man had suggested it wasn’t funny, could you imagine a white comedian getting away with the response: “Wouldn’t it be funny if that guy got lynched by like, 5 guys right now? Like right now? What if a bunch of guys just lynched him…?”

    It comes dangerously close to inciting violence (a form of speech the U.S. Constitution does not protect). At that point, it stopped being comedy. It was just public bullying.

  3. SASS

    I’m not sure that it doesn’t qualify as protected speech, but you do make an excellent point with the parallel you offer. If it had, in fact, been about race, this certainly would have been an even bigger issue, and the consequences for Tosh would certainly have been greater. And because I can’t find anything wrong with this parallel, I must say, fair point, and you have swayed me slightly.

    It troubles me, in fact, that we as a society (and myself!) do not react to sexual violence with the same degree of anger and concern we react to racial violence with,


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