Update | CK says he was unaware of the Tosh incident when he tweeted, a claim I find implausible. But he also says that the whole thing made him more aware of women’s experience of rape than he had been.
Louis CK is about a year older than me. He, like me, is a divorced joint-custody father of two. His daughters are each about a year older than mine, and like mine they go to pretty good New York City public schools. Like me he’s a bearded pasty Manhattanite who could stand to lose a few pounds. Like me he’s trying to be an anti-racist, anti-sexist, decent human being in the face of a hell of a lot of training to the contrary.
And he’s brilliant, so when he talks about his life and his worldview, he frequently says stuff I wish I’d said, or figured out before. Louis CK has stood on my television and told me true things about how I feel about being a parent that I didn’t know until he said them. He’s said serious things about serious things that I’ve repeated over and over.
And so I’m sad tonight, and pissed off.
If you don’t know the background, here it is:
Not long ago, on Tumblr, someone posted a note from a friend about how she’d inadvertently wandered into a Daniel Tosh standup show and how things got really creepy:
So Tosh then starts making some very generalizing, declarative statements about rape jokes always being funny, how can a rape joke not be funny, rape is hilarious, etc. I don’t know why he was so repetitive about it but I felt provoked because I, for one, DON’T find them funny and never have. So I didnt appreciate Daniel Tosh (or anyone!) telling me I should find them funny. So I yelled out, “Actually, rape jokes are never funny!”
I did it because, even though being “disruptive” is against my nature, I felt that sitting there and saying nothing, or leaving quietly, would have been against my values as a person and as a woman. I don’t sit there while someone tells me how I should feel about something as profound and damaging as rape.
After I called out to him, Tosh paused for a moment. Then, he says, “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…”
Yeah. So she left, obviously, and asked for a refund which she didn’t get, and then told the story to the friend who posted it. And then folks found out about it and reblogged it (or whatever the hell they do on Tumblr, I don’t know), and it got traction and eventually Tosh himself responded on Twitter:
“all the out of context misquotes aside, i’d like to sincerely apologize http://j.mp/PJ8bNs“
That’s a non-apology, of course, since it doesn’t include any specific acknowledgment of wrongdoing. And it’s a particularly churlish non-apology since it accuses his accuser of unspecified sins. It’s bullshit, in short. But whatever, it’s Daniel Tosh, who was always an asshole. Why should today be any different?
And then Louis CK stepped in. Damn it.
Now, I should say that as righteous as CK has often been, he’s stumbled sometimes, as do we all. He’s made some moves I wouldn’t have made, said some things I wish he hadn’t. And he’s also said some things that I wasn’t sure how to take.
Specifically, he’s told some rape jokes. In each case, if I squinted, I could read them as rape culture jokes, jokes about how screwed up our society is when it comes to rape, jokes about how screwed up men are when it comes to sex and power and control. As a white guy, I don’t want to say white guys can’t make weird uncomfortable jokes about race and gender. Sometimes, in some contexts, we can and do. Sometimes in doing so we speak to important truths.
I’m not going to defend any specific joke tonight, and I’m not going to defend the general principle either. Maybe I’ve been wrong when I’ve done it in the past. I don’t know. What I do know is that I gave Louis CK too much credit for navigating those questions thoughtfully and consciously, because what Louis tweeted after Tosh tweeted his non-apology is this:
@danieltosh your show makes me laugh every time I watch it. And you have pretty eyes.
Dude. Come on.
What we know about that night is that a woman says Daniel Tosh joked, after she called him on making rape jokes, that it’d be funny if a bunch in the guys in the audience raped her. How on earth is that funny? How on earth is that not fucked up?
I’m not going to say that Tosh was giving the guys in the audience a green light to rape that woman. But you can’t not say he was giving them the green light to screw with her. You can’t say he wasn’t sending them the message he thought it’d be funny if they made a bunch of jokes to her face, in a dark parking lot, about how they ought to rape her right there. You can’t say that if they did that, they’d have any reason to believe he’d think it wasn’t cool.
You know about jokes. You know far more than me about jokes. And that joke just isn’t okay.