BREAKING: Male comics care about rape jokes now
The first time I ever tried stand-up comedy was five years ago at a comedy club in New Jersey. After my set was done, I was immediately hooked. I felt the way most girls describe feeling after their boyfriends have proposed. I was so happy, I pretty much blacked out.
The minutes after my first set are a blur, but I do remember one thing. The host of the open mic took the stage after me and said something really creepy and overly sexual. He was speculating, loudly and into the microphone, about what it would be like to go down on me. And everyone in the predominantly male crowd was laughing with him. No one seemed offended or concerned at all.
To be fair, I didn’t care that much about what he said. I knew the comedy world was a boys’ club. I also firmly believe that getting offended by words is a waste of time and emotional labor. So whatever. I figured if I got funnier, my jokes would drown out any objectification or sexualization that came from other comics.
So I’ve continued to perform at open mics and comedy shows with the knowledge that at any moment, someone could make a big deal out of my gender, appearance or sex life, no matter what I say or do. This is true for all comedians, not just me. And men aren’t the only ones guilty of doing it. Once or twice, a woman who’s taken the stage after me has commented on my looks, too. It’s annoying, and more importantly, usually unfunny. But I’ve accepted it as the cost of doing business in stand-up comedy. The stage is a free-for-all where people are allowed to say whatever they want, so I can’t be mad when fellow comics make me the butt of their jokes.
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But last night, I performed at an open mic for the first time since the Harvey Weinstein and Louis C.K. scandals erupted. And I learned that now, male comics actually give a shit about gross sex jokes at their female peers’ expense — but I don’t know how I feel about it. It should be a win for female comics everywhere, but I’m ambivalent about male comics’ newfound wokeness.
Here’s the story: I performed five minutes of jokes at the mic last night, and it went pretty well. After I got up, a male comic went after me. This guy made it clear from the jump that he either wasn’t very funny, or he was workshopping some VERY new material that was still devoid of punchlines.
But then, weirdly, midway through his set, he started to address me as I sat in the crowd. He was speaking into the mic and pointing at me. This is the gist of what he said:
“Hey, I think you’re pretty hot. I’d really like to have sex with you. Okay, that wasn’t a joke. It was more of a setup. The punchline would be that I’d like to rape you.”
Sooo that was a lot. But like I said, this was an open mic. Any idiot is allowed to get onstage and talk into the microphone for five minutes, uninterrupted. Because of this, open mics are hotbeds of bad rape jokes. If I got emotional over every unfunny misogynistic joke I’d ever heard at a mic, I would’ve quit comedy a long time ago.
That’s why I wasn’t really bothered by his comments. The fact that no one was laughing really sweetened the deal. Instead, the crowd seemed appalled. Watching your joke land with a thud is a worse punishment than a public scolding ever could be. I figured the show would go on and we’d get to the next comic, who’d hopefully either leave raping me out of his set or at least be funny about it.
But then, when the host, who was also male, took the stage again, something shocking happened: he stuck up for me.
The host told the rape comic that what he said wasn’t cool and that those kinds of comments weren’t welcome in this room. Then, the host got off the stage and apologized to me on the other comic’s behalf. He came up to me and apologized again at the end of the mic.
It’s pretty rare for an open mic host to go to the trouble of apologizing on behalf of a shitty comic. This host was really nice and I feel like I should be grateful that he said something. He really didn’t have to do that. But here’s the weird part: the apologies made me feel more uncomfortable than the rape joke had.
I’ve been hearing gross sex jokes at my expense at comedy shows and mics for years. They don’t even faze me anymore, just like they never fazed the other guys in the room. I’m sure if the comic who went after me had said the same thing at a mic two months ago, no one would’ve batted an eye.
But it freaked me out that now, a few weeks post-Weinstein, I was being seen as some sort of victim. I pride myself on being able to take shit from other comics without having my feelings hurt. I think the world would be a better place if we all stopped being offended by jokes. That’s why I stuck up for the SNL writer who got suspended after joking about Barron Trump.
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Plus, I know that comic didn’t actually want to rape me. He was just trying and failing to be funny — and he probably learned his lesson when no one laughed.
The host wasn’t the only guy who took the rape joke harder than I had. The other dudes in the room also seemed shocked. Was this their first open mic?! I actually had to stop myself from laughing as I looked around the room and watched their jaws drop. It was kind of cute to see their innocence crushed, as if this was the first time they’d ever heard a male comic say something horrifying about a woman.
I’m sure these guys have heard dozens, if not hundreds, of bad rape jokes involving real women. But before the Weinstein and Louis scandals were made public, did they have some sort of selective hearing and not notice the shitty rape jokes? Or did they just not care?
And weirdly, I found myself in a position of almost having to comfort the host, reassuring him that I’ve been the butt of jokes like this ever since my first mic and I’m used to it. He was really nice and again, I’m thankful that he said something. I hope other male comics will do the same for newer girls who aren’t already hardened by open mic bro antics like I am.
Because jokes like these keep women from getting into standup. The host was absolutely right when, after the rape comic’s set, he announced to the room, “Shit like this is why there’s only one female comic here.”
Now that it’s trendy to speak up against sexual harassment, even open mic comics are finally noticing when their peers rip on women in a misogynistic way. I don’t want to say it’s too little too late, because progress of any kind is good. But generally speaking, these guys also allowed their fellow men to say abusive shit about their female peers onstage throughout all of stand-up comedy history, up until a few weeks ago. The biggest joke of all is the idea that this is something new and surprising.