Are rape jokes funny? Yes, sometimes...

Says Sheila Graham

It’s my sad duty to report to you, people, that one in three women will be exposed to a rape joke. I’m sad to say that it happened to me. There were no lasting consequences thankfully, just a raging ear infection the next day.

And now... Mike Sheer. You got me. In my mind, I was flying to London, Bowie knife betwixt teeth, ready to cut your balls off, like a murderous Wonder Woman, on the strength of your article.

Looking back, I guess it’s KINDA funny. But anything that enrages the Twittersphere is always of casual interest to me. It’s a sphere that has, in the past, gotten its self into an eye-popping, mouth foaming tizzy about all manner of subjects: The Arab Spring, Kim Kardashian and rain. It truly is the Metro letters page of the internet.

What is it this time? It’s that old’ ‘rape jokes, are they funny?’ conundrum. And the short answer is: Yes, they bloody well are.

But as always, there’s a caveat. Rape jokes, just like jokes about 9/11, race, sexuality, religion, or just about any controversial, or potentially explosive subject you want to name are funny IF… they’re funny.

When I say ‘funny’, I mean well-written, witty, thought-provoking and intelligent.

So in that case, let’s tell all the off-colour jokes we can! Let’s make it a competition! Who ever can tell the best rape joke wins... I dunno. What’s an appropriate prize for that competition? It’d be tasteless to suggest a Fifty Shades Of Grey box set.

A good joke, for me, is a prize in its self. It starts, you wonder where it’s going, and then you reach the punchline, It’s unexpected and it makes you think as you laugh. If all we were doing all day was telling each other increasingly ambitious jokes, think about how big our brains would become! We’d evolve! Our brains would become so big, we’d have to invent brain barrows to cart them around in! Trundling around all day in hilarity. Utopia!

When are those jokes not funny? Well... When the controversial subject is the only punchline. When you rely on material which is controversial for its own sake, merely to cement your reputation as an ‘edgy’ comedian, you’re not channelling Bill Hicks, you’re just a twit on a stage with a beer in your hand and a falsely inflated sense of relevance.

Making cheap jokes where the only point (for want of a better word) is that you get to say something puerile about paedophiles so your equally thick friends can guffaw, only highlights laziness, contempt for your audience and the worst of these – a total lack of faith in your own material.

If you can’t write a funny joke about a box, my friend, there’s no way you’re going to be able to pull off a real zinger about 9/11.

As for the people out there, who are falling over themselves to say ‘ban this sick filth NOW!’ Think about it. We are lucky to live in a society where we are able to say the unsayable. Sometimes it’s joyful, or groundbreaking; it’s clumsy, or misunderstood. Sometimes it’s genuine hate speech, in which case we are free to shout back, or demonstrate, or rebut with the eloquence our detractors lack.

That’s an incredibly precious right. In some countries, like Somalia, comedians are killed for their humour. Don’t be too quick to demand silence without thought.

And I mean you, mouth foaming, eye popping feminists-who-say-they-speak-for-all-women! You guys really are The Metro letters page of us.

Published: 4 Oct 2012

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