When Daniel Tosh made headlines with a joke about rape this week, he was hardly the first comic to reference the sick act.
Anyone who has been to a comedy show knows that an audience member who is foolish enough to yell something from the crowd, though, knows that that person has put him- or herself at the mercy of an angry comic.
Notable comics such as Louis C.K. and Godfrey, among many others, have spoken about rape onstage in the past and were met with loud applause.
Obviously, rape is not funny. By now, the quotes from Tosh's performance at the Laugh Factory are all over the Internet, but most accounts report that after the comic made a general statement about rape during his performance, a female audience member stood up and shouted, Rape jokes are never funny!
Tosh responded: Wouldn't it be funny if that girl got raped by like five guys right now? What if a bunch of guys just raped her? He has since apologized via Twitter. Tosh's stand-up persona is an arrogant, smarmy know-it-all who constantly references rape, the inferiority of other races, religion, and pretty much anything that makes audiences uncomfortable.
Comedians are paid to make people laugh -- and some are able to do it by talking about offensive, indeed taboo, subjects. In fact, the biggest acts regularly reference disgusting, perverse acts because pining on about airline food doesn't appeal to many people's sense of humor. Based on things comics have said in the past, it's a bit of a surprise there haven't been more controversies like this one in the past.
Tosh himself has a joke about how he pranked his sister by replacing her Mace with Silly String. He followed the setup with a punch line along the line of, She got so raped.
There are three clips below that each reference rape. Just a quick warning here: None of these should be listened to by young ears.
The first video is from the critically beloved show Louie, in which the popular comic Louis C.K., who has defended Tosh since the controversy broke this week, digs into a heckler by telling her she wouldn't even exist if her mother hadn't raped a homeless Chinese man.
It's important to note that while this video is fictional, the following two are not, but keep this in mind throughout: comedians don't always mean what they say.
The second Louis C.K. video is footage from a 2004 performance, during which the comic says, You could have a good reason to rape someone. Say there's somebody you want to [make love to], and they won't let you. What are you supposed to do? What other recourse do you have?
There are members of the audience who heave with laughter. It seems like, sometimes, for comedians to get the biggest laughs, they have to go for the hardest targets. The thought of whether rape is never funny never seems to occur to the audience in the second clip.
The third video is a bit more intense. Godfrey, another hugely popular comic, brings up rape in the same sentence with Harry Potter and gets a reaction he doesn't like from an audience member sitting close to the stage. It escalates quickly, but before the conversation(s) pick up any steam Godfrey makes it clear he'll talk about whatever he wants onstage. No, it doesn't matter where it leads -- I'm gonna do it anyway, Godfrey said. Go write a letter to nothing. ... You act like I'm the founder of rape.
Godfrey later confronts a wailing heckler by saying: Get the [expletive] out of here if you can't take a joke. This ain't the 'Oprah' show. The audience responded with roaring applause to the comic's rant against the unhappy fan and told her to get out of the comedy club.
Each of the three videos have overwhelming approval ratings on YouTube, compared with a very small number of dislikes.