Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Why Rape Jokes Can Be Funny

By John Beuhler

When did we all become such emotional hypochondriacs?

The recent turn of PC sanctimony and faux-outrage towards the medium of stand up comedy is cause for concern. Several comedians have made headlines for parts of their shows that, although told in a private settling, have been made public through the wonder of social media and used as fodder for the 24-hour news cycle.

Here’s an explanation of why the best comics tend to tackle the more touchy and controversial subjects.

Laughter developed as an autonomic reaction to the relief of short-term stress. Its physical component serves to burn off a build-up of stress hormones (epinephrine) and its auditory component (laughing) lets the rest of your group know that the stress is over. Stress makes you want to run or fight and if you remove the stress before the fight, the animal is physically wound up; laughter transforms that potential energy to a kinetic and releases the pressure.

A joke example from man’s beginnings: “Turns out it wasn’t a saber-toothed tiger; it was just a rock.” Funny because a saber-toothed tiger is stressful and a rock is not. The laughter travels from the front of the hunting party to the back, so that those who didn't see the rock can have their stress relieved as well. Laughter is autonomic communication.

The Saber Toothed Rock story will then be related around the fire that night to silence. This was the origin of, “I guess you had to be there.”

Brief moments of stress and relief are followed by a rush of dopamine, the reward neurotransmitter. Scary movies, roller coasters, and infidelity are some of the ways we achieve brain rewards. Comedy is no different; it brings us joy and that is why we can charge people for it while they eat things that can only very liberally be called appetizers. Laughter is a natural drug, unlike that stuff I make in my garage.

This is also the reason people hate a bad comedian. If they don’t get the joke, they haven’t had their tension relieved or received any reward dopamine. The tension sits there like a failed sneeze and the person is unhappy. Long-term exposure to cortisol, the stress hormone, can inhibit protein synthesis and the creation of immunity tissues. So, if you hear too many bad jokes you could end up looking as bad as the comedian.

The amount and intensity of laughter is inversely proportionate to the tension created, like pulling back a bow to shoot an arrow. The more tension created, the more tension will be relieved at the punch line; the more relief experienced, the bigger the laugh; the bigger the laugh, the bigger the chance of sex after the show. The pay from the club, however, will never change until you get some TV credits, you lazy asshole.

This explains why the greatest comics deal with such risqué subjects, such as racism, homophobia, rape, and hot pockets. Controversial subjects get bigger laughs, but there is more inherent risk involved. A swan-dive from the high platform is more spectacular because of the risk, just as racist jokes are risky (but more interesting than observations about your cat, Colonel Pudding Tummy)

When you’re at a comedy club and you hear something that you don’t agree with or are offended by, it’s not permissible to voice your objection. The comedian has worked for 10 plus years honing his craft, being broke, sacrificing a normal life to follow a dream that very rarely leads to happiness. He does this because he has a sickness that puts your happiness before his own. He is holding a microphone and you’re holding a Zima for a reason.

As I stated before, controversial subjects have the potential to be the funniest, so, no, rape isn't funny, but jokes about rape can be very funny. Rape is terrible and therefore needs jokes so we don’t feel the entire brunt of stress that accompanies it.

The hyper-sensitivity of contemporary society has led to people pursuing heroism and notoriety in the laziest way possible, through victimhood. The laziest way to pursue victim status is to pretend that your feelings or sensibilities have been offended and what better place to be offended than in a place where offensive things are said all the time; at a comedy club?

The fact is that the comedy club is a called a club for a reason. There is an understanding among the initiated of what is going to go on. You might not agree with everything the performer is saying, but it is to be taken with a grain of salt.

I would encourage comedians to only apologize to actual complaints which are made to the club and not to Internet blogs or other public media. Responding in the mainstream media to complaints that begin on the Internet will encourage more and more people to tape and report on our shows with the goal of getting a reaction.

Please do not reply to complaints about your show unless they are from the people who pay you. Internet complaints are not worth the paper they’re not written on. This mode of thinking is wrong and reacting to it, gives it validation and makes it dangerous to our livelihoods and rights to free speech.

Lenny Bruce died so that the government couldn’t stop up from saying what we wanted. What no one foresaw is that the government could step aside and let us all tattle on each other; so uneasy in our smallness that we looking to chastise those on a higher stage; even if it is only a foot and a half.


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