It's an arc of a performance, that starts with her telling a sweet but sick story of performing in an incestuous sex show and culminates in the heart-stopping, clear-eyed revelation that "Joe Franklin raped me." Except, of course, she's proudly trodding on the landmine of comedy — and, honestly, it's so disturbing, it's funny.
Jessica Valenti's recent piece in The Guardian about female comedians praised Wanda Sykes' now-infamous rape joke from her 2006 comedy special about detachable vaginas. Valenti says:
Sykes brings a biting comedy to the most controversial topics, throwing new light on issues that are all too easily written off as age-old and intractable: rape, for example.And she does, but let's break down what she's joking about: she's joking about stranger rape, and she's making light of Kobe Bryant's victim, who was raped after she went up to his hotel room at the ungodly hour of 2 in the morning. In fact, you could argue — and I am — that Wanda Sykes is poking fun of that victim for being, you know, stupid enough to get raped. Is it only funny when Wanda Sykes does it? Many of you would say yes (and, in fact have said that it's never funny to say something like that). Do you still think so? In fact, Jessica Valenti herself recently wrote, in response to a rape joke shown on The Office "there's never really a funny rape joke, is there?" Well, here's the rape joke she — and many of you, judging by our e-mails — didn't like: To recap, Kelly claims to have been raped when she is confronted with some office malfeasance — as in, she's only saying it to get out of trouble— and it's not the first time she's apparently done such a thing. Is it laugh-out-loud funny? Nah. But is it poking fun of her character and using that kind of hyperbole to mock people who try to use personal crises ("My grandmother died") to get out of responsibility? Sure. Is it, say, less offensive than implying a rape victim was less than smart to head up to Kobe Bryant's room late at night? Technically, I think both are funny, but I have a sick sense of humor. Which, of course, brings me to the most horrifying of horrifying rape jokes: The South Park episode about Indiana Jones. Although this only has the last two of the three rape scenes depicted in the show, it gives you enough of a sense of what it was about: Steven Spielberg and George Lucas are no longer metaphorically raping the Indy franchise, they're really doing it. Offensive? Yes. Boundary-crossing? Certainly. Horrifying in its detail? Yes. Funny? Arguably so. Which then, of course, brings it back to the question: when is it funny? And I think the answer is, for a lot of people, when you like or respect the person telling the joke. Which is fine, and it's how most jokes work, but you can't then argue that they're never funny, or they can't ever be funny. Lots of humor comes from the juxtaposition of our civilized collective state of being and the ways in which we betray the lie of that constantly — fart jokes, for instance, are funniest when you really, really should be proper. If we take sexual assault off the table of things we can laugh about or joke about, it's just another way of saying: this is a different crime than any other crime, and so we can and must treat its victims differently than any other crime. And, you know, fuck that. I got treated differently than any other crime victim once because of the kind of crime that I was the victim of. If I had been mugged, would the cops have been calling my friends and asking them how much I'd been drinking that night? If I had been only robbed, would it have mattered to the cops whether I'd told the guys I was out with that night that I was dating someone? If I had been shot walking out of the bar, would it have been anyone's business if my friend thought that I was flirting or not? And if any of those crimes had been committed instead, would everyone be so horribly offended by me making jokes about it? It's all part of the way in which society wants to treat me differently because of how I was victimized. Let's treat sexual assaults like any other crime and tell some rape jokes. Cool? Here's mine: When my victim's advocate called me up the week after I was assaulted, she went over the rape kit results and what I could expect from the process, and asked me if I had any questions. I asked her if they could tell me the name of the man who had been arrested for assaulting me, and I heard her shuffle through papers. His name, she said, was "Hey-zeus" after which I started laughing. An agnostic, I was raped by Jesus. Sense And Humour [The Guardian] The Office's Rape Joke [Feministing] Related: Rape Case Against Bryant Dismissed [MSNBC] Earlier: My Sexual Assault Is Not Your Political Issue