Last night, during a live broadcast of the WWE's Monday Night Raw, one of the wrestlers' managers (or, rather, an actor who plays the manager of an actorathlete who professionally wrestles) compared his charge to "Kobe Bryant in a Colorado hotel room... unstoppable," a tacky, stupid joke that was followed almost instantaneously by an apology by both the teller of the joke and the WWE. Are we witnessing positive social fallout from the Daniel Tosh fiasco?
Abraham Washington, the manager who made the unfortunate blurt, has apologized profusely to the public and his bosses and promised to never make a joke like that again, and the WWE organization has said they're taking appropriate action, issuing their own apology for what they're calling an "inappropriate" comment. Immediate apologies? Recognition that a Kobe Bryant rape joke is fucked up? Admission of guilt and promise to do better in the future? Professional wrestling is now more sophisticated and sensitive about discussing rape than the Laugh Factory.
Let this be a lesson to all pumped up wannabe comics out there who see Daniel Tosh and his clones in action and think: hey, I can do that, too! I can have people laugh uproariously at my cutting edge genius by just saying random shit about rape! Auto-humor! — you can't. At least, not any more. Because everyone who thinks that shit is funny is already watching those shows, and everyone who isn't watching those shows has no interest in the sort of humor that got Daniel Tosh in trouble. The market is saturated; it cannot support any more inanity. Ham-fisted rape jokes have become the Groupon of comedy. We are in the midst of a poorly executed rape joke glut! If rape jokes were a stock, they'd be on my Strong Sell list.
As my coworker Lindy has eloquently explained shortly after the Tosh incident, it's possible to make a funny rape joke. People do it all the time — but it takes skill. And fashioning Kobe Bryant's nearly-decade-old rape accusation into a joke that doesn't make a person want to set themselves on fire would be tough for even a skilled, seasoned comedian to pull off. Louis CK himself might pull a muscle trying to do it. In the meaty hands of Washington, the material didn't stand a chance, and in the post-Tosh freakout world, the public has no patience for it.
I've been thinking a lot about comedy lately (I swear I'm not blazed out of my mind right now, even though that's totally a way that someone who was blazed out of their mind would start a sentence) — what makes things funny, why we laugh at some things but not at others, and why some people, like Zach Galifianakis or Maria Bamford, can just stand there blinking at a crowd and still be hilarious. And I think that, to play devil's advocate for the Toshes and Washingtons of the world, there's something to be said for comedy that shocks and surprises; the jokes that have made me laugh until I have almost peed have all been the sort of jokes that are so delightfully, absurdly wrong that they come full circle back to right again. Bob Saget's telling of The Aristocrats joke. The part in Blazing Saddles when Sheriff Bart rolls into town and Rock Ridge's residents are upset. The running "big nose" joke from The Life of Brian. This piece about sex by the Queens of Comedy that was so raunchy that it prompted me to blurt "I NEED AN ADULT" aloud. The episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm when Larry teaches a flamboyant child how to make a swastika. Shocking comedy can be great — it's just that sloppy shock comedy is the perfect niche for lazy people who aren't clever enough to make better jokes. And now we're all aware of that.
There's no need to further condemn Abraham Washington for his actions — he clearly knows he fucked up, and at some point you just have to trust a person's apology and move on. But would the WWE have been so quick to condemn Washington's comments, and would Washington have immediately admitted fault, if the media hadn't just finished talking about Daniel Tosh's classless response to heckling until everyone was blue in the face? Probably not. The people who run the WWE have a lot more at stake than a comedian who makes fun of YouTube videos on a half-hour show on a basic cable network, and the last thing they'd want is a rape joke shitstorm of their own. So, congratulations, internet. The world is ever-so-slightly less terrible in one very specific regard.
I guess Daniel Tosh serves a useful social purpose, after all.