How Not to Host a 'Rape Joke' Debate

Can rape jokes ever be funny? We think so: check out Lindy's primer on how to make a rape joke for tips such as "Easy shortcut: DO NOT MAKE RAPE VICTIMS THE BUTT OF THE JOKE." Basically, effective rape jokes only work if they make fun of society/oppressors, not the oppressed. The question is definitely worth analyzing in detail, but — as recent controversy over a now-canceled "rape joke debate" makes clear — it's one that has to be handled with a certain amount of tact, as well as a certain lack of rapey advertising.

A comedy venue in Richmond (a suburb of Melbourne, Australia) planned on hosting an event this week called "There's nothing funny about rape: a comedy debate,'' featuring a male comedian host and an all-male panel of eight debaters.

How Not to Host a 'Rape Joke' Debate

But after this extremely distasteful old-timey poster of a man trying to overpower a woman circulated around the web — it's kind of like a more offensive visual version of Frank Loesser's "Baby, It's Cold Outside" — hundreds of people posted on Facebook and Twitter about the way the debate was advertised and executed.

According to Melbourne Times Weekly, the Facebook page for the event was taken down within hours, and the pub's owner said he had no idea the event was taking place and did not condone it in the slightest.

The community is still arguing over whether the debate should've been canceled in the first place, and some of the comments from the panel members show that canceling the event was probably a smart move.

‘‘I did not think before I posted that image, and I completely understand why it upset people," wrote Rob Caruana, who was responsible for the poster. "I should have been aware, and it was a very stupid mistake." That's a totally nice, thoughtful response, but come on: if you're capable of thinking of sexual assault as a cutesy-sexy visual, you probably won't be able to speak eloquently on the topic.

Then, there's would-be performer Alan Driscoll, who posted: ‘‘What exactly have I personally done that was wrong?'' Yes, Alan. This is totally about you.

The fallout continued into the week when a 20-year-old rape survivor was heckled at a comedy open mic show when she described her own attack in an attempt to explain why she thinks rape isn't a laughing matter. Listen to her speech here; you can hear how she's drowned out by audience members, like one who yells, "Where's the joke?"

"I went because I thought if I told my story then people would realize there is nothing funny about it," Stewart told The Age. She said the microphone was taken from her while she told her story, and that she was also assaulted and called a "faggot." Nice.

Sure, when you go to a comedy open mic, you expect to laugh a lot, not listen to a sad story about a 15-year-old girl getting raped at a train station. But you know what? Women don't plan on getting raped when they're waiting for public transit, either. As it stands, sexual assault is an epidemic that affects at least one out of every five Australian women during her lifetime. By all means, let's talk about how to make a rape joke — but let's do it without trivializing rape or beating up on rape survivors. Deal?