Nearly 10 years ago, comedian Daniel Tosh directed a gang rape joke in his stand-up set at a female audience member after she told him rape jokes aren’t funny.
“Wouldn’t it be funny if that girl got raped by like, 5 guys right now?” he said.
What ensued was a one-dimensional, Very 2012 debate about rape jokes, and the usual male hysteria about the “thought police” (2012’s version of the “woke mob”) coming for men’s sacred birthright to mock and degrade whoever they please without criticism. Since the reckoning of 2012, in recent years, the discourse around the rape joke has become more nuanced, as more comedians who are survivors have weighed in. Enter Kelly Bachman and Dylan Adler’s two-person, musical comedy show, “Rape Victims Are Horny Too.”
“We wanted to show survivors are not just, like, wilted flowers, who are sad, suffering, victims all the time,” Bachman, a comedian and rape survivor, told Jezebel. “For Dylan and me, we’re laughing. We’re silly people, joyful people. And we’re sort of defiantly joyful in the way we deal with our own pain.” They can’t speak for all survivors, but speaking for themselves, Bachman and Adler can confirm to Jezebel that they are both, in fact, horny.
“Yes, we experienced trauma, we’re still mourning, and that can make it confusing that we still have desires, want to be admired, but also not wanting to be pursued,” Adler said. For all of these conflicting feelings and anxieties, survivors can still be and often are sexual beings, contrary to how they’re typically perceived and portrayed in our cultural narratives.
Before Bachman met and began working with Adler, a fellow survivor-comedian and musician, Bachman was one of several women comics who confronted Harvey Weinstein as he sat in the audience at a stand-up show in New York City in 2019. “I didn’t know that we have to bring our own mace and rape whistles to Actor’s Hour,” she said of Weinstein while performing her set. Bachman, like other women who called out Weinstein’s presence, was booed and told to shut up by some at the venue — but their protests of the disgraced film executive, who then had dozens of women waging sexual misconduct and rape allegations against him, went viral online and drew massive support. Within days, Bachman and Amber Rollo, another comic who confronted Weinstein, performed at the “Rape Jokes By Survivors” comedy show, put on by Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB) as part of New York Comedy Festival 2019.
That was where Bachman met Adler, and their immediate friendship and comedic partnership spawned “Rape Victims Are Horny Too.” Bachman and Adler performed the first iteration of the show just days before COVID lockdowns swept the country in 2020, but since June this year, they’ve performed shows across Texas with more coming up in 2022 in different parts of the country.
“When I was getting raped four years ago — that’s one leap year ago — I just kept thinking to myself the whole time, ‘I can’t wait to use this to get ahead in comedy! They’re gonna see my name in lights, it’s gonna be ‘Victim,’” Bachman joked in the duo’s live 2020 show.
The set features spins on popular songs ranging from ABBA’s “Mamma Mia” and Earth, Wind & Fire’s “September” to Whitney Houston’s “How Will I Know.” “As much as I love fighting with other women about who’s been raped the most in therapy, I think my favorite thing about therapy is when it brings up memories that my body has worked very hard to repress over the years… do you remember…” Bachman says, as background music from “September” begins to play.
Adler knows the show isn’t for everyone. The duo reflected on the name of their show before going with “Rape Victims Are Horny Too,” aware of the sometimes triggering nature of the word “rape.” But it was important for them to be authentic to their experiences, and the experiences of many survivors who are often told they weren’t actually raped.
“When Kelly and I were talking about the show, we had so many shared experiences and know how it feels when people say their rape was much worse, or when people try to gaslight and belittle your experience,” he said. “We learned so many other survivors have felt that way too, and we had to put it in there, and just let people know what the show is about.”
Adler notes that when most people think of rape, they think of “some guy, some stranger jumping out of the bushes in the dark,” and that “rape is uncommon.” Instead, research shows most rape victims know their attacker. “Many people have experiences where consent was broken, and they were violated, and it’s very pervasive in our culture,” Adler said. “To change how we teach consent, we have to change how we conceptualize rape in our culture.”
It’s hard to do that without saying the word.
“Rape” can be a hard word to hear, as Bachman and Adler explore in their honest, no-holds-barred comedy. But as more media and institutions dilute people’s experiences with rape and assault with more palatable, nebulous terms like “sexual misconduct” or even “harassment,” the comics hope their show validates rape survivors by naming their experience.
Their show also seeks to challenge a number of stereotypes and misconceptions about survivors. “I think a lot of survivors are many things,” Bachman said. “People a lot of times will kind of ask me if I’m a comedian because of trauma, and things like that, and no, actually. I’m funny because I’m funny.” A lot of survivors are funny, Bachman notes — but it’s not because they’re survivors. It’s because that’s who they are, before and after surviving rape.
“Survivors aren’t a monolith — a lot of survivors are queer, trans, lesbian, straight men, non-binary people, gay men, people of all races,” Adler said. “Sexual violence is really pervasive in all communities. Some people think it’s black-and-white, but who survivors are is more complex.”
Statistically, people of color and LGBTQ people face higher rates of sexual violence, though survivors are often assumed by default to be white, straight, cisgender women. Chanel Miller, an artist and author who recounts her experience as Emily Doe at the center of the infamous Brock Turner rape case, writes about assumptions that she was white in her memoir, Know My Name. Miller is an Asian-American woman.
Looking to 2022, Bachman and Adler recognize this is a unique and frequently cringe moment for comedy. The space has become embroiled in a familiar culture war over comedians like Dave Chappelle being “censored” or “canceled” for their bullying of marginalized people, dressed, of course, as the noble art of comedy rather than, say, bullying. Neither censorship nor cancelation is actually happening, here — the real problem that privileged comedians who call “cancel culture” are struggling with is that people who have long held less power than them are now emboldened enough to express that they’re offended and call bullshit.
“If people don’t want to be offended, they shouldn’t go to comedy clubs? Maybe,” comedian and author Lindy West wrote for Jezebel in 2012. “But if you don’t want people to react to your jokes, you shouldn’t get on stage and tell your jokes to people.”
Despite how comedy remains bogged down by the same infantile “censorship” and “free speech” debates that erupted in 2012, following Tosh’s rape “joke,” Bachman and Adler still see progress in how sexual violence is being treated in comedy and culture over the last decade. There is a deepening understanding that rape jokes that criticize unequal power dynamics, that prompt us to laugh at the ridiculousness of rape culture and demand change, can be funny. Rape jokes have historically been used to mock and consequently shame and silence victims through humiliation and domination — today, many comedians are survivors who are flipping the script.
In contrast with enduring stereotyping of feminists as “killjoys,” Bachman and Adler see themselves as fun, silly people — so much so that amid the onslaught of press coverage Bachman received shortly after confronting Weinstein in 2019, she recalls feeling frustrated with “very serious news coverage” of her, and the stereotypical, simplistic characterization of her as “the brave survivor.”
“I just wanted people to also say that I’m, like, hot, and I was like, no one’s talking about this!” Bachman said. “There was all this coverage of me as a rape survivor, but I kept wanting to say, ‘rape victims are horny, too!’ And that’s what Dylan and I bonded over — wanting people to call us hot, but not touch us.”