Comedians have a long used rape as a punchline. The Me Too was is changing that.


After attending a sexual harassment seminar, Murphy (Candice Bergen, left) tells Phyllis (Tyne Daly) about a long-repressed memory. (David Giesbrecht / Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc.)

Comedian Cameron Esposito was thinking about rape jokes long before the Me Too movement.

Can they be told? How should they be constructed? Who has a right to tell them?

"Rape Jokes." But it's not just a collection of boundary-pushing quips. Instead, it's centered around a night when she played a game with a man who was sexually assaulted after she was drunk. And it walks the razor-thin line between uproarious comedy and deeply serious drama.

Esposito is one of many creatives using comedy to explore issues of sexual assault and harassment. Rape has been used as a punchline that makes an audience laugh uncomfortably. The victim of the sexual assault. The humor tries to expose rape for the crime it is, rather than to relegate it to a cheap laugh. And several of the comedians, such as Esposito, are survivors themselves.

Stand-up comic and "Conan" staff writer Laurie Kilmartin has watched this play in the comedy world during the past year.

"I said." I think there's more room. "Now, sadly, it's a premise."

That was not always the case.

The 1934 screwball romcom "We're Not Dressing" is a woman who shares a mutual attraction but can not admit it: She's high society; he's not. The movie's comedic climax arrives when Bing Crosby's character wrestles with Carole Lombard's, "Tomorrow, you'll be back in your own world, spoiled and sheltered and out of my reach. . . But tonight, you're mine. "

But this is not the same, but consider 2007's "Superbad," which follows teenage boys and girls to buy alcohol in hopes of getting their classmates drunk enough to have sex with them.

"Porky's," a movie in which teen boys peep on their showering female classmates, plus stand-up Daniel Tosh "comedically" telling a female heckler it would be funny if five men raped her and comedian Jimmy Carr joking, " What do nine people do 10 people enjoy? Gang turnips. "

Funny stuff, right?

Sujata Moorti, the director of Middlebury College's gender, said rape jokes became more pervasive with the rise of feminism, especially during the 1970s and 1980s. Gingerbread girl and her husband and her husband and her husband and her husband and her husband and her friend yelled, 'Rape!' They yelled, 'No!' "

Frankly, jokes "became a way of defusing the kind of cultural crisis that was being produced by saying that certain behaviors were assaulted, and not just boys will be boys," "Moorti said. "If you make a joke about it, one can trivialize it."

Actress Molly Ringwald pointed out that one reason for this trope is that jokes are often about a loss of power.

"That's something funny when someone slips on a banana peel," Ringwald said. "[Rape] is the most extreme example: completely taking away a woman's power. "

By their own stories.

Comedian Brittany Brave, for example, likes opening sets with: "My name is Brittany, and I know that makes you want to take me to the mall. If you're my ex-boyfriend, you get to do both. "Hannah Gadsby, meanwhile, released a revolutionary Specially called" Nanette "that deconstructs comedy itself, using the story of her own sexual assault to explain that rape is not a topic that should be approached lightly.

Esposito walks a similar path in her special. As she tells her story, she starts with humor, which involved her: "If you hit the dartboard, you would have shotgun in full beer. And if you missed the dartboard, you would shot a full beer. Hazy rules. "

Her tone then shifts dramatically. "I do not totally remember what happened that night. I have a lot of flashes of what happened. I know that I did not say 'yes' I also know that "And I used to tell this story to parties. That's, I think, how disconnected so many people are from our own agency. "

She then slowly returns to jokes, adding that she's trying to shine on this type of assault. We think of being raptured as characters on SVU: "He's got a bloody cleaver, he's covered with a head in the mud! It says 'Dick Wolf' right here! "Meanwhile, she jokes that survivors are often portrayed as something from the experience:" She's assaulted, and she becomes very good at swords. "

Esposito told The Washington Post that she wrote about the special focus on the perpetrators. "Never in this cycle did I see a moment where people were tracking the story of the survivors," she said, adding that she would wonder, "How did you continue to date? How do you trust people? What's it like at work now that you're out about this? '"

Tell her story onstage or in interviews, especially as the president of the United States gleefully mocked an alleged survivor, Christine Blasey Ford.

"The sense that cultural change is very long and very difficult sometimes," she said. "It's a crushing feeling. You can feel like I'm doing everything

But opening up begets opening up. Esposito said she does not think she would have released "Rape Jokes" "if I did not see everybody else who had really put themselves out there, really put themselves on the line."

"Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt" (in which Kimmy unwittingly harasses to evil employee) and "BoJack Horseman" (in which the lead character criticizes violence against women before choking his female co-star) using comedy to explore the me too was this year.

Reboots like "Will & Grace" and "Murphy Brown" are retooling characters' backstories to address sexual assault. She tells her father that her family is violently assaulted in her office when she was 15 years old. Afterward, she grabbed money from the man's desk and fled. Her father asks why she had not heard him, and she replied that

And Murphy attends to a sexual harassment seminar, which sparks memories of a professor who has taken advantage of her college degree. The scene in which she confronts him and gains some closure carefully balances drama (she tells him, "I forgot my award, and I love awards!").

"Showrunner Diane English said" We really wrote the comedy around the issue. "We constantly had our antenna up to make sure we were not overstepping the boundaries between comedy and drama."

The show always tackled thorny issues – she said she was too big to sidestep.

While many artists are breaking new ground, they find themselves looking back at the art that might be problematic but still lingering in the public consciousness. Ringwald, for example, has spent the past few months reexamining the sexual politics in the John Hughes comedies that launched her to the teenage stardom: "Sixteen Candles," "The Breakfast Club" and "Pretty In Pink."

In "The Breakfast Club," "I can see now, Bender sexually harasses Claire throughout the film. She's in the New Yorker, when she's not sexualizing her. "He never apologizes for any of it, but, nevertheless, he gets the girl in the end."

Yet "The Breakfast Club" is her "favorite" of the trio, in part because it showed "everyone is different and everyone has a voice." As she wrote, "How she wrote" ? What if we are in the unusual position of having helped create it? "

"Ringwald told The Post." "It was very heavy, but ultimately I feel like it's just not black and white."

The question is as comedy's new approach to the sexual misconduct will stick.

"There may still be 'Superbads' coming out, but I think it's being countered by these other voices," Moorti said. "Having more expositos, having more" Gadsbys talk about the effects of "rape" may actually make it really "hard to make" to joke about the whole thing. "

In Sarah Jones's solo show "Sell / Buy / Date," which imagines a radically feminist future. The characters she plays at the primitive rape of the past – a professor, for example, asks her class, "What were bad sluts called? Very good, they were called men. "

I think there was this myth around a window that's closing, "Jones said in an interview. "But it's not like weather. . . "I'm not going to go away."

Ringwald agreed. "I feel like I'm going to become like a minstrel show,"

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