Content Note: discussion of rape jokes
Station 59 is a smalltime comedy venue in Melbourne where beginner comics can come to an Open Mic night to try out their skills. A week ago they advertised a “debate” on the topic There’s Nothing Funny About Rape: A Comedy Debate.
Aleksia’s post will fill you in about what happened then. As she points out, a debate like that isn’t impossible, but in this context, and with as she says “an all-dude lineup”, it was shaping up to be un-promising to say the least. The “debate” was canned after a bunch of, you guessed it, ber-loody feminists got wind of it and suggested that the event was a bit suboptimal.
The event organiser invited one of the women, who is a rape survivor, to speak on Wednesday night (the open mic night) about rape, comedy and her own experience. (One or two others were invited but declined, expecting the kind of evening you’ll see described in a moment.) “Male-only rape comedy debate replaced with… rape comedy panel. Hm….What even.”
Sensing an impending pile-on, some young twentysomething feminists went along to support her. Disclaimer: A couple of them are known to me, in fact, a couple of them are related to me. And I’m so proud of them.
This is the story from one of the people who were there:
So, the MC [Kieran Butler] basically introduced the issue and as soon as he got on stage he accused the feminists there of censorship, assault and breach of privacy. He said someone had threatened him over the phone (which we had no knowledge of and wouldn’t condone). He turned that into a general diatribe against our group which was there to support Gen and Hilary. He made it clear he had not cancelled the event because he recognised it was distressing to victims of sexual assault but because, as he saw it, he had been “censored”. That pretty much set the tone.
All of the patrons felt [Butler] was using the night as a platform to justify the cancelled night as a “debate about controversial humour”. He argued that comedy has been taken over by a “meritocracy” [!] which imposed Political Correctness™ on the comedy community. Therefore, the Station 59 stage needs to be made into a protected space for “free speech”. He went on in this way for some time.
Then a female comedian and RAW judge who has worked in the industry for 2 decades took the stage and asserted that what he was saying was crap, that rape jokes aren’t necessarily edgy or controversial and all have pretty much been done already. She was repeatedly interrupted by [Butler].
They finally allowd Gen [Genevieve Stewart] to speak. Gen took the stage and announced that she was trying to explain why rape jokes normalise rape and harm rape survivors. She set out to talk about the topic of rape jokes generally then describe her own experience, but she was interrupted and heckled so many times during her general discussion she decided to go straight to the story of her own rape at age 15. Again, she was repeatedly interrupted. When she expressed her anger and hurt that comedians could listen to such stories and still heckle, she was heckled further.
When Gen left the stage, we all left with her. [According to another account, being grabbed and called "faggots".] The MC accused us of being “a mob” (there were about 15 of us). We didn’t see the other acts but we did talk to other comedians outside of the bar. I can’t speak for the others, but one of the female comedians in the club came out and tried to defend the organisers – “nice guys, not pro rape”.
When it was pointed out how many times the MC had inerrupteed Gen they implied that her story of her own rape was “inappropriate” on stage.
Then we left.
So, it looks as though the Station 59 comedy organisers got their wish, that is, they got a debate. With opposing views. Most of us would say that was the definition of a debate, but according to Station 59, it’s CENSORSHIP!
I found it especially interesting that the female supporter of the “debate night” found Gen’s actual rape story too confronting and suggested she shouldn’t have shared it on stage. Isn’t this being a little selective with the “freedom of speech” which is supposed to be the cornerstone of their culture?
Andrew P Street, on Facebook:
“…not only is there no need for Melbourne comedians to have that conversation right this minute, I would argue that – with Jill Meagher’s body barely cold – there’s a really fucking good reason why Melbourne (and, y’know, Australia generally) might not think that right now was an awesome time to start bleating that everyone’s a bit too sensitive about violence against women. I thought timing was everything in comedy?”
Aleksia Barron (author of the blog linked above) also on Facebook:
“The comedy booker from the venue started posting in the comments of my blog post on this topic. He wanted me to come down to the venue, get up on stage and “defend my point of view”. I declined, partly because I think this guy’s a total hack, but also because I knew I’d be playing with the deck stacked against me. I’m embarrassed that I didn’t go now, though, because what happened to the poor girl who did stand up to speak is disgusting.
The booker’s name is Kieran Butler, and it’s him, not the venue management, who chooses the comedians who speak on the open mic comedy nights. I guess it was obvious whose side he was on when he added one of the most aggressive commentators from the FB thread to the bill for this event.
Kieran Butler has made no secret of the fact that Station 59 is a venue for comedians on their training wheels. “”Comedians need to fall [I think he means "fail"] and test out their material and this is a venue for that. It is a comedy night for comedians to try out their material and see whether it will work.” That is pretty much the kind of venue in which rape jokes won’t work. Let me recommend this article by the US comedian Curtis Luciani.
…It is accepted, for example, that you probably should not go in front of an audience that contains several black people and start tossing around the n-word unless you have an EXCEPTIONALLY sophisticated and road-tested routine built around it, one that you are confident will overcome the very significant risk you are incurring. If a comedian did this and did NOT overcome the risk, no one would be shocked if the audience shouted her down and stormed her out of the club, nor would anyone be particularly eager to defend her.
… Here’s what YOU need to understand:
1) Rape is way, WAY more prevalent than you seem to think it is. Are there more than five women in your audience? You do the math, and then you run the little fantasy scenario that I just put together in your head, and you tell me how it feels.
2) I ain’t buying any of that “If I can make jokes about genocide, why can’t I make jokes about rape?” Horseshit, unless you made those genocide jokes during a gig at the Srebrenica Funny Bone. You got away with making a joke about genocide because your odds of having a holocaust survivor’s kid in the audience were pretty fucking low.
And if you did happen to have one in the audience, and he heckled you, walked out, and wrote something nasty on the internet… would you be more likely to be a human being and say “Wow. I can understand why that person’s authentic response to what I was doing was so emotional and negative. Maybe my genocide material just isn’t good enough to justify the pain that it inflicts. Maybe I need more skill in order to pull this off.” Or are you gonna be a lousy piece of shit and say, “Yeah, I apologize, I guess, IF YOU WERE OFFENDED.”
I recommend Mr Butler reads the whole thing.
In answer to Andrew Street’s question – why was the whole thing necessary in the first place – it seems to me this constant pushing of “transgressive” comedy (unless, of course, it’s genuinely transgressive and brilliant, the real thing, but sadly that’s rarely the case) is a bit of ordinary male territorial dominance. You reckon I can’t lift my leg and piss on that post over there? Watch me! Nyah!
Good work, Feminist Killjoys!