This Is The Right Way To Joke About Rape

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Female comedians like Tina Fey and Amy Poehler have spent the past few years firmly putting to bed the idea that women, and feminists in particular, can’t be funny. Now Amy Schumer’s Comedy Central show Inside Amy Schumer is back and immediately reminded us that this is true—even when it comes to a touchy subject like rape.

The sketch, “Football Town Nights,” is a loving parody of Friday Night Lights that also works as a pitch-perfect satire of the various ways rape culture perpetuates itself.

Josh Charles plays “Coach Thompson,” a direct homage to Kyle Chandler’s Coach Eric Taylor on the beloved football drama. (Amy Schumer plays his wife, gently sending up Connie Britton’s wine-loving, free spirited performance on the show.) Coach Thompson wants his team to be inspired, to work hard, to win games and oh yeah, to not rape.

The team’s locker room reaction to his instructions not to rape is immediately familiar to anyone who has dared to peek at the comments under any article denouncing rape: a bunch of dudes making increasingly convoluted arguments about why there should be exceptions or caveats to this broad no-raping philosophy. “What if it’s Halloween and she’s dressed as a sexy cat?” “What if she thinks it’s rape but I don’t?” “What if she’s drunk and has a slight reputation….” It’s only a mild exaggeration of the kinds of arguments feminists get with this relentless prodding strategy.

Or in some cases, not exaggerated at all. “What if the girl said yes but then she changes her mind out of nowhere, like a crazy person?” adds one, which is one we’ve heard a lot.

But while the persistent whining of trolls is the funniest part of this sketch, the satire of rape culture goes much deeper. The community frames Coach Thompson as an unreasonable fun-killer, and his wife even tries to argue that maybe he should let this one go—all reactions that feminists are intimately familiar with when they speak out against rape. Tellingly, the sketch doesn’t include any girls at all, making it clear that rape is a product of male entitlement and isn’t about the girls or what they do and wear.

The best part may be the end, when Coach Thompson, frustrated that his players are losing focus because they’re so obsessively angry about this extremely reasonable “no raping” rule, screams at them in a classic rallying-the-team locker room scene. “How do I get through to you boys that football isn’t about rape?” he yells. “It’s about violently dominating anyone that stands between you and what you want!”

Contrast that sharp, insightful humor with this wretched sketch from a couple weeks back on Saturday Night Live that drew social media ire by regurgitating clichés about how female-on-male statutory rape isn’t a crime so much as a lark and something the victim should be proud of. That sketch wasn’t just cruel to victims who are struggling with complex feelings about being targeted by a sexual predator; it was also an insult to comedy. There was no insight or understanding, and it punched down, making a parent who is distressed over her son’s victimization the target of the joke.

Schumer’s team, on the other hand, understood that rape isn’t really about sex, but that sex is just a weapon being used to assert power and establish a social hierarchy that puts victims at the bottom. The SNL sketch scoffed at the idea that men can be raped, assuming men are biologically required to try to get it in whenever possible. Schumer’s sketch, doing what good humor should do, questions this belief, showing how ridiculous you sound when you actually try to argue that men are incapable of understanding context or meaningful consent.

There was an ugly online debate a few years ago about whether rape jokes can ever be okay, with Lindy West positing that they can be, if they’re mocking rape culture and not rape victims themselves. This new wave of female-centric comedy is proving West’s assertion in spades. This isn’t the first time Schumer’s show, with its female-heavy staff of writers, has pulled off insightful rape humor. Last year the show featured a hilarious sketch about a fictional video game about military rape. And Tina Fey’s Netflix sitcom, The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, may be a disaster when it comes to some of its racial humor, but is absolutely groundbreaking when it comes to finding dark humor in its portrayal of recovering from rape that expertly skewers some of the major frustrations survivors endure.

Rape itself isn’t funny, but the constant excuse-making for it is a goldmine of humor. Hopefully, more comedians will take their cue from Amy Schumer and start using the the sexist whiners and rape apologists as the juicy targets that they are.

Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist who writes frequently about liberal politics, the religious right and reproductive health care. She’s a prolific Twitter villain who can be followed @amandamarcotte.

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Notable Replies

  1. Nope, sorry, no matter how much I support women’s issues, equality, etc., I’m not going along with this. Had a man made the same exact skit or whatever, it would have been interpreted as having a totally different and unacceptable intent and slant to the jokes.

    As far as I’m concerned it’s this: “This is the right way to joke about rape – have a vagina, champ, cuz that’s the only way it’s going to be perceived as ok. Period.” That’s not a helpful double-standard.

  2. Is Comedy Central providing promotional consideration for the product placement on TPM?

  3. Yeeea…except the majority of the people in the skit, which is quite clever and funny, were men. And frankly, all the key lines in the running joke are delivered by men. I agree with you that there are double standards when it comes to comedy, but this particular skit doesn’t support your argument. And I gotta preemptively point out, sure most of the writers are women, but I know that because I read the article. That bit of knowledge I’m sure isn’t shared by almost everyone watching the skit.

  4. I love pretty much everything about Amy Shumer, and as a fan of Friday Night Lights too I thought this was pretty funny. But to place such a headline on an article which is celebrating a skit that the article claims to be the non-offensive way to be funny but which also paints all football players as meathead rapists and all the residents of a small town as their enablers who can only be saved by outsiders coming in to help them is kind of offensive in its own right. Personally I think humor has to push the boundaries, but if you’re going to claim to have a video that finally does something the “right way” maybe you should think about the cliches and stereotypes you’re playing into

  5. This a very perceptive piece. There is no rape in the sketch, the sketch is joking about rape culture not rape itself. The speakers are men because it is by and large men who come up with ridiculous justifications for nonconsensual sex. And, in the last scene, it is men who are taught to violently dominate anyone that stands between them and what they want, on the football field and in a million smaller ways.

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