Comedian Daniel Tosh's recent suggestion that it would be hilarious if the woman who heckled him for telling a rape joke at his stand-up show was gang-raped on the spot has revived the decades-old debate over whether rape jokes are ever funny.
To answer that question, Paul Krassner goes all the way back to 1970. Abortion was still illegal then. At the time, as both an underground abortion referral service and a stand-up satirist, Krassner faced an undefined paradox. Irreverence was his only sacred cow, yet he wouldn’t allow victims to become the target of his humor. There was one particular routine he did that called for a “rape-in” of legislators’ wives in order to impregnate them so that they would then convince their husbands to decriminalize abortion.
But his feminist friends objected. Krassner resisted at first, because it was such a well-intentioned joke. And then he reconsidered. Even in a joke, why should women be assaulted because men made the laws? Legislators' wives were the victims in that joke, but the legislators themselves were the oppressors, and their hypocrisy was really the target. But for Krassner to stop doing that bit of comedy wasn't self-censorship.