Talking to Fozzie Bear about Rape Jokes & Rape Culture

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An online controversy about the ‘legitimacy’ of Rape Jokes in our culture and specifically in our Comedy Community has erupted online recently as well as several times throughout the past year, I wanted to talk to a true comedy veteran about the “Rape Joke Debate” and the importance of showing tact and restraint in Comedy.  I could think of no better comedian, than Fozzie Bear.

AbominableIndustries:  Fozzie, do you think comedians should be able to say whatever they want to say without any repercussions whatsoever?

Fozzie Bear:  Why would you need ‘raper cushions’ to tell jokes on stage? Ah-ahhhhh!

AbominableIndustries:  What? Did you really mishear me or are you making a jo-

Fozzie Bear:  Wocka wocka!

AbominableIndustries:  It seems like there’s a real debate happening right now over “Rape Jokes,” with a heated discussion on both sides, so it’d be nice to get a sincere answer.

Fozzie Bear:  Well, there’s no real debate here. No one has the right to tell anyone that they can’t say something. That’s just a thing for people, comics, muppets, weirdos, whoever.  And for comedians, we obviously don’t want our audience to have a bad time.  To lecture comedians that they need to think before they speak… as if that’s not an incredibly basic thing that one would do before talking out loud to a group of people or muppets, is insulting and naive.  So, what’re we even talking about this for?

AbominableIndustries:  Well, it’s become a much talked about issue, crossing out of the internet blogosphere, it was featured on FX talk show Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell, where feminist blogger Lindy West debated comic Jim Norton on Rape Jokes, as well as being a featured discussion on podcasts and radio shows.

Fozzie Bear:  Well, didn’t Lindy West mention in that “debate” and in her articles that she’s not for “censorship” and she’s not telling anyone they can’t say something?

AbominableIndustries:  Well, that was part of it, yes…

Fozzie Bear:  And her opinion was that rape references were hurtful to a large percentage of our population, including potential audiences, so white male comics should think about what they say before they say it.  Which… is reasonable, a little bit of a weird distinction she made there, but pretty reasonable.  Where’s the debate?

AbominableIndustries:  You don’t think Lindy West has a valid point that comedy has a misogyny problem?  Days after the debate, Lindy received hundreds of rape threats, that she compiled and posted showing we have a serious “Woman Issue in Comedy.”

Fozzie Bear:  I don’t think that shows there’s a serious woman issue in comedy, that shows that internet comments are the worst.  Especially youtube and twitter. So drawing that conclusion from terrible internet comments that were not made by comedians and took place on twitter and on youtube instead of… places where comedy occurs, is a bad conclusion to make.

fozzieBear_828I don’t want to dismiss a lot of terrible hate that flocked her way because she shared an opinion in public.  What I saw of it was awful.  I do think as a culture we still have a misogyny problem and we’ve got a lot of work to do as a culture to get to a better place, but to point at comedy as if there’s a problem there… as if there’s a large collective that made an agreement on what’s right or wrong, it’s just off base and… frankly, kind of dumb.  This is probably getting a little tedious, did I mention I stayed in a hotel last night that was SO exclusive, room service had an unlisted number?!

AbominableIndustries:  No, you didn’t mention that.

Fozzie Bear:  Because I did!  Ah-ahhhh!!

AbominableIndustries:  So, you do or don’t think there’s misogyny in comedy?

Fozzie Bear:  I think there’s still misogyny in everything if you’re looking for it.  And “comedy” as a whole doesn’t have a problem, because comedy isn’t a whole, it’s a concept.

AbominableIndustries:  Well, I think she was referring to stand-up comedy.

Fozzie Bear:  Well, WHAT stand-up comedy?  It’s not all the same.

AbominableIndustries:  I think she was referring to misogynistic, aggressive white male comics who seem to make women the butt of the joke, or would do “ironic” hateful material without fully winking at the audience enough to earn it.  And, obviously that’s not what your humor is about, but there was a time in the mid 2000’s where you went through a little edgier phase, which is why, besides you being a prominent comedy figure, I wanted to ask you about this issue.

Fozzie Bear:  Well, I was trying to find myself a little bit, I felt like I had been put in this ‘family friendly box’ and I wasn’t sure if that’s what I wanted to be in, so I tried out some edgier stuff, to, uh… mixed results.

AbominableIndustries:  Could you talk about some of those? There was the head of lettuce inci-

Fozzie Bear:  The head of lettuce thing, yeah.  That actually wasn’t that big of a deal.  The joke was, um, lemme think, okay.  My girlfriend is SO bad at giving oral sex, when she goes out of town, I use a head of lettuce and finish QUICKER, ahhh-ahhhhhhhHHHH!!!  Which, I’d been getting mostly positive results from, but I didn’t notice that we had a particularly large amount of produce in the audience that night, and well, it was fine, but you always need to remember to know your audience.

Audience Member.

Audience Member.

I mean, one time I started a joke with “There was this sailor who was so fat!” and wouldn’t you know it, but a large, angry looking sailor broke a bottle, stood up and shouted “How fat was he?”  That night the punchline was “Uh, he was so fat that everybody liked him and there was nothing funny about him at all.”  So, you’ve gotta know your audience.

AbominableIndustries:  Then there was the Rowlf Fellatio Controversy.

Fozzie Bear:  You know, I just shouldn’t have used Rowlf’s name.  That’s… that’s on me.  But the joke itself is solid, I stand behind that joke.  But obviously when you use an actual friend’s name, and if that friend happens to be a somewhat famous piano playing dog, it can get a little messy.

AbominableIndustries:  Could you tell that joke?

Fozzie Bear:  I’d do it without Rowlf’s name, but at this point everyone knows he inspired the joke.  It was simply… Hey everyone, I have a friend who can actually suck his own penis!  He had to stop though, because it was hurting his stomach.  Apparently you’re not supposed to ingest that much semen!  Ah-ahhhhHHH!!!  So, that’s a solid joke.  A little misdirection there.

AbominableIndustries:  And then of course, the famous 2006 Comedy Store Incident.

Fozzie Bear:  You know, I’ve talked about that one enough. I’m uh… I’m not going to comment on that one any longer.  I’ve said all there is to say.

[Ed. Note:  We’ve re-posted an article regarding that incident HERE for reference.]

AbominableIndustries:  Do you still use those jokes in your act?

Fozzie Bear:  Oh, those jokes, no no.  I guess they didn’t end up fitting my voice exactly, and besides the Comedy Store thing, it was a relatively tame joke that ended up jolting me back to my older material.  And that’s fine.  I’m okay with that, that’s where I’m comfortable being.  But that doesn’t mean the rules I’ve given myself should apply to anyone other than myself.

AbominableIndustries:  And what was this joke that jolted you back to more of your old persona?

Fozzie Bear:  What do you get when you cross the Atlantic with the Titanic?  Halfway.

AbominableIndustries:  That doesn’t seem like that offensive of a joke.

Fozzie Bear:  It wasn’t.  But then, I heard up in the balcony, these two old men who had sort of a love/hate relationship with me for a while, one of them audibly said, “that’s pretty funny.”  And then the other one said, “No it isn’t.  I was on that ship.  Wasn’t funny then and it isn’t funny now.”

AbominableIndustries:  Wow.  Well, the odds of a surviving member of the Titanic being in your audience are pretty slim.

Fozzie Bear:  Yes, but it happened.  You’re potentially going to offend someone with anything.  And those people have the right to be offended.  But if we start making a list of what’s okay to joke about and what’s not okay based on if someone will get offended, well… legitimately there should be very few things we could joke about.

AbominableIndustries:  Yes, but with Rape Jokes, or Rape as a subject matter, you should know that’s going to at least be a sensitive subject matter for a good percentage of the audience.  Why go down that road?

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Fozzie Bear:  Exactly.  I don’t.  But that’s me.  I don’t want to offend people, I want everyone to have a good time.  I’m a fuzzy bear.  There are other adults out there who have dealt with real trauma and real pain, and the way they cope is to make jokes about those terrible things, and other people cope by hearing jokes about those terrible things.  I totally understand if that’s not for you… as it’s not really for me.  But, no one gets to decide what the moral rule is on talking.  So going back to what I said at the beginning, there’s no debate here.  I guess I’ve been awfully indulgent of something I was pretty disinterested in talking about.

AbominableIndustries:  And I appreciate it.  One more question, do you think Lindy West made a pretty valid point that comedy being part of our culture, does contribute to an overall sexist culture?  Are you comfortable being part of a group who is contributing to Rape Culture?

Fozzie Bear:  I’m sorry, what?  Am I comfortable?

AbominableIndustries:  Are you comfortable?

Fozzie Bear:  I make a living.  Ah-ahhhhhh!!

As far as comedy contributing to Rape Culture, that’s a dangerous road to go down.  Why take responsibility off of perpetrators of terrible acts and shift the focus on society?  It seems like a lot of supposing… like how we used to suppose that there was a link between violent video games and movies to violent acts… and then science told us that there wasn’t one.  Also, again, ‘comedy’ is made up of lots of parts, it’s not one big collective whole that has ONE viewpoint.

Also, Lindy West writes for Jezebel.com, right?  That’s the same site that has Gossip Magazine recaps, yes?  Lindy West didn’t recently write an article on whether Amanda Bynes has a fake twitter account?  Or feature Miley Cyrus in some revealing swimsuit pics?  I don’t know if she or that site should be the moral measuring stick for anyone else.

If you think a handful of dudes telling dirty jokes in dark rooms late at night is contributing more to our society’s downfall than this sickening, gross voyeuristic tabloid culture where we treat famous figures like pieces of meat, prying and prodding and forcibly taking away privacy and somehow our youth are aspiring to be said pieces of meat, then you and I absolutely disagree on what’s problematic, and even if there’s good intentions behind your outrage at “rape jokes” you’re still getting mad at jokes (which… at some point I should mention are not at all very common amongst the grand collection of other “jokes”).  And if you’re getting mad at ‘jokes’ instead of trying to better the world around you, well you’re probably incredibly misguided.

But, what do I know, I’m just a bear who wears a hat and a necktie and says funny things on stage.  Wocka wocka wocka.

Samuel Priest is a contributing writer to Abominable Industries.  He can also be found online regularly @theSamuelPriest and at his weekly podcast facebook.com/podcastaways.

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