Rape Jokes by Cameron Esposito
Updated: Feb 26, 2019
By now, you likely have a friend or many who have posted a social media status about how you "must watch" Hannah Gadsby's new special, Nanette. I agree. Nanette is important, and you should definitely watch it. What you might not have heard about however, is a new independently produced and distributed special called Rape Jokes. At least two comedians I know hadn't heard of it, and to me, that means we have to keep spreading the word of who could very well be the second coming of Lesbian Jesus: Cameron Esposito.
She breaks the ice by mocking the current administration, "[Trump] is a supervillan! He lives in a tower with his NAME ON IT. Every word out of his mouth is something I would punish a child for saying." She then quickly pivots by confiding that she is a survivor of sexual assault. Then, in a way that is surprisingly very casual and humorous, she communicates how it's not cool with her that the president jokes about committing sexual assualt. It is possible that you don't believe me that this special can be funny or safe to listen to because of her candor and the use of the word "rape" in the title. In fact, it's just the opposite. Esposito upholds her support of PC language and culture by challenging her opponents' point of view: "if there's a particular word that you think you need to use to do this job, then I am a better stand-up comic than you."
At this point I did a LITERAL one o' these (see below).
The title and content dismantle the long-held low bar for rape jokes and replaces it with actually funny jokes about being sexually assaulted. As a comedian and storyteller myself, I know that bringing levity to the abuse in my past has been something I've accomplished with only marginal levels of success. I appreciate the challenge that Esposito has undertaken, and she's friggin' knocked it out of the park.*
The main reason that I wanted to write about this special is because it's Independent Month on Babe Roar. Esposito chose to independently produce and distribute this special** and donate the proceeds to RAINN, the largest US anti-sexual violence organization. Here's the main reason why most of the comedians I know have heard about Nanette but not Rape Jokes: Netflix (and/or insert any wealthy corporate marketing machine here).
Unfortunately, all too often, the only way to accomplish something ethically, even in the arts, is to do it your goddamn self. Remember when all that shit went down with Louis CK and everyone shunned him for the creep he is? Remember how is manager was in on the cover up? How he threatened women to stay quiet and ultimately hurt their careers and robbed them of money? His manager's name is Dave Becky. As of 6/3/18, he's still listed as one of The Hollywood Reporter's The 40(ish) Most Powerful People in Comedy. Becky has been linked to Amy Poehler, Issa Rae, Pamela Adlon, Maya Rudolph, Bo Burnham, Bill Burr, Dave Attell, Tina Fey... just to name a few. Mind you, I am a low-ranking employee in the corporate comedy world, and I have known about this Louis thing for years. Can you imagine how long these comedy heroes have known about this and have turned a blind eye? All to then go on to uphold the powerful career of the man who enabled Louis? I have a friend who refused to see John Mulaney on tour because he hadn't dropped Becky. She's a keeper.
If, and I think I might be on track here, Cameron Esposito does not desire to uphold the careers of enablers or perpetrators of sexual assault, it makes sense that she had to create this special independently. I'm proud of her, and I look up to her in a lot of ways. Rape Jokes is an authentic expression of self-compassion. Through her story, we learn that she's not just a survivor but a thriver.*** Esposito goes out of her way to deconstruct a toxic trope in the mostly-male led comedy profession not only in content, but also in her approach. She's saying "no" to the misogynistic machine that has been silencing and abusing oppressed comedians for generations. She also repurposes the phrase "rape joke" and the consuption of comedy for her own healing, and by collecting donations for RAINN, the healing of others.
This special isn't just a "raw, honest, blah blah blah" whatever emotional buzz words that have been used to describe this special. It's what comedy should be all wrapped up into one perfectly coiffed hour: a teaching moment, an honest expression of self, and fucking funny. Cameron Esposito brings her A++ game in Rape Jokes. If you don't believe me that rape jokes can be funny, decide for yourself. And don't forget to donate.
*Rhea, that baseball reference is for you. #CLE
**OMG insert dreamy heart eyes here
***Thriver is not a word, but it's fitting and appropriate. Policing grammar is classist and stupid, anyway.