When Are Rape Jokes Funny?


When Are Rape Jokes Funny?  |  Jill of all Trades



On Rape Jokes:


Rape is one of those topics.  It’s horrible, of course, and it is never funny.  I am not of the school of thought, though, that says just because a thing is never funny, jokes about it are also never funny.


For example, I think this joke is hilarious, and I’ll explain why later on in the post:



“Hey, Holocaust jokes are never funny.  My grandfather died in a concentration camp…fell off a guard tower.”



Plenty of feminists will tell you that rape jokes are unacceptable, blanketly–and anytime a comedian goes there he or she must be prepared for this response.  However, not all feminists think this way.  Some of us are comedians ourselves, and understand that comedy is a tool humans use to deal with even incredibly un-funny aspects of life.  Where else do you think nervous laughter came from?



When Are Rape Jokes Funny?  |  Jill of all Trades
Not to mention Mitt Romney memes.



Sometimes, jokes about rape can be funny–just like sometimes, jokes about the Holocaust can be funny.  It’s just got to be done right.



So When Are Rape Jokes Funny?


“Okay,” you say, “I get that.  So…when and where and what kind of rape jokes ARE funny?”


Well, ever-curious reader that I just made up, I will tell you my opinion.



Punch Up:


Have you ever heard this term?  It’s the best explanation I’ve ever heard for how to tell a joke that’s cool from a joke that’s not cool.  It means that if you’re telling a joke about something horrible, make the butt of the joke the person who’s in the position of power.  So in the case of rape jokes, make sure that the butt of the joke is basically anyone but the victim.  In the case of the Holocaust joke earlier, the target is the grandfather who was a guard at a concentration camp/ the teller of the joke.  It’s also funny because you expect it to be serious, and then it’s not.


This is a perfect way to explain why a joke in which a woman gets raped because she was so super slutty or whatever is a terrible one, and one in which a rapist gets his comeuppance can be a good one.  It’s why a joke about how horrible our society is to rape victims can be funny, or a joke about how awful it is that the bible requires women who are raped and don’t scream loud enough to be stoned can be funny, whereas one about how much it sucks to rape people and then get in trouble for it is not.


Fun fact: this can apply to jokes about race, disabilities, abortion, murder, genocide, terrorism, war, and other tragic, personal or horrible topics…the point is that you don’t kick victims while they’re down.  So just ask yourself, “am I punching up or punching down?”  You should be able to tell from your answer if your joke is okay or not, at least as a general rule.


Also, seriously, if you can’t laugh at yourself, what have you got?  This is why I’m okay with people making fun of their own race, gender, or political group.  For example, I love me some jokes about Armenians and their black turtlenecks and gold chains.  Or feminist jokes.  Or jokes about liberals.


Or just jokes that make a point.  Ever heard the one, “if you’re a Republican before 30 you have no heart, and if you’re a Democrat after 30 you have no brains?”  That’s funny.  I find that truly comical.  It picks on both groups, makes a point about their weaknesses and strengths, and it says something about how much a person’s mindset can change as they age.



Know Your Audience:




Don’t tell rape jokes to a room full of survivors at a sexual assault prevention meeting.


Also, don’t tell rape jokes about a specific person who expressed an issue with you making rape jokes at all.  Yes, this is a reference to the scandal with Daniel Tosh, who made a blah sort of rape joke that I didn’t personally find offensive, but then when someone complained, he responded, “wouldn’t it be funny if that girl got raped by, like, 5 guys right now?”  Not funny, Tosh.  Don’t target people.  That’s not punching up OR knowing your audience.  This response to it was the best and most reasonable one I’ve seen.


Want a positive example?  Sarah Silverman has an excellent standup bit about rape.  It makes a point about the struggles rape victims face, and it’s both funny and impactful.


Louis C.K. also tells an awesome rape joke.  He handles most of the controversial or sensitive topics he addresses well, mostly by punching up.  His bit on how much he likes being white is another great example of that (the butt of the joke being white privilege).



When Are Rape Jokes Funny?  |  Jill of all Trades
This one is funny too. Butt of the joke? Sexism.



You get the point.



Got any awesome examples of funny, punching-up jokes about horrible things?  Got an opinion about rape jokes?  Share in the comments!



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  • I feel like this is the same conversation I’ve had, but with Christianity jokes. There are times and places for all kinds of jokes. Like you said, it’s about knowing your audience and how the joke plays out. Great post 🙂