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Saturday, October 12, 2013

My Least Favorite Piece of Misogyny This Week: Comedy Bullies

Posted by Barbara Holm on Sat, Oct 12, 2013 at 12:00 PM

I love comedy open mics because they are a work-out room to sweat out new material. The creative process of birthing jokes is so beautiful; I rarely mind the joke placenta. However, the comedy scene in Portland is so sweet it leaves cupcake shops in its wake, and this often means that clubs will let anyone go onstage at an open mic, no matter how horrendous. A few days ago, towards the end of a mic, a comic who I sorta knew was telling street jokes. (What do you get when you cross a blank with a blank... etcetera.) I was sitting there quietly, minding my own business, trying to get in some good daydream time. Then the comedian started telling a rape joke. He paused and said angrily, "Have you noticed that Barbara Holm never laughs at rape jokes, no matter how funny? She laughs at feminist jokes but no rape jokes. Come on, why don't you laugh, Barbara?" My least favorite piece of misogyny ever, to date, was that moment.

First of all, my laugh is a privilege, not a right—like being bitten by a werewolf, not for everybody. I am short, bespectacled, and shy, but that does NOT mean you are entitled to my approval. I know I look like I should be grateful for any attention from men, but that's the difference between men and kitty cats. It was such a direct attack with an uneven distribution of power, because he was on an elevated stage with a microphone and a spotlight, and I was the only one he called out.

Second, it's not simply that I hate rape jokes. I hate rape jokes that are directed at the victim. They are mean spirited, and often dumb. So, yelling and trying to manipulate is exactly counter-intuitive to selling someone on rape culture. That's like saying, "Oh, you think informed consent is a universal human right? I'm going to force you to change your mind." I hate the perpetuation of rape culture in entertainment rhetoric, and I really loathe when people try to aggressively manipulate this core belief.

This is not the first time a comic has gotten mad at me for not liking their act. In the dark city of Seattle, a comic told a joke about beating his girlfriend, and I happened to be in the front row, so he berated me verbally for not laughing. It's even happened a few times since I moved to this magickal fairyland. It irks me because it feels like someone is attacking my right to my own opinions, taste, and beliefs. Why does it matter so much that I don't think you're funny? And instead of expressing aggression and rage toward me, here's a thought: You could just be funny.

I think comedy is the most beautiful art form. I think that jokes can be used to make people feel better and less alone. Laughter has a strong emotional power over people, and it's heartbreaking to see that powerful rhetoric used to perpetuate violence or cruelty. I hate being bullied, and I hate watching anyone feel bullied. The art of stand up can be a very pure and altruistic medium. It has helped me deal with depression and anxiety and I genuinely believe it can make the world a better place. That's been my least favorite piece of misogyny this week—tune in next week to let me pet your dog.

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