Jen Thorpe
Jen Thorpe

Is rape something we can joke about?

I was watching Ricky Gervais’ Fame tour last night and about 30 minutes in he starts joking about rape. In the skit he asks “what sort of society has to remind people not to rape?” It’s referring to an advertisement that emphasises consent in sexual encounters. Instead of this being an insight into how much of a problem rape is in the UK, this becomes a joke. He parodies the court case where the judge asks “why did you rape her” and the rapist responds “I forgot [about consent]”.

One of his jokes is in reference to another radio advertisement warning people against taking illegal cabs in the UK. The phrase they used to warn people was “if you want to know the cost of an illegal minicab, just ask a rape victim”. Gervais then looks to the crowd and says “don’t! Worst advice I’ve ever had. It really winds them up. It brings back terrible memories. I don’t want you to make the same mistake I did”. He refers to it as “irresponsible advertising”. The crowd laughs and I strained my ears to hear the awkwardness in their laughter, maybe a nervous cough or two, but I couldn’t. The crowd laughed along as though there was no truth in what he was saying.

I couldn’t laugh. For me that became the line. It was no longer funny. There was no humour in that.

There are many jokes out there that make fun of particular groups. Everyone’s heard a joke about thin Ethiopians, murderous Nazis, black people, white people, Indian people. Some of them may make you laugh, and others won’t.

This time I didn’t laugh. What is it that stops you from laughing? For me it wasn’t funny because I work in the field of gender-based violence research and know that a rape has lifelong effects on a survivor. You only need to read any one of these blogs:

to understand that this is no joking matter.

So if you were someone who has watched it and found it funny, how did you? How did you get past that? Can we ever joke about rape?