The "Rape Joke" Episode of "Law & Order: SVU" Is About As Ridiculous As You Would Expect

Rape jokes. Fill in the rest based on what you already believe.

Feb 24, 2014 at 1:00pm | Leave a comment

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Just another night out at the rape joke club.

I support feminism. I support offensive comedy. I support "Law & Order."

So -- imagine my interest when I got an email offering me the chance to take a look at the upcoming episode of "Law & Order: SVU" wherein a comic is accused of both inciting a crowd to attempted rape and also of being a rapist himself. Turns out, it's a mashup -- as "Law & Order" tends to do these days, as they did with Trayvon Martin meets Paula Deen -- of Daniel Tosh rape jokes meets Derek Jeter post-one-night-stand swagbags.

Just like a night of stand-up comedy, there's really no heady morality at play on "Law & Order." It is police procedural porn -- with the occasional real-life sexual assault awareness issue sprinkled in to serve the greater good from time to time. This episode which airs on Wednesday (and is co-written by Brianna Yellen) does what "Law & Order" does best, ripping headlines into Mad Libs-style story arcs of what might have happened had the public been given a voyeuristic fantasy camp chance to watch tabloid news gone worst-case-scenario "Twilight Zone" wrong. It is truly anti-wish-fulfillment TV.

On this episode, the character of popular comic Josh Galloway (played by "Weekend at Bernies" actor Jonathan Silverman) has a joke in his act that reads like it was in fact written by someone in the "Studio 60" writer's room. The joke actually consists of him listing a rule of comedy that only a comedy writer, not an audience member, would even think about or consider -- which is that it is "the rule of 3"s that causes something to be funny. In this case: gang rape.

You know. How comedians are always explaining comedy theory for their punchlines. ("And for my next rape joke -- being the popular rape joke comic that I am, I'm going to do a comedic misdirect!")

Along with the broad-stroked portrayal of comics, I think feminists will be equally irritated by their portrayal. The feminist activist contingent on the show are portrayed as obnoxiously disrupting the comedy show in collusion, pumping their fists and basically being what a Google search result for "feminist" and "meme" might turn up.

A stand-up comic friend of mine who is dying to see this "Law & Order" episode -- he called it the TV event of the year -- and who heard I had watched the screener asked me today: "Do they actually refer to Josh Galloway as one of those 'rape joke comics'? Does that seriously happen?"

"Yeah," I said. "You know. Like how on Comedy Central's website where they have the one category for 'Daily Show' and then 'The Colbert Report' and then -- that whole section devoted to 'Rape Joke Comics,' listed alphabetically."

My friend then went on to make a fairly astute point. "Here's my take on this entire issue," he said. "Rape jokes are about as likely to cause rape as 'Law & Order' is. Do you see how insane that line of thinking is? Comedians' jobs are to take down sacred cows and to blaspheme. That's why they tackle offensive material -- because they're not supposed to."

One of the central plotlines in the episode involved the idea of comedy groupies, or what is sometimes referred to by comics as "chucklefuckers" (I once wrote about this term in The New York Post, and quite enjoyed "Law & Order"'s PG-13 rendition as: "chuckleslut"). For the record, I tried to get out of writing that article at the time. "Here's a list of every comic I have ever made out with," I emailed my editor. "Just do the story, Mandy," my editor emailed back.
 
I also took a trip down memory lane during the episode remembering the origin of the Jeter swagbag reveal. My friend is the publicist who traded a favor with The Post to leak it. She is hilarious and awesome. Her friend slept with Jeter and gossiped to her, and she said to me at the time of the item placement, "Thank God I have slutty friends." (Because, leaking that scoop just earned her two favors which she could then cash in whenever she might need a little fluffy press item for a client. Which in PR, is often.)

With all the zeitgeist and headline homages throughout the episode, I would still maintain there was but one clear and overriding theme to be got. Quite simply: "Rape joke comics" are bad.

And I would absolutely agree with that.

I would also contend: There's no such thing.

Can you imagine? "Tonight, we've got several great rape joke comics lined up for you, and now for our headliner... You know his rape jokes. You love his rape jokes. It's Josh Galloway!"

Inserting that question and description about the central character of this episode -- Josh Galloway is "one of those rape joke comics?" the detective asks -- shows about as much understanding of stand-up comedy as, say, a "Law & Order" episode inspired by Richard Pryor, where the cop clarifies: "Now, Richard Pryor? Is he one of those lighting himself on fire comics?"

Are there plenty of comics who make rape jokes? Yes, absolutely.

Roseanne Barr wrote an eloquent piece about how part of comedy is always going to be about healing from trauma through offensive comedy, the rape jokes she has made herself on stage, and how important it is to not be afraid to tackle any topic.

"OK, you have to tell me this," my stand-up comic friend asked me one final question about this episode. "Does Josh Galloway actually commit the rape? Because did you know that this actually happened, except it was with Vince Champ -- a comic who had the cleanest material ever?"

I did know this. Because in my research for this story, amidst a veritable sea of rape joke thinkpieces, I read Patton Oswalt's terrific bit of writing where he brought up the infamous Vince Champ. (For the record, the majority of what I read was pure Internet echo chamber with no minds changed, no minds open -- except for Oswalt's piece. He actually pondered the possibility he could be, wait for it, wrong about something. Namely, that rape culture does exist.)

So who is Vince Champ? Champ was a family-friendly Ed McMahon-approved comedian who actually won "Star Search" in 1992. "Star Search"! That's a man who never would have been branded amongst this horrific and wholly made-up category of "rape joke comics."

Except, Champ is currently serving multiple life sentences in a prison in Nebraska for a string of rapes he committed across the country.

If you're wondering, the man never told a single rape joke in his act.

Of course, in the world of "Law & Order," it is the dirty and offensive "rape joke comic" who is accused of actually being a rapist.

But as the comforting white font says at the beginning of every episode: "The following story is fictional and does not portray any actual person or event."

And yet -- it does bring up a very real and very can't-win (from either side) debate. This episode -- a year after the Tosh brouhaha -- is now allowing me and everyone else in the media a means with which to write about rape jokes again. Because let's not pretend this piece is anything more than that.

I'm what you might call one of those "rape joke comic reporters."