To people who say money can't buy happiness, I don't agree. The price of happiness is whatever it costs to buy a Jet-Ski. Ever seen anyone frown on a Jet-Ski? You haven't, because it's not possible. (*acts out sobbing while Jet-Skiing*)
That, delivered well, is funny. It's a Daniel Tosh joke. I consider it evidence that Daniel Tosh has the ability to be funny. He understands how a joke works. It starts with a universal premise and then takes an amusing twist that the audience is unlikely to see coming. Then it's acted out to emphasize how ridiculous the twisted premise is in reality. Good one, Dan.
Eventually, however, he realized that shock value is one of the cornerstones of humor, and a particularly easy one for a moderately clever person to exploit. Why bother writing good material when you can just say a bunch of "Oh no he di'int!" stuff? So Daniel Tosh got lazy and decided it was easier to do a bunch of shock material rather than write jokes. The problem is that over time it has been more difficult to shock audiences. Sex? Porn? Whackin' it? Dead babies? Racism? Abortion? Audiences are used to all of it at this point. As Jane's Addiction once warned us, nothing's shocking (anymore). You can only say "faggot" so many times and tell so many stories about masturbating. We get it. You're edgy.
So, there's rape. Rape is still offensive because, you know, it's horrible. It still shocks people. And it's OK to make jokes about things that are shocking. The problem is that most comedians are too lazy (or too stupid) to figure out how to tell a joke properly about something terrible. Here's a joke I use as an opener quite often.
It's so hot down here during the summer that I actually walked up to an Atlanta cop and begged him to shoot me.
*pause for tepid chuckle*
…and it would have worked if I was black.
I'm kidding, of course. If you're black you don't have to ask an Atlanta cop to shoot at you.
I'm kinda proud of that one. It's not straightforward ("Cops are racists, amirite?") but it uses some misdirection humor to make the audience think about something that is fucked up. Racism: It's a Terrible Thing. So it's possible to tell a joke that makes people remember, "Oh, right…rape is a serious problem and it happens all the time, and it's ridiculous to believe stupid things like 'She was asking for it'." An uncharacteristically strong column on Jezebel includes a lengthy discussion of this point, with examples.
Daniel Tosh leans on rape jokes like Katt Williams leans on the F-word. They're not particularly well thought-out or funny. He just says "rape" a lot to keep things "edgy." And in that context – if the rape or the rape victim are the butt of the joke – it just isn't funny. His Twitter account has a "#rape" hashtag with dozens of jokes and references. His TV show includes at least one in every episode.
The problem with this whole ToshTroversy started here: with Tosh telling yet another stupid, un-clever, and lazy rape joke. People coming to his defense and wailing about censorship – a common response among comedians – miss the point. This is a classic Can vs. Should problem. You CAN say whatever you want. Should you? Should you tell a story in which your "clever" twist is that someone gets gang raped at the end? Sure, I guess…if you suck at comedy.
I have a lot of things to say about heckling, and that is the part of this story on which I originally focused. No matter what the comedian says and no matter how justified you believe you are, yelling at the stage is always an asshole move. Sorry. Try doing comedy sometime and you will understand what I mean. Comedy is not just a person talking, it's a person doing a performance that he or she has practiced hundreds of times and that relies entirely on flow and timing. If you fuck that up, the performer is going to be an asshole to you. He or she is going to do whatever is possible to get you to shut up and stop ruining the act as quickly as possible. The audience paid to see the performance, and it is a dick move to stop it akin to talking loudly on a cellphone in a movie theater.
But the more I think about it, the heckler is not the important issue here. The take home point is that he/she-got-raped jokes are lazy, stupid, and only amusing to dolts. Taking the low road and going for the easy shock laugh does not take talent and does not make one good at comedy. Audiences have to be sentient and willing to think a little bit about what they hear in a comedy club – if you decide that you are offended by any mention of rape in any context on a comedy stage, you're not much brighter than the people who laugh at Tosh. And if the comedian isn't thinking carefully about the substance of the joke – Who's the butt of the joke here? What's funny about this, and why? What am I trying to say? – he's not doing his job.
So this controversy has a relatively simple solution: Comedians, stop being lazy dickbags. Don't tell jokes that have no purpose beyond shocking or offending the audience. Try saying something useful. If you're unwilling or unable to do that, then at least avoid being hateful and offensive. Tell some fart jokes or something. Even if you don't care whether the audience is offended or belittled, self interest should be enough to talk you out of this. Nothing says "I'm a hack" quite like rape jokes. You're not edgy or clever. You're a cliche. Don't you want to be a little better than that?
(PS: Seriously though, stop yelling shit at the stage. Everyone who does it thinks they have a great reason. Most of them are wrong.)