"Whoa! Is that really what it's called?!" is the most common response I hear from friends after I recommend Cameron Esposito's new stand-up special, Rape Jokes. Yup, it's really called Rape Jokes. And it's really funny — not harrowing or triggering. On June 11, Esposito released her hour-long comedy special for free on her website, with an optional button that lets viewers donate directly to RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, the country's largest anti-sexual assault organization). Esposito describes Rape Jokes as "a stand-up special about sexual assault from a survivor's perspective."
But it's not only about sexual assault. Esposito skillfully stirs in jokes about Yellow Tail wine, knee injuries and ringworm — something for everyone! Even when she's wading through the heavy topic of sexual violence, Esposito moves with purpose, heart and graceful vulnerability. It's the opposite approach of desperate-to-seem-edgy male comics who tell callous rape jokes onstage just to shock an audience or ridicule survivors. These comics, Esposito explains, quickly cry "censorship!" if anyone critiques the cruelty of their material. (Remember that Daniel Tosh incident of 2012? Ugh.) Esposito's comedy special feels like a direct-yet-gentle takedown of all that nonsense. In one hour, she proves that it is possible to pull humor from the putrid dumpster of sexual violence without retraumatizing survivors or making an audience squirm.
The beauty of Rape Jokes is that it's easy to watch. You don't have to wait until you're in a brave mood to view it. It's enjoyable. Yes, Esposito speaks about the pain of rape culture and the shame of having to remain closeted as a young lesbian at her Catholic college. Yet she also praises the joys of queer sex, which requires good communication (something she thinks straight couples could learn from). Esposito pushes us, as a culture, to improve our approach to pleasure and desire.
"We talk about consent," she says, "like it's a very slippery boulder that we're rolling up an equally slippery mountain while we're covered in butter. But I think at a very baseline level, consent can just look like:
'Do you like this?'
'Oh yes. Do you like THIS?'
While the #MeToo movement has helped survivors be heard and believed — and has made abusers face more consequences for their harmful actions — this comedy special asks a deeper question: Where do we go from here? Esposito suggests we should focus on healing the dangerous beliefs and social conditions that created this mess in the first place. Rape Jokes is the result of a skilled comedian offering up free laughs, education and practical advice for those who want to know how they can "get in the way" and disrupt rape culture. ♦
Cameron Esposito's Rape Jokes stand-up comedy special is available at cameronesposito.com