Rape humor just reached its nadir.
During his show in Canada on Thursday night, Bill Cosby used a comedy performance to make a joke about the 20-plus women alleging he drugged them or sexually assaulted them. When a woman in the front row of the performance space said she was getting up to get a drink, Cosby reportedly told her, "You have to be careful about drinking around me."
The comments, relayed via Twitter by Richard Warnica, a reporter from the National Post in Toronto, were well received by Cosby's audience. After some initial gasps, "the gasps then changed to cheers and applause," according to Warnica's tweets. Later in the performance, a single heckler was removed (though more than 100 protesters were gathered outside the arena).
The comedian has long refused to answer questions about the rape allegations against him, recently stonewalling NPR's Scott Simon when Simon inquired about the reports on a Weekend Edition Saturday show. But Cosby is apparently not above joking about the allegations—and that's just fine with his some of his fans.
After the show, Cosby openly reveled in his joke's warm reception. "One outburst, but over 2,600 loyal, patient, and courageous fans enjoyed the most wonderful medicine that exist for humankind. Laughter."
Humor is subjective and, very often, transgressive. But just how subjective is it? It's possible to be transgressive without being regressive. Rape jokes generally don't pass that test, least of all when they come from a man who stands accused of multiple counts of rape (The Washington Post has a good rundown of the allegations.)
Or maybe the fact that Cosby stands accused of drugging and raping multiple women is part of the humor? From here, it just sounds like a textbook definition of rape culture.
As Roxane Gay wrote in her book Bad Feminist, "We are free to speak as we choose without fear of prosecution or persecution, but we are not free to speak as we choose without consequence."
In Cosby's case, he just clears the prosecution bar.
This article is from the archive of our partner National Journal.