Are there some things you can just never joke about?

You may have remembered an explosive moment from the Melbourne International Comedy Festival last year, when a comedian Ray Badran, came under fire for telling a rape “joke”.

That joke was:

“So you know how gay people can make jokes about being gay, and black people can make jokes about being black, well, I can make jokes about rape.”

Audience member, Cecelia Devlin objected to Badran’s comments, slid under the table to stage a silent protest, before Badran walked off stage, and said to her,  ‘Good on you for taking a stand, but you’re a piece of sh*t and I hope you die’.

You can find out more about her experience in the piece she wrote at the time for Mamamia here.

What followed next was heated conflict, prolific international media coverage, and Badran receiving stream of abuse online, as well as his mother allegedly receiving abuse down the phone from strangers.

He isn't the first comedian to make a joke about rape, and he won't be the last. And the controversy that followed his joke is a reflection of how complex one little question can be, that is,  are there some things you just can't joke about?

Meshel Laurie wants answers this week on The Nitty Gritty Committee. (Post continues after audio.)

"Maybe it's like that dress that was all over the internet, where it was like  'is it white and black or is it blue and gold?' I'm just like, but isn't he saying 'I'm a rapist, so I can tell jokes about rape?'" Meshel says.

Can joking about rape ever be funny? Are there good rape jokes and bad rape jokes? Perhaps the only people who can truly answer that question, are the victims of rape themselves, which is why Meshel spoke to Peter Blenkiron, who was raped by a Christian brother when he was 11 years old in Ballarat, repeatedly, and is currently very active in the community in trying assist other survivors.

He says, it is a multilayered question, that has multilayered answers.

And one of those answers is that sometimes it is okay. Because he needs humour to cope. To survive.

"There's times when Andrew Collins [another victim of rape growing up in Ballarat]  and I joke about it between the two of us, 'We've got half a brain' - that's a PTSD joke....if it wasn't for the humour, if we couldn't lace a little bit of dark humour around it, you'd go crazy. You really would." he says.


Peter Blenkiron. (Image: Getty)

"Right from the early days, meeting in cafes, I remember my brother-in-law [Steve]...talking to Andrew the first time he came along...they were both having a laugh, and it was at the own expense, and Steve would say a joke, and say 'mate I hope this isn't inappropriate for you' and [Andrew] said, 'but if i don't laugh about it... I wouldn't be here.'" he explains.

Should comedians, who don't know exactly who is in their audience, and what their life experiences are, steer clear from telling jokes about rape all together?

One suggestion Blenkiron has, for anyone who considers using humour around rape is that, it is about giving someone the chance to leave, the opportunity to walk out, because that can be empowering for a victim. "It's about the two golden rules around abuse. Things were out of control as a kid, and you were unsafe. So [the golden rules are] the opposite, in a way that's as safe as possible, and a way that doesn't feel out of control. So having choice to either be part of something or not, is very much a  part of re-empowerment, and feeling safe in that space. If you can relate everything back to those two rules, usually you don't go far wrong." he explains.

Is rape ever funny? Can you ever joke about rape? Are there good rape jokes and bad rape jokes? That's the question Meshel Laurie wants answered. She also speaks to Ray Badran about his experience following the fall out from his gig. 

For more episodes of The Nitty Gritty Committee, subscribe to the show in iTunes, find us on The Mamamia Podcast App, or via your podcast app of choice.