opinion

"I objected to a comedian's rape joke. So he told me to die."

“What is your fucking problem though, seriously? It’s just a joke.” No, rape really isn’t.

My name is Cecelia. I am a woman, and a feminist.

The story I want to tell you is pretty straightforward.  You may have heard parts of it already, most likely online. In the interest of clarity, and with a view to continuing conversations about sexual violence and violence against women, I am sharing these words and putting my name to them.

This week I was invited by friends to attend an event on opening night of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Crablab is a regular comedy gig held at House of Maximon bar, featuring a rotating selection of comics.

Is rape ever funny? Can you ever joke about violence and abuse? Are there good rape jokes and bad rape jokes? Those are the questions Meshel Laurie wants answered in this week’s Nitty Gritty Committee.

The night included a number of excellent, side-splittingly funny sets from performers such as Geraldine Hickey, Michael Hing, Becky Lucas and Sam Campbell. During the course of the show, however, several jokes were also centred around violence against women – including a zinger that went something like “you know it’s been a good night when you wake up with a fistful of hair and a dirty shovel.”

Read more: This man’s story shows that courts still don’t consider rapes a serious crime.

The third-last performer for the night was a comic called Ray Badran. Ray opened his set with a rape joke: “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”. I realise that where comedy is concerned; context and delivery of a joke can be everything. Ray’s delivery came with the clear implication that he looked like a rapist.

For me, and the women sitting around me, this “joke” was not only unfunny but highly offensive. My response was as spontaneous as it was instantaneous. As Ray moved on to his next joke, I slipped from my chair and sat beneath the table. I felt that, under the circumstances, it was enough to protest silently – to no longer participate in Ray’s act as an audience member.

With my vision of the stage now obscured, the next thing I was aware of was Ray addressing “the girl under the table”. He asked why I was under there, to which I made no reply, hoping he would move on with his act. Ray continued to press me to answer his question.

It was at this point that I responded by saying, calmly but audibly, that I did not like his rape joke and that I didn’t find it funny, and that rape was not a punch line. I can only assume that my response threw Ray’s act, as he quite swiftly moved into defensive mode. Rather than engaging in a discussion (one which he had started) about the joke, he asked me, and the audience, “What is your fucking problem though, seriously? It’s just a joke. What is her problem? Wait, you probably shouldn’t ask someone who just called out a rape joke what their problem is, should you.”

The comedy night was at the House of Maximon in Melbourne.

Struggling to recover, Ray asked if he should wrap up his act early. Attempting to summon the mob at his fingertips, he encouraged the audience to indicate by applause whether he should continue. Yells from the crowd claimed that my three friends and I were “negative bitches,” and that we should leave.

ADVERTISEMENT

Finally, Ray told the audience he could no longer continue, and that it was “the worst gig of his life”. He then gestured to me again and said, “good on you for taking a stand, but also, you’re a piece of shit and I hope you die”. My friend jumped in at that stage and told him to stop. He continued to address us aggressively, as I silently waved him offstage.

Read more: Lee Lin Chin reads mean tweets… she wrote to herself.

The last performer of the night attempted to engage with me again about what had happened during Ray’s act. After I repeated my position on the matter, he proceeded to describe his own experience of rape, and finished by saying that he respected my comments, but that I had embarrassed his friend (Ray) and that he didn’t agree with my behaviour.

As the gig ended, the same performer came to shake my hand and apologise if he had upset me, following which we had a brief exchange. I said I believed there was a difference between a man making a joke about being a rapist, and a joke about someone’s own experience of rape. It is telling that at the conclusion of our conversation, Ray’s right to an uninterrupted set was still deemed more important than refraining from making bad jokes about rape.

Ray Badran feature
Ray Badran (Image via Youtube)
ADVERTISEMENT

In the days that have followed the event, and despite some lacklustre activity from Twitter trolls, I have been flooded with an overwhelming amount of support. Many women – friends, acquaintances and strangers – have shared their own stories with me from gigs they have attended where unsophisticated rape jokes were the primary material for the male performers. These women have shared moments where they too wished they went “under the table”.

On average in Australia, 1 in 5 women have experienced sexual violence since the age of 15. Is it any wonder, then, that a woman who sits in a crowd at a comedy night doesn’t find a shit rape joke even mildly funny? Comedy does not exist in a vacuum, after all. More to the point, how can such a brand of humour possibly be worth defending more than a genuine awareness of gendered violence?

Read more: This is one of the most powerful anti-domestic violence videos we’ve ever seen.

I am the first to acknowledge that this matter is much bigger than Ray himself. His joke, along with his aggressive behaviour are indeed appalling. Ray’s response to my silent protest, in a public arena where he held the microphone was, quite simply, a textbook exercise of male dominance. It was violence. I, and other women like me, will continue to be vilified for speaking up, because patriarchal culture benefits most when we are painted as humourless harpies, rather than as justified protestors, victims and survivors facing a tireless (and tiresome), day-to-day onslaught of sexism and misogyny. What is also appalling is any festival and comedy culture that assists to prop up this behaviour and normalise it.

If you’re attending the Melbourne International Comedy Festival this year, and you find yourself at a gig where victims of sexual violence are the punch line, don’t just swallow it. Tell someone, start talking, and get under a table if you have to.

Mamamia contacted Ray Badran but he did not respond. He gave a statement to Fairfax media, which included: “I’ve been doing the joke in question for two and a half years…I am a regular at The Sydney Comedy Store and two weeks ago at the Sydney Comedy Store Chris Rock was in the audience and heard the joke and complimented me on the joke afterwards saying it was ‘one of the cleverest jokes he’s heard’.

“One audience member was unhappy about it on this particular night and this has been blown out of proportion and has changed dramatically through misinformed people on social media. Of course in no way do I condone violence against women or sexual assaults of any kind.”

What do you think about this type of comedy?

Tags: