There’s something of a general cultural consensus that sensitivity and empathy be shown in the wake of tragedy or violence; after a mass shooting or a terrorist attack, many comedians explicitly avoid making jokes. But, it turns out, there are exemptions to the rule.
A conversation about misogyny in comedy sprang up this week after feminist journalist Sady Doyle wrote a critical response to jokes performed by male comedian Sam Morril. Doyle’s impression of Morril’s material that night, as well as his Twitter feed, was that it disproportionately relied on jokes about nonconsensual sex, violence and the degradation of women. Her piece was a good-faith effort to bypass the usual debate about “rape jokes,” which often gets stuck around concepts like the importance of dark humor and freedom of speech, to explore issues at hand: the number of women who experience sexual violence, and the merit (or lack thereof) of making those women the target of jokes. An Onion article this week about Chris Brown and Rihanna also functions as a helpful distillation of how violence against women can act as a punch line; many feminists, notably women of color, felt that a domestic violence victim became collateral damage in service of a joke.
But for all the jokes about violence against women, Morril displayed earnest compassion after the bombings in Boston, tweeting: “This kind of violence is infuriating. Thinking of everyone in Boston.”
When Doyle called him on this disparate reaction, Morril responded in good faith, insisting that he does not “condone rape” and saying that while he was “horrified by the Boston bombings,” he still made jokes about them.