On a spontaneous night in San Francisco I followed a man down Market street to a comedy den called The Punch Line. Lining the walls were photos of Robin Williams, Chris Rock, Jerry Seinfeld, and Aziz Ansari. Some of whom (Robin Williams) had their very first performance here. I was here to see Dave Chapelle and I was not prepared for the paradox of rape jokes.
In a tiny room, two hundred people huddled together looking out to a faded 80’s style mural of San Fran’s Bay area. Mo Amer opened the show with political verses and racial disparities. When Chapelle made his way on stage he grabbed a stool, a drink, and a cigarette and began his dissent into despair. I’ve never seen someone so heavily chain smoke so that was an act in its own. In what will follow, a man calls his server a whore, happy birthday is sung to a fifty year-old DJ who spun for Tupac, and Dave Chapelle sings his favourite song to us.
By the end of the strangest show of my life I’m convinced that rapists’ laugh the hardest at rape jokes and racists’ at the race jokes. But I’m going to make the case that we need these offensive jokes to navigate this sick landscape called life. Chapelle’s humour runs a close second to debauchery: he appears to support rapists and murderers. But maybe that’s the point. At least that’s what I think after watching a man fall apart on stage for three hours. It seems more likely that he see’s the world for what it is, and that’s a heavy burden to bear.
Through his humour I learnt that behind the rape jokes are attempts to draw attention to the fact that we are still laughing about rape jokes. Moments after I started writing this, the whole Weinstein narrative started to unravel. Namely that Weinstein is not a sex addict, he’s a rapist and should go to prison. But the bigger narrative involves the people that stood by doing nothing. What’s worse than a rapist? A third party who knows that a rapist is a rapist and does nothing.
Chapelle might have figured out early on that rapists and racists will turn up at his shows. They’ll throw bananas and racial slurs at him. And they’ll join in on the fun a little too eagerly. I was four metres away from a guy who yelled out to his server, “Bar whore get Dave Chapelle a drink!.” That was awkward. And that awkwardness wore on Chapelle’s face like defeat.
Right before I left for San Francisco I was groped on the 99 B-line. From Arbutus to Alma I processed about thirty emotions and anger lingers indefinitely. This isn’t even the first time I’ve been groped in public. What do you expect women to do about this inescapable reality? Donna Karen, a women’s clothing designer, suggests women need to starting dressing less provocatively. Otherwise we are asking for it. As I had appropriately covered myself up the morning of the B-line incident whom am I now to blame? Most importantly, how do I tackle this anger that keeps me on edge whenever a man stands too close to me? For my sanity I have to turn the entire dim situation into a joke. When ever I tell people my stories of being sexually assaulted I always add this comic relief: “so now I carry a sharpened school pencil in my pocket, just in case I need to stab a dude in the thigh.” You think I actually think this is funny?? I’ve already written half a dozen articles about crying. One person can only write about that shit so much. So instead, you hold onto a tiny amount of pleasure that comes from imagining stabbing the thigh of a bro.
Chapelle’s show ended far too late in the
night morning. The heavy cloud of cigarette smoke sunk into all my clothes and did nothing to console my anxieties of misogyny. On the upside, Chapelle’s last words were of gratitude towards the waitresses working the show. After all, they were embroiled in a Game of Thrones joke taken too far by a bro compensating for his fear of emasculation.
I may have interpreted this completely wrong, but when Chapelle jokes about Ray Rice punching a woman in the face it sits in the same arena of jokes that touch on the tyranny of police brutality, Donald Trump, and OJ the murderer. People are immoral and some of us are awful pieces of garbage. That is reality, and yes, it’s the joke of a lifetime.
And Chapelle’s favourite song? Strumming my pain with his fingers, singing my life with his words, killing me softly with his song, killing me softly with his song, telling my whole life with his words. Killing me softly…