Dear Jim Jefferies,
I was in the audience during your performance in London, Ontario at Centennial Hall on Friday, December 11, 2015. I was curious to see your Freedumb tour after seeing your infamous routine on gun ownership in America on YouTube.
I will admit my bias right off the bat: had I known that your current tour presently includes a 10 minute segment of rape jokes, I probably would have stayed home. However, I missed the memo. So here we go. You made a number of jokes insinuating that women should consider it a “compliment” to be drugged and date-raped. You teased that it is “not good to rape often.” You said something to the effect that it didn’t really matter whether Bill Cosby raped 30 women or 50 women, because once he had raped over 30 his penalty would be the same, so he might as well “just go for it”.
A few times you inserted ‘disclaimers’ in which you explained that you are “just a comedian” and that your misogyny is simply a gag, a performance, implying that it’s all just for laughs. Nothing in your act, you say, should be interpreted as anything more than theatrical comedy. You stressed this repeatedly. Apparently you intend your audience to differentiate between your ‘serious’ disclaimers and your ‘innocent’ litany of rape jokes.
At another point in your show, you talked about child abuse. You made a few brief jokes about defecating on a small child who is chained to a radiator in your basement. Here again you (quickly) quipped another ‘disclaimer’, reiterating moral impunity in the name of comedy.
Comparatively speaking, you devoted much more time to jokes about raping women than to jokes about abusing children. This is interesting, isn’t it? Let’s imagine what would happen if you scaled your child abuse jokes to the scale of your rape jokes: if you stood on a stage every night and performed a 10 minute routine about molesting children, what do you suppose would become of your ‘brand’ and career? (I suppose we don’t have to imagine too hard, given the fallout and controversy from CK Louis’ monologue on child molestation at SNL back in May.)
Let’s go back to Friday night. Imagine if you inserted the word ‘child’ every time you referred to women. Imagine if you replaced all your jokes about the physical and sexual assault of women with jokes about pedophilia and child pornography? At very minimum, why would the social consequences and thresholds for acceptance be different? What are the cultural norms and precedents that make this dichotomy possible? What kind of systematic inequalities underpin this double standard?
A victim is a victim: physically overpowered, denied of their personal autonomy, robbed of choice, and injured for the pleasure of the abuser. Why should the age or gender of the victim determine the comedic viability of jokes made at their expense? What does it say about our society if jokes about raping women sells tickets but jokes about raping children can damage your career? Why differentiate one category of innocent human beings from another?
I am a die-hard supporter of free speech. I also believe it is fundamentally important for society to tolerate/protect comedy/satire that pushes the envelop of social discourse. I’m certainly not writing this letter because I think you ought to be banned or censored by some regiment of the moral thought police. And I most certainly do not suppose myself to be a moral authority. No, in fact, I will champion your right to speak freely, because I understand that it is also my right to freely disagree with you. This is why I am writing: I hope, somehow, that some of my fellow audience members who have seen the Freedumb tour will pause just long enough to question the social and cultural precedents against women that were implicitly entrenched by your performance.
Morality aside, your logic of justification for ‘comedic misogyny’ makes no sense: your segregation of ‘theatrical comedy’ from ‘real life’ is arbitrary and inconsistent. Look, I wholeheartedly agree with many of the things you said on Friday night — such as your appeal to respond to the threat of fanatical, religious terrorism (and the rhetoric of fear-mongering politicians) with “love instead of hate”. (That part wasn’t suppose to be a joke, right? That wasn’t just comedy, was it?) In fact, I could not agree more: when we perceive that our collective well-being is jeopardized by a violent minority, the systemic toxicity of fear must be thwarted by rational vigilance: collective compassion. When it comes to responding to terrorism, your call was loud and clear. But unfortunately the terror that many women suffer at the hands of their abusers found nothing but implicit reinforcement in your act.
In the real world of human hearts and minds, a night of comedy at the theatre does not result in a set of disembodied ideas that get locked away in some vacuum sealed corner of the brain. That is why humour and satire are so powerful, and so important. You obviously know this full well because you explicitly asked, challenged, and invited your audience to question their own fears and biases. You provoked them to reevaluate their assumptions on a number of issues. But unfortunately, the real world mores and precedents that sentence millions of women to live in fear were only reinforced by the glaring double standards of your act.
Please critically reconsider your approach to gender and sexuality in your future work.
Thanks for reading,