Comedian Daniel Tosh told two rape jokes during his stand-up show at the Laugh Factory in 2012. One was about his sister and the other was about a woman in the audience who said that rape jokes weren't funny. “Wouldn’t it be funny if that girl got raped by, like, five guys right now? Like right now?” he said. It wasn't funny. It was gross and humiliating.
In that same year, Adrienne Truscott was working on Asking For It, a one woman stand-up comedy show about rape. She wasn't planning to make her show all about rape jokes, until she was inspired by the conversation that happened around Tosh's stupidity.
The thing is, Truscott's show is actually funny. She has used her satirical monologues to expose the warped logic that men have when it comes to rape. "The way we talk about rape, the way we think about rape and how much of the focus was always on the victim," Truscott told me. "I just thought this is actually really fucking ripe for satire to point out how fucking stupid you have to be to think that it takes a halter top and a miniskirt for someone to be raped. So, I was just starting to go I wonder if that would be a super cheeky, sneaky smart way to trick a room full of people into listening to an hour of turning this logic on its head."
In Asking For It, which she has performed in one-offs at Joe's Pub and other theaters, Truscott drinks Stellas all-night while wearing only platform heels, a denim jacket, and a bright pink push-up bra on a stage adorned with a photo shrine of comedians like Daniel Tosh, Doug Stanhope, Damon Wayans, Jim Jefferies, and Seth MacFarlane. These are all men who have told rape jokes. There's also a photo of the infamous Bill Cosby. Because, you know.
Truscott tells her audience that she understands why people didn't believe Bill Cosby, the stand-up dad of America, could rape anyone because a rapist is usually someone you know and trust. She jokes about how ironic it is that Tosh is "the poster child for rape jokes" because "he looks exactly like a date rapist: college educated, white and clean cut." She role plays with men in the audience, putting cream in their coffee and milk in their cereal even when they tell her no over and over again. She says that while women are blamed for wearing clothes that lure a rapist in, all a rapist has to wear is "pants and a blind look of entitlement." She forces members in the audience to not only laugh at her jokes, but to laugh at the ignorant philosophy of everyone from men in Congress to men catcalling on the streets.
"The one thing [women] don't ever want to do is fuck that guy on the corner," Truscott says.
I talked to Truscott about how sexual assault is talked about in classrooms and homes, how the internet changed the conversation, and why she decided to go pantsless for Asking For It.
Why did you decide to perform your show with no pants on?
I was always really clear that I would wear shoes and something on my top, but it never occurred to me to do it naked. Then I was like if I don't wear pants it will be hilarious looking. It won’t be sexy. And it will get the show attention because there is no use screaming about injustice through punchlines if the room is empty.
But, the most important thing is that this is the sight of the trespass we are talking about. If you are going to pretend like this isn’t that big of a deal and that if anyone who’s gone through it should just get over it, or as we saw most recently it’s just 20 minutes of action, just move on with your life. You’re like no, this is the site, this is wear [rape] goes down. It’s a part of a woman's body, it’s a real place that gets violated. It’s not covered up in adorable Victoria Secret panties.
It's like forcing men to look at your vagina in a non-sexual way.
I also thought this is the most "asking for it" outfit I could wear, I don’t even have a skirt on, I don’t even have knickers on, like if this is all it takes I should be getting raped every night. Every night that I do the show I’m in a room full of drunk strangers. The fact of the matter is that’s not what it takes, it takes someone willing to violate another woman’s body. That’s the only thing. You can take every other thing out of the equation, put it at home or in an alley, drunk or sober, wearing a burka or pajamas or a miniskirt. None of those things actually determine rape. The only thing that you can actually put in and out of an equation to tell if someone is going to get raped is the person willing to rape them.
It's funny that men are afraid to say words like pussy and vagina, but still think they can determine when they can get it.
They can’t deal with it. They can’t say vagina because that’s like a real scientific word. Pussy is weird, don’t talk about your period, don’t talk about your cramps. Don’t even talk about it as a real place other than this abstract paradise where I put my dick when I feel like it. It’s funny because people often ask me do I feel vulnerable when I’m on stage, and I never do. I feel totally powerful and at ease and happy. But, I often find that the men in the audience think they’re going to be comfortable and then they aren’t.
I’m not a stripper, like there’s nothing about my nudity that is on display for them in that particular way that they are accustomed too. Even when they get there and they are like I’m gonna sit up there in the front, I’m gonna stare that pussy down like nobody's business, actually they can’t. I watch them struggle to maintain eye contact with me and my pussy. It’s hilarious to me, but it's quite terrifying to them, I think.
And during your show you also have these bras and denim jackets that you take off that just reveal more bras and denim jackets instead of what people thought would happen: you getting naked.
In some ways those things were a little more abstract. The whole joke that comedy happens in threes you say one thing that everyone expects, a second thing that everyone expects and then third thing is the punchline. I have three wigs, I have three jean jackets. I thought that setting up expectation and then delivering something unexpected was an important thing to have in the show. In the same way that people are like well, we hung out all night and we made out and she invited me home. I unbuttoned all my jean jackets and you thought you were going to see some flesh, but things change. Just because you invite somebody home doesn’t mean you want to sleep with them, and that doesn’t mean that you get to sleep with them anyways.
You talk about how you get sent off to college like, "Here’s your dorm room, here’s the campus, and here’s this rape whistle," without anyone actually explaining anything else about it. How did you learn that rape could happen to you?
I got clues from people in parenting whether it was my actual parents or just like the parents around me. These vague signals that you should be careful and that there were dangers out there in the world for girls. We get them long before we even imagine ourselves as sexual beings. But, I also remember, as I got older, feeling offended. I don’t know if I could articulate it at the time. I remember feeling like I don’t even know what my sexuality is yet and I’m already being told to shut it down and be aware of it.
Was there a specific moment in college?
I was 21 years old. I was in college at Wesleyan, a very left liberal arts "women’s" university, and my professor was trying to get us riled up and have a big debate about gender, race, and class. He brought in the statistics that 2 in 5 women are sexually assaulted in this country and he was like, "There are 10 women in this class that means four women in this class statistically speaking have been raped."
You could just feel that all the women in the class felt so confronted and that could very well be true and really triggering. I felt like he thought it was this big learning moment for everybody like, deal with the reality, deal with the world, why aren’t you outraged by this? He kept going how does that make you feel, and no one said anything.
Then, I finally said, "I’ll tell you how it makes me feel. Really angry because I don’t want to hear about who was raped. There’s three male students in the class and you. So I want to know if four people raped, which one of you raped us? Because once someone is raped it’s already fucking happened, but if we talk about the other thing and make the boys feel uncomfortable and say if those are the statistics, then statically speaking someone in this room raped us. Let’s talk about that."
Such a good point. Men are only made to feel uncomfortable after the fact. When they have actually committed a crime.
Everybody knows someone who been raped. In the same token, you probably know somebody who’s done it because a rapist doesn’t look like a "thug" and it doesn’t happen in an alley way. It looks like fucking Brock Turner.
How do you think the internet has changed the conversation around sexual assault?
Women came to know that because of the internet we can talk to one another in a way that feels really different from when we didn’t have that public forum as a place to go to express ourselves. And we don’t have to ask for access we just get to do it. We can write stuff and we can make videos and we can put it out there. It has something to do with access and has a way in which a letter like Brock Turner’s father’s letter, which could not have been more stupid and more cynical, it goes viral and suddenly you do have all these people—men and women, but especially women who are in high school, in college, in their thirties, fifties, and sixties—going no fucking way. Suddenly you can’t ignore us.
To me, the tipping point of the conversation has happened and I feel like we’re going to move forward from here. I’m not saying there aren’t a million pockets of the world that think backwards, but it doesn't feel like the genie is going back in the bottle. The speed and immediacy of the internet feels like the exact opposite of the years and years and years of silence that we used to have.
Tahirah Hairston is a style writer from Detroit who likes Susan Miller, Rihanna's friend's Instagram accounts, ramen and ugly-but cute shoes.