Trigger Warning: post contains sexual assault mention
Cameron Esposito starts her new one-hour set with an honest, and, yes, funny, discussion of sexual assault: “What can I do at work if I can’t talk about your sweater?” she asks in mock confusion. Her fitting and layered response: “Work.” This is what Esposito implores for all of us in her new stand-up special Rape Jokes, which has already accomplished much of what it set out to do. Offered for free on-demand viewing through her website, its viral status has earned it glowing reviews on major media outlets, and among her fans: from devoted followers of her career, to the new recruits to her brutally honest, timely, loveable, and funny comedic style. And most importantly, the special has brought on the tough conversations that we need to have in the #MeToo era. This is not to mention the over $30,000 which it has raised––through modest donations for a download of the entire set––for RAINN, the largest non-profit in the United States dedicated to ending rape and sexual violence.
Esposito’s central idea behind Rape Jokes is the reclamation of rape jokes by survivors of sexual assault––including Esposito herself. She uses a fluid, story-based comedy style that weaves witty insights about her personal life with important questions about a society built around patriarchal rape culture. From growing up “very, very Catholic” with a lack of proper sex education, to being shamed into the closet during college, to her sexual assault by a friend and classmate, Esposito shows how the shame and lack of education surrounding sex in our culture works to both promote sexual violence, and to hide it from view. Esposito shows that jokes about sexual assault can be funny from the proper perspective. She urges us to understand that when rape is used for its shock value, we are only further desensitized to sexual violence, and taught that it is something to uncomfortably laugh off.
Rape Jokes was not a solo effort on Esposito’s part, though her charm onstage keeps any audience captive. Rape Jokes was made possible through space donated by the UCB Franklin, and time donated by Ryan McManemin of aspecialthing records. McManemin is also the producer of Esposito’s weekly stand-up podcast Put Your Hands Together, recorded at the UCB Franklin, which she co-hosts with her wife, comedian Rhea Butcher. PYHT features an opening set by Esposito and Butcher, followed by five or six seven-minute sets by comics, many of whom are regulars on the show and friends of Esposito and Butcher.
Put Your Hands Together, like Rape Jokes, is socially conscious comedy at its best. What viewers like myself enjoy so much about PYHT is its diverse assemblage of comics, with each week prominently featuring the voices of queer comics, women comics, POC comics, all representing a diverse mix of unique voices, viewpoints, and styles.
This is at the heart of Esposito’s special Rape Jokes: that jokes about sexual assault can be funny and appropriate from the perspective of a survivor. Or, jokes about racism from the perspective of people of color, queerphobia from the perspective of queer people, sexism from the perspective of women. That when we seek out and listen to different voices and perspectives, we can learn so much about the world we live in and the people who inhabit it. So often, when we hear these kinds of jokes from the wrong perspective, the only people who can find humor are the ones who feel safe––but when we see ourselves represented in comedy, that sense of safety is much more assured. Comics like Esposito are paving the way for the future of comedy. We are all waiting to hear more.
Be sure to check out Rape Jokes here on Esposito’s website, and subscribe through iTunes to Put Your Hands Together. You can also check out Esposito’s other weekly podcast Queery, which I plan to fully review in the near future.