When is the right time for a rape joke?

It may sometimes, be acceptable but not when delivered by the likes of Bill Cosby
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The Independent Online

"You have to be careful about drinking around me." Geddit? Let me explain. The man who made this wisecrack at a gig in Canada last week has been accused of drugging and raping upwards of 30 women over a period of 40 years but seemingly, thanks to a statute of limitation, the man – Bill Cosby, regarded as "America's Dad" – has never been prosecuted. What a side-splitter.

When a not-at-all-edgy comedian can go on stage in front of a theatre full of people and reference rape for laughs it's clear that "the rape joke", that most-debated of humour genres, has entered a new era. And I'm not sure how we should feel about that.

Even before Hannibal Buress called Cosby out during his act last October, kicking off this scandal, stand-up comedy was no stranger to the topic of sexual assault. In 2012, US comedian Daniel Tosh was accused of making a gang-rape joke at the expense of a female heckler in his audience. In the UK, Vine star Daniel O'Reilly, aka "Dapper Laughs" (he hasn't quite earned the title "comedian", has he?), told an audience member that she was "gagging for a rape". O'Reilly lost his TV deal with ITV but has since made a comeback on Vine with material that's less controversial, if no more amusing.

From the many think pieces, Twitter rows and broken contracts that followed these incidents something like a consensus has emerged. First, stand-ups should be free to say what they want on stage without fear of being arrested by the joke police (note: there is, in fact, no such organisation as "the joke police". If there were, Jim Davidson would be in "joke prison" right now and no longer a danger to the public). Second, if a comedian does tell a joke about rape and it further victimises the victims of rape, or fails to take into account the social context in which rape exists – or just isn't funny – then they should be prepared for a backlash.

It's the sort of jokes which trivialise rape and venerate rapists that Sue Perkins must have been thinking of when she declared it "not all right to make rape jokes" in an interview in this week's Radio Times. It's true that finding the humour in horrendous realities can be tricky, and no doubt is best steered clear of in the 4pm slot occupied by Mel & Sue, Perkins' new daytime show with her GBBO co-presenter Mel Giedroyc.

But it is all right to make rape jokes sometimes. For lots of women, it's more than "all right": it's necessary. It's just that to do so in a way that doesn't add to the oppressive tension of rape culture, but relieves it, you have to be a highly trained, highly skilled comedy ninja in peak condition (see: Sarah Silverman, Louis C.K, Tig Notaro). And you also have to definitely not be Bill Cosby.

In a press conference for this year's Golden Globes awards, hosts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler (sort of the American Mel and Sue, only with fewer baked goods) described their – generally genial – approach to making people laugh. "Amy and I have always said that the idea [is] that we don't want anyone attending to be scared to be there because of us," said Fey. When asked whether there would be any jokes about Bill Cosby, however, the reply was emphatic: "Oh, heck yes!" Let's hope it's a rape joke. In this case, that seems only appropriate.

2015 paging Mr Morley

Should we pity poor Celebrity Big Brother contestant Ken Morley? The 71-year-old actor, best known as Reg Holdsworth in Coronation Street, seems to have been caught off guard by the 21st century. Speaking before entering the Big Brother house on Wednesday, he recalled the good old days, when you knew where you stood with women: generally in an unwanted and potentially criminal embrace, by the sound of it: "Everybody was at it," Ken assured us.

"It" being groping women. "I was at it, we were all at it. Groping and grabbing was just part of the course. It was regarded as normal." And the most tragic thing of all? Ken says, these days, he's "terrified of laying a hand on a woman", for fear of prosecution. Oh dear. The women of CBB will be disappointed.

Careering to oblivion

Want some careers advice? Don't be a careers adviser. According to the Commons Education Select Committee, which subjected the Secretary of State for Education, Nicky Morgan, to a grilling earlier this week, there's not much demand for qualified professionals in that field.

Currently 83 per cent of schools are no longer employing either professional careers advisers or teachers in the role. The committee also noted that Government policy in this area had been "a bit of a pig's ear" for the past four years, since the then education secretary Michael Gove transferred responsibility away from the Connexions careers service and over to schools, without earmarking any extra cash.

In truth, it's not really the fault of the schools or even the education secretary if careers advice isn't up to scratch. It's those feckless 14-year-olds. Most of them don't know themselves well enough to judge accurately what work they might enjoy doing tomorrow, let alone when the alarm goes off at 6am on a cold Monday morning 20 years and 40 grand of student debt from now.

And anyway, the best careers advice never comes from the official sources. The best careers advice you're ever going to get comes at the end of a long working week when your dog-tired parent fixes you with a stare from over a pile of paperwork and says, "Ellen, never be a teacher. I'd rather you were a stripper; anything but a teacher."

Cumberbatch's cabbage patch

Hearty congratulations to Sherlock star Benedict Cumberbatch and his missus, theatre director Sophie Hunter, who have announced they're expecting their first child. But what to name the Cumberbatch hatch? That surname is rare gift and it must not be squandered on a Jack or a Georgina. Instead, might the proud parents take inspiration from Gwyneth Paltrow's agricultural choice of Apple and go with Cucumberpatch Cumberbatch? Or perhaps Tarquin Posh-Toff Cumberbatch III. That would be one in the eye for any peasants who dare suggest that daddy's privilege might have aided his acting career. Or, my favourite, Bumbercatch Cumberbatch. It's fresh, yet also classic.

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