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Why Is It Okay for SNL to Make Rape Jokes?

I don’t think you need to be more than a casual viewer of Saturday Night Live to notice the air of casual homophobia hanging over Studio 8H. This is more than just a hunch. I’ve known writers who have worked at SNL over the years, who’ve confirmed the show has an allergy to hiring openly gay cast members, whom certain Powers That Be feel are limited by their perceived effeminate mannerisms. Straight guys, however, can play straight and gay characters—and when they play gay, boy is it hilarious! Thus the tendency to fall back on gays and gay sex as an easy punchline, a crutch dating back to the show’s beginnings. What’s changed in the meantime is the rest of the world. It’s 2011. Gays are denied equal rights to their straight counterparts, while gay teens are committing suicide at alarming rates; meanwhile, gays are more visible than ever. The shock of two men kissing just isn’t quite what it was when Lorne Michaels was in his 30s, when the show began. (He’s 66.)

Which brings me to this weekend’s SNL, hosted by Zach Galifianakis. Galifianakis is a very talented and likable comedian and actor who nonetheless was sunk by sub-par material, in a show I’d grade a D at best. It had some amusing moments, but those were few and far between. What stood out most was a vile and unfunny sketch that’s been mounted dozens of times before; only this time, as it dragged along (its two minutes felt like forever), it struck me as being even more vile and even more unfunny than all the times before.

The concept is that a trio of youths have been sent to a local precinct house to be “scared straight” by two prison inmates. The first inmate is played by Keenan Thompson, who is the star and focal point of the sketch; the second inmate is usually the episode host. Then there’s a rigid format: Thompson and his sidekick are introduced by a law enforcement official, played by Jason Sudeikis, who's present only in body and badge. Thompson relays a trio of cautionary tales, each of which is the plot of a well-known movie. The delinquent teens call him out each time, at which point he and his sidekick make threatening comments, involving puns and word play, suggesting the teens will be anally raped if they fail to follow the law. There’s physical comedy involved—most of it involving roughing up the kids—but the choreography and blocking is invariably sloppy. Thompson frequently has to stop what he’s doing and reorient himself to get a better look at the cue-cards that prompt his next line of dialogue.

And what of that dialogue? Here are a few lines:

Keenan: “You better watch yourself, punk. You won’t be ‘home alone.’ You’ll be in prison, getting boned.”

Zach: “You won’t get hit with cans of paint, you’ll get hit in the mouth with nuts and taints.”

Keenan: “You’ll be doing this face all right. [He does the Home Alone scream face.] But it won’t be a scream coming out. It’ll be a dude going in.”

Keenan: “You better shut your mouth, or they won’t be any Colin Firth. They’ll be entering you colon first.”

Zach: “And it won’t be Helena Bonham Carter. There’s going to be hella boning in your farter.”

Keenan: “What happens in your ass stays in your ass.”

And so on and so forth.

I adhere to the belief that any subject, no matter how taboo, can be made funny. It’s all a question of point-of-view, context, phrasing, etc. So I’m not going to make a blanket statement like “rape jokes aren’t funny.” I’ll instead say that the vast majority of rape jokes are not funny, and, without a doubt, that these particular rape jokes are very, extremely not funny. It goes without saying that had three women been sitting in those chairs, the sketch would never have happened. So what made it fit for broadcast? And assuming there was something worthy of laughing at in the sketch, what was it, exactly? From whence derives the humor? As far as I can tell, and I’ve spent more time thinking about this than I care to acknowledge, it’s in the fact that the threatened rape is perpetrated by a man upon another man. In other words, the implied homosexuality of the act. And that’s not okay. That does not fly. Not for any show, but particularly not one with a track record like SNL’s.

Next week, Elton John will host, making him, along with Alan Cumming, Ellen DeGeneres, Ian McKellen, and Neil Patrick Harris, and Jane Lynch, the fifth sixth openly gay person ever to host the series. I’ll be watching with keen interest.

Comments (34)
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Also, Lindsay Lohan
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Lily Tomlin, Jodie Foster, Rosie O'Donnell, David Hyde Pierce, Sara Gilbert , Nathan Lane and Drew Barrymore have also hosted, and, yes, are gay
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SNL hasn't been funny for years. Every time I hear they are improving, I check it out and see it's not true. This joke wasn't funny but remember when SNL was edgy? When it was pushing the envelop? Perhaps that was before your time (I saw the original cast as a kid). No subject should be taboo as long as it's done right. Look up a skit called the Raging Queen with Belushi as a gay pirate giving guest host Michael Palin the once over.
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Prison rape has NOTHING to do with homosexuality.
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Oh, come on, it's funny. 'Anal rape in prison' jokes are just a comedy staple, and most of the jokes were pretty good, though the Colin Firth one was really reaching.
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I do have to agree that there's a huge double standard wherein "the rape of a woman is horrific and tragic" yet "the rape of a man is hilarious and let us all chortle at how un-masculine the victim must have been". I'm all for "anything can be funny", and there are rape jokes I've laughed at. I just don't like double standards.
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Rape jokes are not funny, but this sketch is not about gay per se, so technically not against homosexuality, it's about rape.
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Get off your soapbox seth, and get a sense of humor.
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Seth in another article on this site you criticise Mel Gibson for making anti-semitic comments but don't seem to think there's a problem with Michael Jackson's paedophilia. So the question to you is: why is it all right to sexually abuse young boys but not call someone names? Why is Mel a b*stard but not Michael Jackson? You have incredible double standards. It's like Hollywood are shunning Mel Gibson (who I agree is a tosser but that's not the point) but Roman Polanski continues to work with the A List. WTF is that about?
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And one more thing. To answer you original question of why is it ok, it's called "freedom of speech". Deal with it, or move to a country where there is no such luxury like Iran or Lybia!
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Seth, dude, you need to chilax! The sketch is quite funny, and it's not so much making fun of rape, as it is trying to scare the kids straight. And if rape doesn't scare you, then what will? And no matter how much you hate the sketch, it is based on reality, unfortunately. Rape in prison is an everyday thing and not joking about it, won't make it go away. I think you're just missing the point of this show, which is meant to be watched at night after you had plenty of beer. So just go and watch something else (Glee should be to your liking ) and leave SNL alone.
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To quote the great George Carlin: "I'll prove to you rape can be funny. Picture Porky Pig raping Elmer Fudd. Hey, why do you think they call him Porky?" Some of the lines quoted weren't that gut busting but the Home Alone line was pretty clever. I guess this guy just didn't get context of the skit.
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It seems to me that you're blowing the sketch way out of proportion. Do you have to come up with a set number of articles a week? Because this one doesn't seem like it needed to be written. You don't get the joke.
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Um...taking those jokes to the point of stating it refers to SNL's homophobia is taking it a little too far. Those jokes weren't even close to being homophobic: they were making fun of prison rape, which has been used as a punchline for many jokes before. I think you might be taking this just a tad too sensitively.
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reading the comments lol sorry seth abramovitch article FAIL
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if you know the history of snl, a major part of what makes it great is that no subject is taboo. if it upset you that much then turn it off. It is on late at night once per week, so you have to go out of your way to watch it. What I am saying is, it is consensual television watching, not rape.
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Prison rape can be freaking hilarious remember the episode of Boondocks where Tom was mistaken for the xbox killer or the one where riley's class was sent on a scares straight program watch those episodEs and try and tell me prison rape ain't funny
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to compare prison rape to real rape is such a huge insult.... the skit wasn't great but to assume any rape is the same IS NOT ACCEPTABLE WHY DID THEY POST THIS?!
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Jajaja this was funny, kenan is hilarious.
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i thought the whole episode was generally well done, but it's been getting bad reviews. i mean that opening monologue was one of the best I've seen... the sketches were fewer in number than the usual lately, but i thought it was better than his last appearance.
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booooo terrible article, i usually love the tv.com articles, but this one totally missed the point, although i'll agree keenan hasn't been funny since "All That" the skit is simply a parody of the real scared straight where they would indeed tell them they would be raped in prison, its straight ppl forced to have unwanted sex, not a comment on the gay community
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"HELLA BONIN' IN YOUR FARTER" is the best line SNL has come up with in years. Whoever didn't find it amusing should kill themselves now.
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The jokes are just making fun of the stereotype of what happens in male prisons. There aren't three women sitting there because the skit wouldn't have made any sense if there was. That stereotype doesn't fit for women's prisons, and the jokes wouldn't work. Some of the jokes fell flat, but the sketch wasn't completely unfunny. I think the problem here has more to do with your sense of humor and less to do with the rape jokes.
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I think that this article is unnecessary. If they did a black skit you would not be up and arms. You are only offended because (as you say) homophobia is the it subject for people. I don't think any kids will kill themselves over stupid prison jokes, gay sex rape (pretty much the only rape that can happen in prisons) has been a pun in jokes for decades. If Gays want equal treatment then they should know that they are open target on jokes like anybody, I have seen SNL make fun of women, blacks, whites, hispanics, deaf kids, transgenders, no gender, GAY blind, mentally diabled, and etc. Since they decide to make fun of gays you are now offended. Hell, Glee makes fun of Gays some times.
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Oh come on stop being so overly sensitive. Prison has always been joked with about getting raped...in prison...by prisoners. Because that probably happens. Stop being so PC about every little thing.
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You mention that point of view is key in determining when something is funny and when something is not. But you completely ignore the writers' and casual viewers' perspective: SNL is a funhouse mirror, not a magnifying glass.



The convicts are carricatures, people who actions and statements are exaggerated for effect. What they say is supposed to be just as inflamatory as how they say it. Ditto, the kids. They are equally carricatured as overly derrisive and sarcastic until their physically confronted.



It is these carricatures playing off of eachother that make the skit funny (or unfunny, as it were).



By the way, rock stars, sports figures, and fashion models... they also make lousy role models.
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Oh my god Seth Abramovich,get over it already.This was hands down the best one of the season,and hella boning in your farter is funny on so many levels.I just picture Hellena Bonham Carter in my head and I can't stop laughing.

That sketch was damn funny.And why not mount it again??? It was also funny the last few times.
"-Yogurt was yummy last time,I probably shoudn't eat it any more..." ??????
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This sketch was hilarious. You people need to get over it.
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It is definitely offensive! No question about it!
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What does gay have to do with it? These jokes mock something that happen in prison. Not all those prisoners are gay
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I hate to say it, but in this case, blanket statements like "rape jokes are not funny" HAVE their purpose. In fact, it is BECAUSE of shows like SNL, MadTV, MAD, Regular Show, Family Guy, [adult swim], and others that people STILL have bias against those who don't follow their expectations. These programs tell not only Hollywood, but society on the whole, that it STILL okay to discriminate on the basis of race, orientation, gender and other long-since-thought-eradicated stereotypes that insult people. The fact that people laugh at it just makes the matter all the worse. So who is now being an ass for laughing along with this tripe when all it does is further promote the stereotypes we say we want to get rid of?! You. Plain and simple. This is EXACTLY why parodies are okay (ex: The Muppets & Animaniacs!), but they MUST be tasteful and respecting of people's various opinions, NOT be just a stereotype wrapped up in the excuse of it being a joke (which it may be trying to be, but clearly is NOT), hence why such shows like those aforementioned really have no place in this world. Yes, people can say, "Oh you're just a stick up prude who can't laugh at yourself", but I've made my point, because certain subjects should be handled with care and many of the aforementioned shows just take anything as a joke and run with it, making a mockery of sensitive subjects, thereby offending many (despite the several that may just brush it off as the typical humor found in such products).
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@WayneTunks You are correct! Fixed! Sorry about that!
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You forgot Jane Lynch on that list!
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SNL has been a sad reflection of what it use to be for a long time now. It should be retired. They're trying to be as cutting edge as the first season but that point is long passed. They can only go over the edge now.
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