The goal is to be­come ‘ir­rel­e­vant’

Cana­dian com­edy show gives the nar­ra­tive back to sur­vivors of sex­ual as­sault

Simcoe Reformer - - SPORTS - MAIJA KAPPLER

Heather Jor­dan ross and emma cooper wish their com­edy show wasn’t so rel­e­vant.

Not that rape is real and ev­ery­where: rape Jokes by sur­vivors is only sud­denly top­i­cal, they in­sist.

“Peo­ple keep on say­ing, ‘This We­in­stein thing makes your show su­per-rel­e­vant,’ ” says ross, a na­tive of for­tune, P.e.i.

“and we say: ‘yeah, just like cosby made it su­per-rel­e­vant, and Ghome­shi made it su­per-rel­e­vant.’ un­for­tu­nately, there’s al­ways some gi­gan­tic creepy (per­son), mak­ing our show su­per-rel­e­vant.”

ross and cooper have em­braced the tricky bal­ance of us­ing hu­mour to dis­cuss sex­ual as­sault and ha­rass­ment when late-night Tv hosts have been ret­i­cent to go there.

The first al­le­ga­tions against Hol­ly­wood ti­tan Har­vey We­in­stein broke in the New York Times on oct. 5, a Thurs­day, but they didn’t get men­tioned in most late-night mono­logues un­til the next week. any men­tion of We­in­stein was also no­tice­ably ab­sent from Satur­day Night Live that first week­end.

on oct. 13, James cor­den was host­ing a char­ity gala in Los an­ge­les and built a joke around the We­in­stein head­lines — which back­fired.

“it’s a beau­ti­ful night here in L.a.,” cor­den re­port­edly told the crowd at the be­gin­ning of the event. “so beau­ti­ful, Har­vey We­in­stein has al­ready asked tonight up to his ho­tel to give him a mas­sage.”

asia ar­gento and rose mcgowan, two of the women who have ac­cused We­in­stein of rape, tweeted that his jokes were in poor taste. He was mak­ing light of peo­ple’s real pain, they said, treat­ing trauma like a punch­line.

Through his spokes­woman, We­in­stein has de­nied en­gag­ing in any non-con­sen­sual sex­ual con­tact.

fac­ing an in­tense back­lash, cor­den apol­o­gized. “i was not try­ing to make light of Har­vey’s in­ex­cus­able be­hav­iour, but to shame him, the abuser, not his vic­tims,” he said in a state­ment.

emer o’toole, pro­fes­sor of per­for­mance stud­ies and ir­ish stud­ies at con­cor­dia univer­sity, wasn’t im­pressed by cor­den’s joke but has seen ross and cooper’s show and ap­plauds their ap­proach.

“from any per­spec­tive, (cor­den’s was), just a re­ally crap joke,” says o’toole, who is also a mem­ber of the school’s work­ing group on fem­i­nism and con­tro­ver­sial hu­mour.

“The joke is, ‘Tonight is so beau­ti­ful that Har­vey We­in­stein would want to rape it.’ it’s just ... lazy in terms of struc­ture, in terms of con­text. How much thought went into that? How much imag­i­na­tion went into it?”

but rape is real and ev­ery­where suc­ceeds in giv­ing nar­ra­tive con­trol back to sur­vivors, she adds.

“of course rape isn’t funny, but these co­me­di­ans re­ally are,” o’toole says.

“The ways in which they’re fram­ing their sto­ries and the skill they ap­ply to fram­ing those nar­ra­tives (means), we end up laugh­ing at rapists. We end up laugh­ing at the ridicu­lous things that sur­vivors are made to feel about their as­saults.”

ap­pro­pri­ately enough, the idea for the show came from a joke made in a dark sit­u­a­tion. it was late 2015, a few days af­ter ross re­ported her rape to the po­lice. as peo­ple who both use hu­mour to help process grief, cooper was sym­pa­thetic when ross told her she wanted to in­cor­po­rate parts of her ex­pe­ri­ence into her standup set, but also “never wanted to hear rape jokes again.”

“and then emma said, ‘i wish there was a show that was only rape sur­vivors telling their own rape jokes,’ ” ross re­mem­bers. she was be­ing face­tious, but it struck them both as a good idea. Three weeks later, cooper and ross sold out their first show.

rape jokes are com­mon among what ross calls “22-year-old ding­dongs”: young, in­ex­pe­ri­enced, of­ten male co­me­di­ans. she says comics who want to be per­ceived as edgy are will­ing to break the com­edy rule of only “punch­ing up” — or go­ing af­ter a tar­get with more power or sta­tus than the per­son telling the joke — rather than punch­ing down at some­one more vul­ner­a­ble.

ross says the key to a suc­cess­ful rape joke lies in who the joke re­wards.

“if the per­son who walks away lov­ing (the joke) is a rapist, and the per­son who says, ‘maybe i can’t do com­edy any­more’ is a sur­vivor, you have to think about the at­mos­phere you’re cre­at­ing.”

“We’ll ba­si­cally do this show un­til we’re not rel­e­vant,” she says. “That’s the goal, is to some­day be com­pletely ir­rel­e­vant.”

SCOTT MCLEAN/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Van­cou­ver co­me­di­ans Heather Jor­dan Ross, right, and Emma Cooper are shown in this un­dated handout im­age.

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