From pretty much the beginning of Russell Peters’ career, I have been a supporter of his. His jokes were original, it took the veil off of a lot of issues, and they were funny and relatable. For a few years, he was in town on my birthday, but I wouldn’t find out until after I was committed to plans, or the tickets would be sold out by the time I found out, so I’ve never been able to see him live. That had been a long time goal of mine.
His last two specials (particularly the latest Netflix one) haven’t done much for me. It was almost exclusively recycled jokes from his previous specials and I literally fell asleep during the last one, so I couldn’t even tell you if there was any original content. Actually, no, that’s not true. There was a lot of content making fun of his ex-wife. I remember thinking “man, your daughter is going to watch this stuff as she gets older. Do you really want her to hear this stuff?”
I understand and accept that comedy is subjective and should be left largely uncensored. I also don’t agree with boycotting venues that host comedians who toe, or out-right cross the line from humor to crass, obscene, and vulgar. The venues often don’t have creative control over content, and just because you don’t find it funny, doesn’t mean someone else does.
Comedy is an escapism, and should be left at that.
There are subjects in comedy that I sometimes don’t find humorous (generally they’re jokes that can in some way promote/condone/normalize hate of any form) but I just either tune them out during that time, or straight up stop watching (depends on the venue and whether or not other people are with me) when that’s the case. I recognize that just because it’s not my personal brand of humour, doesn’t make it someone else’s. I also recognize that sometimes comedians make these jokes to shine a light on those issues that people are often uncomfortable talking about, or are a characterization of the ridiculousness of those who support hate. I am perfectly capable of laughing at some of these jokes, given the right context or the history of that particular comedian.
Where I draw the line, personally, is when the jokes promote rape culture. This should never be funny. It should never be defended.
Let me repeat myself. Sexual violence is not funny.
On April 2, 2017, this year’s co-host of the Juno Awards, Russel Peters, went off script and made a joke that has – at least in Canada – potentially left a permanent, Michael Richards sized mark on his rather illustrious career. Standing on the stage, surrounded by many girls in the audience who – to me – clearly look as though they are in their mid-teens, Peters says “Wow, look at these young girls! It’s like a felony waiting to happen!” This joke promotes statutory rape. It’s not funny, and this needs to stop.
Here are some Canadian statistics (direct from Stats Canada) about rape. As you read this, understand that I am one of these statistics – the first half apply directly to me. For some people, ALL of these facts apply to them. In a lot of ways, I was one of the “lucky ones”:1. Of every 100 incidents of sexual assault, only 6 are reported to the police
o Thanks to my mom’s bravery, my abuse was reported
2. 1 in 4 North American women will be sexually assaulted during their lifetime
o All (yes all) of my incidents of my sexual abuse have taken place in North America
3. 60% of sexual abuse/assault victims are under the age of 17
o I was as young as five
4. Over 80% of sex crime victims are women
o I’m a woman. A proud woman who has survived rape
5. 80% of sexual assault incidents occur in the home
o Each time
6. 17% of girls under 16 have experienced some form of incest
o This applies to me
7. Half of all sexual offenders are married or in long term relationships
o My first abuser was a married man
8. 80% of assailants are friends and family of the victim
o My first abuser was my bio-“father”
9. Only 2 - 4% of all sexual assaults reported are false reports
o That number is far too high, and often delegitimizes the other 96 – 98% of actual victims
10. 1 - 2% of "date rape" sexual assaults are reported to the police
o And that’s just based off of empirical data
11. 11% of women have physical injury resulting for sexual assault
o This is where I am one of the lucky ones
12. 83% of disabled women will be sexual assaulted during their lifetime
o Again, this is where I’m one of the lucky ones
13. 15% of sexual assault victims are boys under 16
o This is just of the reported victims
14. 57% of aboriginal women have been sexually abuse
o If you think sexual assault is under-reported, you should look at the statistics related to abuse amongst aboriginal women. It’s even more depressing
15. 1/5th of all sexual assaults involve a weapon of some sort
o A lot of abusers just know how to groom or incapacitate their victims such that they don’t require weapons.
When Russell Peters made this joke about statutory rape, he joked about each of my instances of rape. He joked about me. I am the subject of these jokes.
There should be no room in comedy for rape. It’s just that simple.
Peters has remained mute on this topic, except for liking some tweets where he was being defended. To me, this speaks volumes, and when he comes on my TV, I will be hitting mute.