The Curious Case Of The Collegiate Comedian

« February 2007 »

Memo to John Petroski: TAKE THE STAND.

Sooner than I thought, it's time for another session of Comedy Court, where humormakers accused of crossing lines, violating taboos, and breaking taste boundaries can have their case adjudicated by a trained comedy... amateur. We have a very complicated case on the docket today, so let's get right to it.

THE DEFENDANT: John Petroski, of Central Connecticut State University's newspaper, The Recorder. Petroski stands accused of being an insensitive prick and traumatizing campus women by writing an editorial glorifying rape.

THE JOKE: "In actuality, rape’s advantages can very much be seen today. Take ugly women, for example. If it weren’t for rape, how would they ever know the joy of intercourse with a man who isn’t drunk? In a society as plastic-conscious as our own, are we really to believe that some man would ever sleep with a girl resembling a wildebeest if he didn’t have a few schnapps in him? Of course he wouldn’t—at least no self-respecting man would—but there in lies the beauty of rape."

THE DEFENSE: "I chose to satirize rape to illustrate that no one pays attention to news unless it is sensational. Widespread coverage of the news media today clearly validates my point." (Petroski) "I don't think we appreciated the climate we're in." (Dan Rowan, editor)


Now, I know there are some who think I should recuse myself from this case, having actually written satirical articles for Western Connecticut State University's newspaper in my distant past. But one man's conflict of interest is another man's experience and insight, as Dick Cheney would say, so I'm going to proceed.

When I rule against Petroski, let it be known that I do so not because of, but despite the arguments of many of his detractors. The claim that "There are some things that just aren't funny, and rape is one of them. I mean, what's next? The Holocaust? Slavery? There's nothing funny there, I'm sorry." (student Gary Griffin) is patently false, as all those topics not only can be funny, but have been.

Similarly, when CCSU president Jack Miller claims that "Rape is a profound violation of body and spirit, and to make light of it, even in satire, is abhorrent," while it's a lovely and sensitive platitude, it's not actually true. I'm not saying rape comedy is EASY, but it's not entirely off-limits. It's like juggling chainsaws. Most people shouldn't try it, but it's impressive when someone pulls it off.

Which is why it's particularly sad to stare at Petroski's many metaphorical bloody stumps. It's tough to decide where to begin picking apart his meager, pathetic defense, but attention must be paid to his drastic misuse of the word "satire".

Let's get one thing straight. "Satire" is not synonymous with "I was only kidding". People are constantly making this mistake, and everyone out there should be warned that it will drastically increase your sentence in this court. Satire is a specific subset of comedy, designed to advocate the opposite of what you're claiming by making your case in a deliberately ridiculous fashion.

For example, if I were to be hired for, say, a 2008 political campaign, and my previous writings were dug out and criticized, I wouldn't defend them by calling them satire, because most of them aren't. Similarly, when you write an article called "Rape Only Hurts If You Fight It", what are you satirizing? There's no epidemic of pro-rape sentiment in this country. And the article certainly wasn't satirizing what he claimed - the media sensationalism thing. That concept only appears in the last paragraph of his piece, which I enter into the record as ACTUAL EXHIBIT "A" TIME.

"But if there is one bread and butter reason for why rape should not only be accepted, but even endorsed, it is because our news editors are in dire need of interesting stories for our front page. Bookstore stories? Fossils? One dollar coins? Please. Now, some saucy circle-jerk rape action? Yeah, that’s the ticket."

That's not a satire of media sensationalism. That's a desperate, weak closer to a column with no clear direction. Petroski went into this column without an exit strategy, and this paragraph is clearly his Saigon rooftop helicopter. He's lucky I don't give him an extra six months for the gratuitous and incorrect usage of "circle-jerk".

Another argument against the Satire Defense: Petroski's article takes up the top half of the two right-hand columns of Page 7. The bottom half of the two right-hand columns of Page 7 consist of a fake interview with Jane Fonda which, under other circumstances, might have been brought up on charges of its own. This article ends with the disclaimer "The preceding article is a piece of satirical fiction". Petroski's article does not. The Recorder obviously wanted to cover their asses in case an angry Jane Fonda happened to read a small state college's school newspaper and discovered quotes of hers taken out of context, but didn't feel the need to cover the ass of the guy saying ugly women love being raped.

Nearly all comedy is at someone's expense. If you're going to make your target rape victims, then you need to make people laugh REALLY HARD, because otherwise, they'll realize who they're laughing at and turn on you. And if you don't actually make anybody laugh at all, well, then, getting fired from the newspaper and being met with campus protests means you got off easy. If there were an ankle bracelet that could shock Petroski every time he thought he was funny, believe me, he'd be wearing it for the rest of his life.