Don't Ignore the Trolls. Feed Them Until They Explode.

Gathered together in one place, for easy access, an agglomeration of writings and images relevant to the Rapeutation phenomenon.

Don't Ignore the Trolls. Feed Them Until They Explode.

Postby admin » Sat May 10, 2014 12:35 am

Don't Ignore the Trolls. Feed Them Until They Explode.
by Lindy West
7/31/13

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It's been a bad week for women on the internet—but also a clarifying and validating one. British MP Stella Creasy began receiving rape threats on Twitter (in other news: fish are bonkers about water!) after expressing support for feminist activist Caroline Criado-Perez, who was also being deluged with misogynist online abuse. Criado-Perez's crime? Advocating (successfully) for Jane Austen to appear on a £10 banknote. That, obviously, cannot be borne. Doesn't she know that money is man-paper!? HAS CRIADO-PEREZ NO COMPASSION FOR THE INTERNET'S POOR NERVES!?

After a Change.org petition and widespread outcry from prominent feminist voices including Caitlin Moran, Twitter has announced that they're working on a "report abuse" button for rape threats and hate speech. (Also, one of Creasy's online tormentors was actually arrested—a scene so cathartic I might have it drawn on top of a cake and then have sex with it.)

Via the Guardian:

Creasy used Twitter to inform the police of the threats, warn her abusers that she was logging their threats and taking screen grabs as evidence.

"You send me a rape threat you morons I will report you to the police & ensure action taken," she wrote.

...A [Twitter] spokesman said: "The ability to report individual tweets for abuse is currently available on Twitter for iPhone, and we plan to bring this functionality to other platforms, including Android and the web.

"We don't comment on individual accounts. However, we have rules which people agree to abide by when they sign up to Twitter.

"We will suspend accounts that, once reported to us, are found to be in breach of our rules. We encourage users to report an account for violation of the Twitter rules by using one of our report forms."


Right. Well, we'll see. Unfortunately, the reality of attempting to moderate Twitter isn't quite so simple:

@Greg_Callus: Guardian gets 600,000 comments/month & employs c. 12 FTE Moderators. Twitters gets 400,000,000 tweets per day (12 billion/month). Impossible.
12:03 PM - 27 Jul. 2013


The danger is that "report abuse" button could easily be used against the people it's intended to protect. When trolls* created a fake Facebook profile for me during the Great Rape Joke Kerfuffle of 2013 (mostly to express how much I hate rape and love donuts, because comedy), and I attempted to have it shut down, my genuine account wound up getting reported and suspended in retaliation. At most a minor inconvenience, but needless and irritating nonetheless. The thought of having my Twitter account potentially suspended by abusers in retaliation for fighting back against my own abuse is profoundly enraging. On the other hand, though, this week someone created a parody account of my dead father to harass me because of my stance on rape jokes (still going on, because COOOMEDYYYYY). And you better fucking believe I wanted a "report abuse" button for that. I can see both sides—though mostly what I see right now is how hard the entire system is rigged to fuck women over.

If Comedy Has No Lady Problem, Why Am I Getting So Many Rape Threats?
Last Thursday, I went on FX's Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell and tried to explain rape…
Read more


I used personal examples there, because I happen to have those on hand (so, so many of those), but this isn't actually about how I, Lindy West, am treated on the internet. This is about how people—particularly women—are treated on the internet when we challenge entrenched power structures.

We are treated like subhuman garbage, and that's because internet trolling is not random—it is a sentient, directed, strong-armed goon of the status quo. And the more we can hammer that truth through the public consciousness, the sooner we can affect the widespread cultural change we need to begin tamping down online hate speech.

One of the pillars of conventional wisdom about internet trolling is that internet trolling just happens. You hear this all the time, from even the most progressive allies: Oh, well, it's the internet. There are trolls. Trolls troll the internet. Rape threats are like oxygen. Whatareyagonnadooooo. So, I'm just supposed to accept that psychological abuse is built into my job and I'm some thin-skinned rube if I complain about it? Easy for you to say, Señor Rando. Not only is that framework supremely unsatisfying for me personally, I'd go so far as to say that it's a dangerous and patently false myth. Internet trolling does not "just happen." It is not some mysterious, ambient inevitability that affects all internet users indiscriminately.

Internet trolling is a force with a political agenda.

Broadly speaking, the type of violent, choreographed, overwhelming hate speech currently battering Creasy and Criado-Perez is directly aligned with our male-supremacist power structure (race is a deeply salient factor too, and unpacking that deserves its own article). I'm trying to think of an instance when anonymous women descended, spewing violent rape or castration threats, upon a man for expressing an opinion as innocuous as Criado-Perez's. I can think of instances of funny, political, retaliatory trolling—like when Twitter feminists co-opted the #INeedMasculismBecause hashtag, or when Rick Perry's Facebook page was deluged with questions about menses. But those are not examples of aggression, they are self-defense. They are not analogous to "I will rape you in an alley" or "Don't leave your phone at home, sweetie." They are reactions to misogyny—the same brand of misogyny that fuels internet trolling. They are women speaking to power—the same power structure that empowers and perpetuates anonymous trolls.

Feminists Are Savagely Trolling This 'Masculism' Hashtag on Twitter
After some Reddit/4chan MRA babies tried to make #INeedMasculismBecause happen on Twitter today…
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If you genuinely think that trolling affects everyone equally, look at the response Patton Oswalt received to his essay on rape culture vs. the responses that Sady Doyle and Molly Knefel and I got for ours (not to mention all of the other women who have been absorbing abuse for years for complaining about misogyny in comedy). I'd say Oswalt received...90% praise? At least? The general consensus was that he was honest, he was brave, he was correct. And he does deserve praise—I personally praised him, because he wrote about a hard thing that I've been advocating for for years—but at the same time, I have a feeling that he could count the number of retaliatory rape threats he received on zero hands. I've written several lengthy essays on rape jokes too, and when I spoke out about my rape threats, I got more of this: "Oh, but that's just what happens on the internet. Whatareyagonnadooooooooooooooooo." Well, it's not what happened to Patton on the internet. It is not, typically, what happens to men on the internet. It is gendered. It is the consequence for women if we complain about shit that is shitty for women.

Patton Oswalt Wrote a Gorgeous Essay on Rape Jokes and Comedy and Life
To clarify: I put "rape jokes" in the headline, for brevity, because rape culture in…
Read more


So, world, we have a troll problem. And one of these days we'll have to figure out what we're going to do about it. From the first day the first troll king pooped out his first troll-sac full of butt-eggs (and then told his placenta to eat less/exercise more, fatty), the conventional wisdom has been to ignore them. Ignore them and they'll go away. Stop feeding them and they'll starve. Except...has that worked? That's been the policy since day one, and has trolling gotten better or worse? I'd wager that the people who are drawn to trolling, for the most part, are people who are used to being ignored. Ignoring them is playing to one of their strengths. So instead of fading away, they're intensifying. And if you disagree with that assessment, you're probably not a woman.

Andrew Sullivan linked to a study a while back (on his comment-free blog) that suggests that aggressive, abusive comments actually hinder readers' ability to absorb and synthesize new ideas:

Participants were asked to read a blog post containing a balanced discussion of the risks and benefits of nanotechnology ... The text of the post was the same for all participants, but the tone of the comments varied. Sometimes, they were "civil"-e.g., no name calling or flaming. But sometimes they were more like this: "If you don't see the benefits of using nanotechnology in these products, you're an idiot." The researchers were trying to find out what effect exposure to such rudeness had on public perceptions of nanotech risks. They found that it wasn't a good one. Rather, it polarized the audience . . . Pushing people's emotional buttons, through derogatory comments, made them double down on their pre-existing beliefs.


In other words, when we ignore the issue—leaving trolls to twist in the wind—not only does it not fix anything, it actively hurts us. It poisons healthy conversations. And, more specifically, it actively drives women off the internet and out of the conversation and back into our "safe spaces"—which is exactly what the trolls want. They want us to shut up. They want us out of their territory.

But engaging with the issue is exactly what trolls want too. They revel in attention. So that's the conundrum: As soon as we acknowledge them, they win. But if we never acknowledge them, they also win, plus discourse shuts down and we all get dumber. So what are we going to do? Well, in light of that idiotic Catch 22, I know what I'm going to do. Whatever I fucking feel like doing. I'm sick of being told that I'm navigating my own abuse wrong. I am not interested in being anyone's chew toy—you can chew on me, but I am full of poison.

I feed trolls. Not always, not every troll, but when I feel like it—when I think it will make me feel better—I talk back. I talk back because the expectation is that when you tell a woman to shut up, she should shut up. I reject that. I talk back because it's fun, sometimes, to rip an abusive dummy to shreds with my friends. I talk back because my mental health is my priority—not some troll's personal satisfaction. I talk back because it emboldens other women to talk back online and in real life, and I talk back because women have told me that my responses give them a script for dealing with monsters in their own lives. And, most importantly, I talk back because internet trolls are not, in fact, monsters. They are human beings—and I don't believe that their attempts to dehumanize me can be counteracted by dehumanizing them. The only thing that fights dehumanization is increased humanization—of me, of them, of marginalized groups in general, of the internet as a whole.

Cumulatively, the sheer volume of hate that we're expected to shoulder, in silence, every day, is wearing a lot of people out and shutting down rational discourse. Female bloggers are being hounded off the internet. Teenage girls are being hounded off the earth. There's no good solution, but we have to do what we can to stop these people—unmask them, shame them, mock them, cement their status as social pariahs—for our own sanity and for those whose armor isn't so thick (upgrade yo greaves, son).

Unmasking trolls, as we've seen, can produce some tangible and satisfying results. And I don't mean just in a punitive way, I mean in a changing-the-larger-culture kind of way. People need to understand and internalize that online harassment, violent hate speech, rape threats, slut-shaming little girls until they hang themselves, and so on, are express violations of the social contract. They will not be tolerated and they will result in real-life consequences. That's a long way off, and probably a bit of a pipe dream, but it might be our only hope for cleaning up this shitshow.

Unmasking Reddit's Violentacrez, The Biggest Troll on the Web
Last Wednesday afternoon I called Michael Brutsch. He was at the office of the Texas financial…
Read on gawker.​com


*Obviously the term "troll" is grossly overused and encompasses a million different species of special shitflakes—from indiscriminate outrage-stirrers to ideological pitchfork mobs—but I'm using it here as a catch-all for "gratuitous incivility." We can call them trolls or dickheads or burners or Johnny Fappleseeds or salty nut-logs or whatever you like, as long as you know what I mean. Which I'm sure you do.

Illustration by Jim Cooke.
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Re: Don't Ignore the Trolls. Feed Them Until They Explode.

Postby admin » Sat May 10, 2014 12:59 am

If Comedy Has No Lady Problem, Why Am I Getting So Many Rape Threats?
Lindy West
6/04/13 3:55pm

Last Thursday, I went on FX's Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell and tried to explain rape culture in a few 15-second sound bytes (fun stuff—if you've never tried it, RUN-DON'T-WALK).

I was in a debate with comedy vet Jim Norton (who's been thoughtful and fair throughout this whole thing, so don't be mean to him), who essentially took the stance that comedy requires absolute freedom in order to function. Comedians joke about difficult issues because it's a "release of tension" for people uncomfortable with those issues. It's "catharsis." No subject should ever be "off limits" and comedians shouldn't be "silenced." And anyway, language doesn't affect culture, so how could rape jokes have an effect on actual rape? Rape is illegal! Everyone hates rape!

Well, that's the fundamental disconnect between us. I believe that the way we speak about things and the type of media we consume profoundly influences how we think about the world.

Let me be clear: I don't believe that previously non-raping audience members are going to take to the streets in a rape mob after hearing one rape joke. That's an absurd and insulting mischaracterization. But I do believe that comedy's current permissiveness around cavalier, cruel, victim-targeting rape jokes contributes to (that's contributes—not causes) a culture of young men who don't understand what it means to take this stuff seriously.

How to Make a Rape Joke
Hello, precious flowers. I know it's been a difficult couple days for all of us, what with…
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And how did they try and prove me wrong? How did they try to demonstrate that comedy, in general, doesn't have issues with women? By threatening to rape and kill me, telling me I'm just bitter because I'm too fat to get raped, and suggesting that the debate would have been better if it had just been Jim raping me.

This isn't just coming from anonymous trolls. Local comics — whom I know and work with — have told me to shut the fuck up. One hopes I'll fall down a flight of stairs. (He later apologized—to my boyfriend, not me.)

The comments below and the video above (filmed and edited by Ahamefule J. Oluo) are only a tiny fraction of what I've been wading through for the past four days. A suffocating deluge of violent misogyny is how American comedy fans react to a woman suggesting that comedy might have a misogyny problem.

If anyone's still worried about comedians being "silenced": This is what silencing looks like. Sorry, boys, but it's not going to work.

-- no need for you to worry about rape uggo

-- I love how the Bitch complaining about rape is the exact kind of Bitch that would never be raped. "why is my vagina being used as a crutch?" Bitch have you looked in the mirror? your vagina isn't being used for shit.

-- she's got hairy CUNT 'tween her thighs

-- Lindy West is a fat cunt who is completely unfuckable.

-- Fat, Ugly, Angry, No man in her life, This is the conclussion.!

-- lets cut the bullshit. that broad coesnt have to worry about rape

-- She wont ever need to worry about rape,ever!

-- holes like this make me want to commit rape out of anger, I don't even find her attractive, at all, she's a fat idiot, I just want to rape her with a traffic cone

-- Noone would want to rape that fat, disgusting mess. And I'm not talking about Erock...

-- That big bitch is bitter that no one wants to rape her do some laps lardy holly shit her stomachs were touching the floor

-- it's a mans world lindy, you and jimmy are just living in it... fat dikes like yourselves shouldn't have opinions

-- Why is it almost all women that hate men are the most un-fuckable people ever.

-- if you just heard Lindy West talk would you know she is Obese? lol just try and see youtu.be/GtUb_E1qUHA no one is using her Vagina crut

-- wouldnt the best ending be that jim norton rapes the fat girl

-- What a fucking cunt. Kill yourself, dumb bitch.

-- Jaba has nothing to worrie about, not even a prison escapee would rape her.

-- Jim Norton metaphorically raped that fat girl.

-- She wants to get screwed so badly I bet you all the rape she is shaking her finger at is exactly what she wants.

-- Dont disrespect ppls way of calming themselves down. Embracing the sick idea of rape keeps some from ever actually doing it

-- fagget... There is no way a straight dude would fuck or even rape that ugly heifer. What an annoying cunt.

-- Who the fuck, in their right mind, would want to rape you?

-- you are really annoying. Don't worry no one would ever rape u.Worry about ur Health & the heart attack that's coming ugly cow
-- Jesus Christ this woman is about as fun as dry rape. Lighten up Lindy!

-- women hate the fact that they can be raped at any moment but 99.99%ofmen are good enough not to

-- as a man i know at least a hundred other men and maybe one of them would rape a girl in a park

-- You're fat, ugly, and unfuckable. You don't have to worry about rape!
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Re: Don't Ignore the Trolls. Feed Them Until They Explode.

Postby admin » Sat May 10, 2014 2:47 am

Patton Oswalt Wrote a Gorgeous Essay on Rape Jokes and Comedy and Life
Lindy West
6/14/13 6:35pm

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To clarify: I put "rape jokes" in the headline, for brevity, because rape culture in comedy is a frequent and contentious topic 'round these parts. But the true heart of Patton Oswalt's expansive essay is much more universal. It's about bubbles—how all of us live in our bubbles, hide in our bubbles, and judge others through the distorting, refracting walls of our bubbles.

And then, ultimately, it's about popping bubbles.

There is a collective consciousness that can detect the presence (and approach) of something good or bad, in society or the world, before any hard “evidence” exists. It’s happening now with the concept of “rape culture.” Which, by the way, isn’t a concept. It’s a reality. I’m just not the one who’s going to bring it into focus. But I’ve read enough viewpoints, and spoken to enough of my female friends (comedians and non-comedians) to know it isn’t some vaporous hysteria, some false meme or convenient catch-phrase.

I’m a comedian. I value and love what I do. And I value and love the fact that this sort of furious debate is going on about the art form I’ve decided to spend my life pursuing. If it wasn’t, it would mean all of the joke thief defenders and heckler supporters are right, that stand-up comedy is some low, disposable form of carnival distraction, a party trick anyone can do. It’s obviously not. This debate proves it. And I don’t want to be on the side of the debate that only argues from its own limited experience. And I don’t need the sense memory of an actor, or a degree from Columbia, or a moody, desert god to tell me that.

I’m a man. I get to be wrong. And I get to change.


If anyone out there is on the fence, ever, about the power of public self-reflection and owning your mistakes, watch the response to this essay and tell me Patton doesn't come off like a fucking boss.

It's long, but you should really go read the whole thing.

Images via Getty.
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Re: Don't Ignore the Trolls. Feed Them Until They Explode.

Postby admin » Sat May 10, 2014 3:30 am

A CLOSED LETTER TO MYSELF ABOUT THIEVERY, HECKLING AND RAPE JOKES
@ 12:00 AM, by Patton Oswalt

1. Thievery

“Develop a little self-righteousness. A lot of that is an ugly thing, God knows, but a little spread over all your scruples is an absolute necessity!”
-- Glen Bateman, in Stephen King’s The Stand


It’s not the thievery. It’s the goddamned theorizing.

When I started doing comedy – back in 1988 – I did a joke one night, at an unpaid open mike, that killed. It killed. I wasn’t used to having anything in my set, in those first few months of shows, get any response from an audience other than a hard blink and an impatient sigh.

There’s a dopamine rush, for a comedian, when you cobble a thought out of thin air, when you arrange words not as a sentence but suddenly, as a joke. A for-real, plucked-from-your-skull joke. Something you created which, when you reach the part you want the audience to laugh at? And then…holy shit! They actually laugh? That’s the spike in the vein that sets the compass for your life.

Well, I’d gotten a taste. I wanted more.

The only problem was, it wasn’t my joke.

In those early days, not only did I perform as many sets as I could get, I watched as much comedy as I could find. The same way a writer has to both write, but also read. Huge bites of both, if they want to hone their voice. I’m sure this is the same in any creative field.

There was a lot of comedy to watch in the late 80’s. Too much, really. Endless cable shows, microphones in front of brick walls, geometric backgrounds, bland curtains. But for me, a suburban kid who had limited access to the city and thus limited access to other comedians to watch and learn from? The Basic Cable Jester Parade was boot camp, college and conservatory, all at the same time.

And, in watching the endless procession of amazing comedians on TV at that time, as well as working a day job and going out at night to do sets, I lived on three hours sleep a day – about eighteen hours, total, per week. And you combine that sleep deprivation with my consuming ambition, plus the fact that the few waking hours I had at home were spent chomping down all of the televised stand-up I could hunt down?

Well, I stole a joke. Not consciously. I heard something I found hilarious, mis-remembered it as an inspiration of my own, and then said it onstage. And got big laughs.

Here it is: “Whenever I’m sitting on a bus, and someone asks me if the seat next to me is free, I have an answer that guarantees no one will want that seat. I look up and smile and say, ‘No one but…The Lord.”

Huge laugh on that one. Pow! Bigger than anything else in my set at the time, that’s for sure.

I came off stage and Blaine Capatch, a comedian friend of mine who’s a never-miss machine gun in terms of quantity and quality when it comes to jokes, took me aside and said, “That’s a Carol Leifer joke, man.”

It hit me just as soon as he’d said it. He was right. It was a Carol Leifer joke. Pretty much word-for-word. I’d seen her do it on A&E’s Evening at the Improv one night and then, during a Diet Coke and Cup o’ Noodles lunch at the law firm I was clerking at, I jotted it down in my notebook as if I’d written it. And then went up onstage and killed with it. At two in the morning, for probably 17 people and no money. But what the fuck did I care at that point? All I was chasing, as an open miker, was the rush – and, I was hoping, paid work. Regularly killing during my sets would lead to that work, wouldn’t it?

In the exact moment after I’d realized that what Blaine said was true, that I’d cribbed a laugh from someone else’s creativity and inspiration, my ego kicked in. And, I mean, my real ego. Not ego’s sociopathic cousin, hubris, which would have made me defensive, aggressive and ultimately rationalize the theft. No, the good kind of ego, the kind that wanted success and fame and praise on my own merits, no matter how long it took.

I said, “Oh shit, you’re right. I didn’t even realize I was doing that. Goddamit…”

“Eh. You do it all the time when you’re starting out. Everyone does. You can’t avoid it. Just don’t make it a habit,” said Blaine, and headed back into the showroom to watch someone destroy, probably, with a rap song about farting. It was the 80’s.

Now, let’s zoom ahead 15 years later. I was recording my first album at The 40 Watt in Athens, Georgia. It was a boozy, swooping 2 ½ hour show that I edited down to 89 minutes for the album release. I had a lot of fun doing it. I performed it in front of the kind of dream crowd that’s not only excited for your polished, crafted routines, but also the unexpected blind alleys of thought, the in-the-moment stage notions that die gorgeously from their own heat, and the jokes that are funnier for being audacious and suggestive rather than structured, logical and clear.

Within that 140 minutes were a couple of jokes I had just started working on, but had no real ending (and, to be honest, no middle, either). One of them was about microwaveable Hot Pockets. All I really had was the idea that the word “Hot Pockets” was phonetically perfect to be said by a fat person. It got a solid laugh and, as I leapt from that premise’s unfinished scaffolding onto the supremely appointed edifice of an actual joke I’d bothered to finish, I made a note in my head to not put the Hot Pockets on the finished album, but to save the concept to develop for the next one.

After the show, at a house party with some friends and the recording crew, someone pointed out to me that Jim Gaffigan had a bit about Hot Pockets, and that it was amazing.

I said, “Yeah, but, uh, I mean, it’s parallel thought on my part. I haven’t heard his take…”

My friend said, “Oh, I know. I’m just saying, it’s something he’s kind of famous for. You should give it a listen. I know there are a lot of people out there who don’t know how comedy works who’ll think you maybe lifted it. You know how people are.”

I went online later that night and listened to Jim’s Hot Pockets bit. It’s amazing. One of those perfectly realized, no-meat-left-on-the-bone-of-the-idea jokes that also so perfectly captures the personality and intelligence of the teller that it becomes a part of how you think of them. Martin Scorsese and Rolling Stones songs in films. Salvador Dali and melting watches, desert landscapes. Carson McCullers and that specific kind of insanity that festers in the Southern heat and haze. You can tread into these territories, play with these symbols if you want to. But you’ll just end up being compared to someone else – someone who blazed the trail you’re clumsily walking.

My ego, again. This was my first album. I didn’t want to be compared. To anyone or anything. Not even a comedian as amazing as Jim Gaffigan. Just like the 19 year-old version of me, who’d wielded a joke that wasn’t his at an open mike and crushed with it, I wanted any success or fame I had coming to be my own. To be built on a bedrock of my own creativity and risk.

You can still hear the unfinished Hot Pockets joke, by the way, on the uncut version of that album. It’s probably on YouTube. No need to spend your money on it. It’s a pallid, boneless reminder that not all parallel thought is equal. In fact, it rarely is.

Know what else is rare? Especially in my profession? People outside of my profession who know the difference.

Okay, now I have to tell you one more quick story before I bring this back around to my original gripe. About how it’s not the thievery, it’s the theorizing. Ready?

Okay, so now it’s a few years after Blaine pointed out to me that the “empty seat on the bus joke” I’d done at the open mike belonged to Carol Leifer. Early 90’s. Blaine and I are working professionals now, emceeing shows around the D.C. and Baltimore area. Whereas I, at this point, had barely enough original material to actually do 15 minutes, Blaine had that amount many times over. In fact, he had enough material to do more than an hour at the point. He just didn’t have the name or draw, yet, to headline.

And another young comedian we both knew – who had started featuring, which meant doing 30 minute sets after the emcee but before the headliner – started stealing Blaine’s material. Not a joke here or a line there. Huge, sprawling chunks of Blaine’s act, which ballooned the material he had from about ten minutes to more than half an hour. And he used it to feature – to make more money, to have an easier time in front of an audience that had been warmed up by an emcee like me or Blaine, to get even more gigs. He made no attempt to hide what he was doing and, if I remember correctly, even did some of it right in front of Blaine at a show in Baltimore.

Blaine, ever more Zen than me, even at that young age, politely confronted the comedian and asked him to stop. “That’s my stuff, man. Could you not do it, please?”

The other comedian wasn’t angry or defensive. He was, incredibly, confused.

“But I’m starting to get feature sets. I don’t have 30 minutes of material. You’ve got more than 30 minutes. And you’re not getting feature sets.” The young comedian explained this Blaine like he was explaining the concept of the Tooth Fairy to a 3 year-old.

Blaine said, “But you’re only getting those feature sets because of my material. You wouldn’t have enough to fill a half hour unless you stole from me.”

“Yeah, I know,” explained the comedian, patiently. “You ain’t out there working to get feature sets. You’re just writing all this material and then just doing emcee sets. You ain’t featuring full-time like me, so I need that material. You’re not using it featuring.”

So there you go. Blaine got to watch his work benefit someone else – someone dumber, and less creative but, fatally, more ambitious and shameless than him. I’d love to tell you that the other club owners stopped hiring the thief but…nope. He made people laugh while the audience bought drinks and mozzarella sticks. Most comedy club owners back then – and a few, still, now – are in the Food and Beverage Industry, not the Creativity and Honor Industry. Most audiences cleave to the former as well. What could Blaine and I do, still at the dawn of our careers? Two emcees struggling to find an audience and get work? We had zero power to stop anyone stealing anything. We just had to write more, work harder, out-create the little fucker.

Don’t worry – this story has a happy ending. Blaine and I eventually moved west. So did the thief. But when it came time for him to make the transition to television, to movies, to big-time fame and success? He had nothing. And, without going into details, he flamed out, rather spectacularly, on national television. Like, spectacularly. It was gorgeous for Blaine and I to watch. By that point we’d built solid careers for ourselves and when Kid Thief’s career hit the killing floor? It drained away through the sluice gate. I’ve never heard from him since. Kelly Oxford wrote something, during this latest joke thief debacle, about how the stealers and joke-thieves can often get themselves through the highest doors only to find, when they’re at the top and people want to hear their ideas…they’ve got nothing. Kill floor. Sluice gate. Oblivion. I don’t need to name names here. We’ve seen it happen. It’ll happen again. It’s always fun when it does.

So why the wordy preamble, all of these seemingly random examples from my past? I didn’t even mention the ones I’ve gone up against recently – the Bland Midwestern Actor who performed huge chunks of my act – plus Dave Attell’s, Louie CK’s and Todd Barry’s (and, when confronted, claimed to have written all of those jokes for us) or the Columbia Valedictorian who, in his graduation speech, passed of a joke of mine – a verbatim personal anecdote – as if it happened to him. Or, of course, the latest in my Rogue’s Gallery of Lameness, the Sticky-Fingered Youth Pastor of Twitter? The God-loving, Commandment-slinging sky pilot who “just wanted to make people laugh” – and wanted to so badly that he flat-out slapped his name on other people’s Tweets and sent them out as his own? He didn’t even steal a joke from me – just from all of my friends, most of them up-and-coming talents writing jokes on Twitter, trying to make a name for themselves and build a career – only without the followers and thus without the juice to initially bring him down. And then, well… The endorphin rush. That feeling, the same one I had when I unwittingly used Carol Leifer’s joke. His rush came from the execution, not the creation. And like the truly talentless, he had to keep it going. Bigger and bigger highs. Deeper, dangerous doses. And so he lifted from Rob Delaney, April Richardson and, most idiotically of all, Kelly Oxford.

Boom. Busted.

Oh well. He got a book deal out of it. And paid speaking engagements at, ironically, religious conferences that I’m certain hold the 7th or 8th Commandment (depending on which book of The Bible you’re reading) in high regard. The people whose work he lifted, which brought him the followers which led to the book deal and speaking engagements? Too bad, shitbirds. Maybe if you’d accepted Christ.

And so I went after him, right? Just like The Actor and The Valedictorian. I mean, if you’ve read this far, you’ve obviously surmised that the memory of when I chose, against all sensations to the contrary, to not steal material to further my career, has made me hyper-sensitive and mega-revolted and super-judgemental of those who do. Add to that the memory of when I was so powerless, back there in Baltimore, watching that little goblin bum-rush his way to success on my friend’s inspiration and labor, and unable to do anything about it, has metastasized into an abiding resentment, a core-of-the-sun rage that I now indulge to overkill extremes. I mean, it’s so obvious, isn’t it?

Nice analysis.

And dead wrong.

The Actor, the Valedictorian, and now The Pastor were never my targets. They were never my focus, never my concern, and didn’t merit a single calorie of heat. I agree with Kelly – if any of these grubworms had temporarily crawled out of the darkness of their own uselessness, even on the backs of other people’s work? They’d have been blinded by the expectations that sustained creation puts on the truly talented. Indifference and failure was – and still is – waiting for them. They’re not the problem.

All I care about is the profession I work in. Stand-up comedy. I also care about the continued, false perception the bulk of the general public has about stand-up comedy. And what I care about, most of all, is the maddening false perceptions that other people in the creative arts have about stand-up:

Comedians don’t write their own jokes. They all steal. All great artists steal. You can’t copyright jokes. It doesn’t matter who writes a joke, just who tells it the best. Don’t musicians play other musicians’ songs? There are only so many subjects to make jokes about, anyway. I’ve seen, like, five different comedians do jokes about airplanes – isn’t that stealing, too?

Most people are not funny. Doesn’t mean they’re bad people, or dumb, or unperceptive or even uncreative. Just like most people can’t play violin, or play professional-level basketball, or perform brain surgery, or a million other vocational, technical, aesthetic or creative pursuits. Everyone is created unequal.

But for some reason, everyone wants to be funny. And feels like they have a right to be funny.

But being funny is like any other talent – some people are born with it, and then, through diligence and hard work and a lot of mistakes, they strengthen that talent.

But some people aren’t born with it. Just like some people (me, for example) aren’t born with the capacity to make music, or the height and reflexes for basketball, or the smarts to map the human mind and repair it. I’m cool knowing all of those limitations about myself.

I’m even cool knowing my limitations within comedy. I think, after nearly 25 years pursuing my craft, that I’ve become very very good at this. But I’ll never be as good as Jim Gaffigan, or Louie CK or Paul F. Tompkins or Maria Bamford or Brian Regan. Never reach the plangent brilliance of a Richard Pryor or the surreal mastery of a Steve Martin. I’m okay with that. I still get to be creative – on my own terms, and purely on my own work.

But why is it – and this only seems to apply to comedy – that some people so deeply resent those that can write jokes, can invent new perceptions of the world that actually make people laugh? Resent them so much that they have to denigrate the entire profession, just so they can feel better about themselves? Do they really think they’re less of a person if they can’t make up a joke, or be funny in the moment? Why is it so crucial to them? Is it because all of us, at some point of darkness or confusion or existential despair, were amazed at how absurd a thing as a simple joke suddenly lit the way, or warmed the cold, or made the sheer, horrific insanity that sometimes comes with being alive suddenly, completely, miraculously manageable?

Those people – the public and, sadly, a lot of journalists – those people were my target, in all of my seemingly “unmeasured responses” to thievery. Because I can’t stop joke thieves. They’re always going to be there.

But what I can hopefully stop – or, at least, change for the better – is the public (and media’s) response to joke thieves, by hammering away at this same, exhausting refrain every time I see some thumb-sucking “think piece” by a writer who should fucking know better, cyber-quacking away about “cover songs” and “vaudeville” and a million other euphemisms and deflections away from the simple fact that an uncreative person took a creative person’s work, signed their name to it, and passed it off as their own for their personal glorification, monetary benefit and career advancement. There’s no wiggle room there. Even the thieves know that, better than the dullards who are rationalizing and defending them.

The Actor knew what he was doing. He wasn’t the problem. It was the commenters under the NyMag.com piece about me calling him out, keeping alive the meme of, “I thought all comedians steal their stuff.”

The Valedictorian knew what he was doing. He also wasn’t the problem. It was the commenters under the New York Times article about his thievery of my work, asserting that he wasn’t deserving of this harsh scrutiny, because he was a Columbia grad and that some silly “joke teller” should be honored to have his work used in a valedictorian speech.

The Pastor, especially, knew what he was doing, because he’d done it for years, and people politely confronted him on Twitter, privately, and he mewled and shrugged his shoulders and deleted the Tweets he’d stolen and continued stealing more. Even he wasn’t the problem. It was the endless shit-slog of bloggers, Twitter commenters, Facebook essayists and probably a thousand other people who smugly shrugged their shoulders and didn’t even bother to add a pixel of ignorance to the whole affair. Those people were my target. Because those are the same kind of assholes who make it possible for thieves and hacks to thrive, sometimes all the way into stadium gigs, sitcom deals and movie careers, in my profession.

So I want to change as many minds as I can. Educate as many people about where I’m coming from when I flip the berserker switch on hyenas like The Actor, The Valedictorian and The Pastor. I’ll probably have to do it again. And again. And again. I’m okay with it.

And I’m okay with something else I’ve come to terms with, and I only did so during this last incident. You ready for my big epiphany?

I’m never going to win this fight. There’s always going to be a portion of the population – maybe a majority, even – who think that The Actor, The Valedictorian and The Pastor did nothing wrong. That comedians really do get their jokes out of books. That anyone can be funny.

And that’s okay. There are almost 7 billion people on this soggy marble. I don’t need all of them on my side. The fans who unfollowed me on Twitter after I shut down The Pastor – just like the ones who unfollow me when I rage against the NRA, and gay marriage opponents and FOX News? I don’t want them as fans. As carefully as I’ve curated and cultivated my career, I’m now doing the same with my audience. Universality was never my goal as a comedian. Longevity and creativity are.

I’m a comedian. I get to care about this stuff.

2. Heckling

Hecklers are not critics. Critics have to submit their work to editors, have to sign their name to their opinions, often have to face those they criticize. Sometimes, if they live long enough, they have to cringe when their opinions don’t stand the test of time better than the work they initially critiqued. Even Roger Ebert admitted, in his superlative Great Movies essays, to being wrong in his initial assessment of some of the movies he was writing about. Of not seeing the neo-Realist miracle of The Killer of Sheep because it didn’t have enough story for him. And, ironically enough, not recognizing The Good, The Bad and The Ugly as the masterpiece it was because it was too entertaining. Is there anything more mature – more manly – that flat-out saying, “Wow, I was wrong”? Gavin McInnes pointed that out to me, and despite agreeing with him on, essentially, nothing, I agree with that sentiment. Keep it in mind, by the way. It’s going to come up later.

Heckling, like joke stealing, is wildly misunderstood. Both by the general public and, as I discovered to my disgust when two writers in The Chicago Tribune wrote an asinine, pro-heckling space-filler article in January of this year, to creative professionals who should know better. The ignorance about hecklers is pungent and simple, and goes like this:

Comedians love hecklers. They make a show memorable. A lot of comedians get their best material from hecklers.

No. No and no and no and no and no. Hecklers don’t make a show memorable. They prevent a show from being a fucking show. Comedians do not love hecklers. They love doing the original material they wrote and connecting with an entire audience, not verbally sparring with one cretin while the rest of the audience whoops and screams, disconnecting from the comedian and re-wiring itself as a hate-fueled crowd-beast. And most comedians, including me, can barely remember a heckler. We go into automatic pilot shutting them down – not because we’re so brilliant and quick, it’s because we’ve dealt with hecklers so many fucking times that we can do it in our sleep. And why do we have to deal with hecklers so many times? Because of all the stupid, misinformed rationalizations I’ve listed above.

Heckling and joke stealing do have a common ancestor, and it’s the creative resentment I talked about earlier.

I was in San Francisco earlier this year, doing one of Doug Benson’s Movie Interruption shows at The Castro Theatre. Doug screened the first Twilight movie, and me, along with Doug and Michael Ian Black, Greg Behrendt and Zach Galifianakis, sat in the front row with microphones, commenting on the movie. Heckled it, technically, but not in a way that stopped the movie or pissed off anyone who came, since they knew that was the show to begin with, and had already seen Twilight, or didn’t care either way. (I just had a slight shudder, thinking of the commenters who are going to point out, “But isn’t this also heckling?” but you know what? Fuck ‘em. Just like with joke thievery, I don’t need to convince or enlighten the majority).

Anyway, there we all were, firing jokes at the screen, in the ample silences during the “stare porn” passages of Twilight. All of those guys have fast-twitch idea-to-joke nerves, and the whole show was going great guns.

Someone over my right shoulder, a few rows back, began leaning towards us and shouting things. I couldn’t make out what he was saying – I almost immediately tuned him out, to be honest – but I was dimly aware that someone wanted to be a part of the show, wanted to scream his way into the spectacle, wanted attention. People around him began shushing him, which made him louder, which brought down an usher who, amazingly, got the guy to be quiet.

The movie ended and the audience applauded and we all got up and started walking out, up the aisle with the crowd. We shook hands and said hello and everyone was very nice.

Except for the kid who’d been screaming at us. The Shouter. He got in my face and blocked my way up the aisle.

“Didn’t you hear the stuff I was yelling? You ignored me the whole time!”

I said, “I didn’t hear it.”

“Yes you did.”

His friend pulled him away. “Dude, let’s go. Be cool.”

He and his friend started walking up the aisle away from me. His friend gave me a, “Sorry about that" look over his shoulder. I shrugged.

Then the friend leaned into the Shouter, said, “Man, why’d you keep screaming at those guys?”

The Shouter said, “There’s no way they were just making jokes up that fast. I had to say something.”

I’ve never heard a more poignant rationalizing of heckling in my life, and I doubt I ever will.

I’m a comedian. I get to be fascinated with this stuff.

3. Rape Jokes

In 1992 I was in the San Francisco International Comedy Competition. Out of a field of 40 competitors, I think I came in 38. Maybe.

One of the comedians I competed against was named Vince Champ. Handsome, friendly, 100% clean material. He would gently – but not in a shrill or scolding way – chide some of the other comedians about their “blue” language, or “angry” subject material, or general, dark demeanor. But nice to hang out with. Polite.

Later that same year Vince won Star Search. $100,000 grand prize. A career launched. Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.

He’s now sitting in prison in Nebraska, serving a 55 to 70 year sentence for a string of rapes he committed at college campuses where he toured as a comedian. College bookers loved him because his material was squeaky-clean and non-controversial. I guess the Star Search producers agreed.

Vince is one example – there are others, believe me – where some of the friendliest, most harmless-seeming, and non-offensive comedians carry around some pretty horrific mental plumbing. The comedians I’ve known who joke about rape – and genocide, racism, serial killers, drug addiction and everything else in the Dark Subjects Suitcase – tend to be, internally and in action, anti-violence, anti-bigotry, and decidedly anti-rape. It’s their way – at least, it’s definitely my way – of dealing with the fact that all of this shittiness exists in the world. It’s one of the ways I try to reduce the power and horror those subjects hold for me. And since I’ve been a comedian longer than any of the people who blogged or wrote essays or argued about this, I was secure in thinking my point of view was right. That “rape culture” was an illusion, that the examples of comedians telling “rape jokes” in which the victim was the punchline were exceptions that proved the rule. I’ve never wanted to rape anyone. No one I know has ever expressed a desire to rape anyone. My viewpoint must be right. Right?

I had that same knee-jerk reaction when the whole Daniel Tosh incident went down. Again, only looking at it from my experience. And my experience, as a comedian, made me instantly defend him. I still do, up to a point. Here’s why: he was at an open mike. Trying out a new joke. A joke about rape. A horrible subject but, like with all horrible subjects, the first thing a comedian will subconsciously think is, “Does a funny approach exist with which to approach this topic?” He tried, and it didn’t go well. I’ve done the same thing, with all sorts of topics. Can I examine something that horrifies me and reduce the horror of it with humor? It’s a foolish reflex and all comedians have it.

And, again, it was at an open mike. Which created another knee-jerk reaction in me. Open mikes are where, as a comedian, you’re supposed to be allowed to fuck up. Like a flight simulator where you can create the sensation of spiking the nose of the plane into the tarmac without killing anyone (or yourself). Open mikes are crucial for any working comedian who wants to keep developing new material, stretching what he or she does, and keeping themselves from burrowing into a creative rut.

Even Daniel admitted, in his apology, that the joke wasn’t going well, that when the girl interrupted him (well, heckled, really) he reacted badly. The same way I reacted badly when an audience member started taping one of my newer, more nebulous bits with her camera phone a few months earlier. Daniel’s bad reaction I don’t defend. His attempting to find humor in the subject of rape – again, a horrifying reality that, like other horrifying realities, can sometimes be attacked with humor? I defend that. Still defend. Will always defend.

What it came down to, for me, was this: let a comedian get to the end of his joke. If it’s not funny then? Fine. Blast away. In person, on the internet, anywhere. It’s an open mike. Comedians can take it. We bomb all the time. We go too far all the time. It’s in our nature.

And don’t interrupt a comedian during the set-up. A lot of times, a set-up is deliberately meant to shock, to reverse your normal valences, to kick you a few points off your axis. If you heard the beginning of Lenny Bruce’s joke where he blurts out, “How many niggers do we have here tonight?”, and then stood up and motherfucked him into silence and stormed out? You’d be correct – based solely on what you saw and heard – that Lenny was a virulent racist. But if you rode the shockwave, and listened until the end of the bit, you’d see he was attacking something – racism – that he found abhorrent and was, in fact, so horrified by it that he was willing to risk alienating an audience to make his point.

So that’s how I saw the whole “rape joke” controversy. And, again, my view was based on my experience as a comedian. 25 years experience, you know? This was about censorship, and the limits of comedy, and the freedom to create and fuck up while you hone what you create.

But remember what I was talking about, in the first two sections of this? In the “Thievery” section and then the “Heckling” section? About how people only bring their own perceptions and experiences to bear when reacting to something? And, since they’re speaking honestly from their experience, they truly think they’re correct? Dismissive, even? See if any of these sound familiar:

There’s no “evidence” of a “rape culture” in this country. I’ve never wanted to rape anyone, so why am I being lumped in as the enemy? If these bloggers and feminists make “rape jokes” taboo, or “rape” as a subject off-limits no matter what the approach, then it’ll just lead to more censorship.

They sure sound familiar to me because I, at various points, was saying them. Either out loud, or to myself, or to other comedian and non-comedian friends when we would argue about this. I had my viewpoint, and it was based on solid experience, and it…was…fucking…wrong.

Let’s go backwards through those bullshit conclusions, shall we? First off: no one is trying to make rape, as a subject, off-limits. No one is talking about censorship. In this past week of re-reading the blogs, going through the comment threads, and re-scrolling the Twitter arguments, I haven’t once found a single statement, feminist or otherwise, saying that rape shouldn’t be joked under any circumstance, regardless of context. Not one example of this.

In fact, every viewpoint I’ve read on this, especially from feminists, is simply asking to kick upward, to think twice about who is the target of the punchline, and make sure it isn’t the victim.

Why, after all of my years of striving to write original material (and, at times, becoming annoyingly self-righteous about it) and struggling find new viewpoints or untried approaches to any subject, did I suddenly balk and protest when an articulate, intelligent and, at times, angry contingent of people were asking my to apply the same principles to the subject of rape? Any edgy or taboo subject can become just as hackneyed as an acceptable or non-controversial one if the exact same approach is made every time. But I wasn’t willing to hear that.

And let’s go back even further. I’ve never wanted to rape anyone. Never had the impulse. So why was I feeling like I was being lumped in with those who were, or who took a cavalier attitude about rape, or even made rape jokes to begin with? Why did I feel some massive, undeserved sense of injustice about my place in this whole controversy?

The answer to that is in the first incorrect assumption. The one that says there’s no a “rape culture” in this country. How can there be? I’ve never wanted to rape anyone.

Do you see the illogic in that leap? I didn’t at first. Missed it completely. So let’s look at some similar examples:

Just because you 100% believe that comedians don’t write their own jokes doesn’t make it so. And making the leap from your evidence-free belief to dismissing comedians who complain about joke theft is willful ignorance on your part, invoked for your own comfort. Same way with heckling. Just because you 100% feel that a show wherein a heckler disrupted the evening was better than one that didn’t have that disruption does not make it the truth. And to make the leap from your own personal memory to insisting that comedians feel the same way that you do is indefensible horseshit.

And just because I find rape disgusting, and have never had that impulse, doesn’t mean I can make a leap into the minds of women and dismiss how they feel day to day, moment to moment, in ways both blatant and subtle, from other men, and the way the media represents the world they live in, and from what they hear in songs, see in movies, and witness on stage in a comedy club.

There is a collective consciousness that can detect the presence (and approach) of something good or bad, in society or the world, before any hard “evidence” exists. It’s happening now with the concept of “rape culture.” Which, by the way, isn’t a concept. It’s a reality. I’m just not the one who’s going to bring it into focus. But I’ve read enough viewpoints, and spoken to enough of my female friends (comedians and non-comedians) to know it isn’t some vaporous hysteria, some false meme or convenient catch-phrase.

I’m a comedian. I value and love what I do. And I value and love the fact that this sort of furious debate is going on about the art form I’ve decided to spend my life pursuing. If it wasn’t, it would mean all of the joke thief defenders and heckler supporters are right, that stand-up comedy is some low, disposable form of carnival distraction, a party trick anyone can do. It’s obviously not. This debate proves it. And I don’t want to be on the side of the debate that only argues from its own limited experience. And I don’t need the sense memory of an actor, or a degree from Columbia, or a moody, desert god to tell me that.

I’m a man. I get to be wrong. And I get to change.
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