When Daniel Tosh’s Most Offensive Joke Was Front-Page News, Louis C.K. Hijacked ‘The Daily Show’ to Talk About It

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When Daniel Tosh’s Most Offensive Joke Was Front-Page News, Louis C.K. Hijacked ‘The Daily Show’ to Talk About It

There might not be a more 2012 comedy news headline than, “Louis C.K. Celebrated for Giving Jon Stewart His Take on Rape Jokes.”

Considering the scandals that would upend the comedy world toward the end of the decade, the drama surrounding Daniel Tosh’s biggest controversy to date seems quaint in retrospect. During a stand-up set at the Laugh Factory in L.A. in July 2012, Tosh brought up the topic of sexual assault, inspiring a heckler to interrupt his set with the alleged exclamation, “Rape jokes are never funny!” Tosh, whose on-stage persona was known to be amoral, caustic and characteristically offensive, shot down the disruptor with the (probably paraphrased) retort, “Wouldn’t it be funny if that girl got raped by, like, five guys right now?” Another audience member wrote up the exchange in a since-deleted Tumblr post that quickly went viral, prompting Tosh to make a public apology on Twitter — but not before every media outlet that’s ever published an opinion piece about “Comedians Crossing the Line” picked up the story for front-page news. 

For a few weeks, Tosh was Public Enemy No. 1 to the increasingly critical community of online comedy fans who had soured on the shock humor of the 2000s and wanted comedians to take accountability for their harmful material. At the height of the controversy, then-universally beloved Louis C.K. tweeted at Tosh, “@danieltosh your show makes me laugh every time I watch it. And you have pretty eyes,” prompting confusion and concerned blog posts across the internet until, just a couple days later, C.K. used every second of his guest appearance on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart to explain himself and opine on the combative relationship between comedians and the media — as well as the one between comedians and feminists. Imagine how C.K. feels about them now.

As C.K. explained, his inciting tweet didn’t come from a desire to insert himself in the heated conversation regarding rape jokes in comedy, but he was happy to do it anyway. C.K. was simply a fan of Tosh.0 who spent much less time on the internet than the show’s writers, and the resulting news stories gave him the perfect opportunity to share his thoughts on such pressing cultural debates as “comedians vs. bloggers” and “comedians vs. feminists.” The result was a six-minute rant at Jon Stewart wherein C.K. tried to straddle the line between “rape apologist” and politically correct complainer while still insisting that, no matter how strongly he feels that comedians are “big pussies” for refusing to accept criticism, “any joke about anything bad is a positive.”

At the time, C.K. was celebrated for his take that “all dialogue is positive,” but the last dozen years has obviously seen a dramatic shift in the careers and public images of the comics involved. C.K. famously suffered a steep fall from grace at the beginning of the #MeToo movement in 2017 as numerous women in the comedy community came forward with stories about his inappropriate behind-the-scenes behavior.

Tosh, on the other hand, finished out his historic run on Comedy Central without incident, and following the conclusion of Tosh.0, launched a podcast, on which he has made allusions to the controversy. On a recent episode of Tosh Show, the comedian came out in stunning support of so-called “cancel culture,” admitting, “As someone who’s done things and said horrible things constantly, I’ve had backlash and I deserve it. There has to be consequences. And I don’t think there’s a problem with evolving.” 

Though C.K.’s atonement for his own missteps amounted to little more than some damage control in The New York Times, he’s clearly done some evolving of his own as well — before he was “canceled,” C.K. sold out Madison Square Garden on eight separate occasions. Now? He’s done it nine times.

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