It happened last year. It's not something I like to talk about, but I feel like I owe it to every victim of harassment ever. I guess in this case, one particular person especially. But before we get to that, I'll tell you about a joke I did for a very long time.
I'd been using this bit as my closer for months. It's a call back to another joke where I talk about a status update someone posted on Facebook which was, "I dropped my apple today. It's gunna be one of those days!" Which is a ridiculous status update. That is a normal day. Why are you making your day out to be the worst? It's dumb and made me laugh, but I digress.
My friends had given me two "gifts" around the same time I told that joke. My boyfriend had given me a rape whistle (thanks?) and my friend had given me a pocketknife with my name on it. When I tried to open the pocket knife for the first time, I couldn't get it open. I thought, "Yikes. If I ever needed this in an emergency, I'd be screwed!" And so my closer was born.
I would explain to the audience that I had received these gifts, but I was having problems with the pocket knife. Then I'd say, "This is what would happen if I were to get attacked right now." I would then shout "PREDATOR!", blow into the whistle and start fidgeting with the knife. While I struggled with the knife and turned my back to the audience, I'd make a motion with my hand as though I was pushing the "predator's" hand away from my backside, all while still blowing on the very loud whistle. When the whistling stopped I would say (while making a computer typing motion), "I got raped today... it's gonna be one of those days!"
It was a joke that worked 100 percent of the time.
I reasoned that the joke wasn't about rape, but instead about how hilarious it would be if I got attacked and couldn't fight back.
Guys, I know. I am the one typing this. I know how awful this is.
Cut to: October 2012. I'm doing a show in Calgary, and I am having a super fun show in which my dad and his friends are in attendance. I'm asking people in the front row how old they were when they lost their virginities. I turn to one particular couple who have been smiling and enjoying themselves. I first ask the man, he laughs and reveals he was 15. "Holy crap! So young!" I say. I turn to the girl and ask her the same question. She responds with, "I don't really want to talk about it."
Before I could even think about what was coming out of my mouth, I say, "What... were you raped?"
And then she nods her head.
And then everything inside of me wanted to be on the outside.
"Oh God. This is so awkward," I say quietly into the microphone. And then I move on with my jokes as I feel my whole face fill with blood. I was saying words, but wasn't really paying attention to what it is I was saying.
I am a monster, everyone. Who asks someone that? Who would ask someone that with the intent of making a joke out of it? This was my Michael Richards moment and this is the lowest I have ever felt in all of my life.
I continued my show. I thankfully only had about five minutes left. Five minutes - "I can do this," I thought. Until I thought about my closer in which I say, "I got raped today. It's gunna be one of those days!"
My brain scrambled to try and think of an alternate ending. I think I ended up saying something like, "I was murdered today. It's gunna be one of those days." And then I rushed off the stage and straight out the exit doors and shouted, "WHAT THE FUCK??" I walked around the hotel, breathing deeply, almost in tears. I am a monster.
I ran into some audience members who were outside smoking. "Great job!!" they say. I say "thanks," keep my head down and reenter the hotel. I run into another comedian, "great job!" he says.
"Did you not just see what happened??" I blurt out.
"What? No? What happened?"
I re-tell him the living nightmare that (I believe) everyone has just witnessed on stage.
"What? I was at the back of the room and didn't hear that. I don't think anyone but you and the front row heard it."
I run back into the club, talk to the server that is waiting on their table and say, "Please send them both drinks. Give them whatever they want and I will pay for it."
I huddle in the back of the room with the rest of the comics for the remainder of the show, waiting impatiently for the show to finish so that I can rectify the situation. When it finally ends, 45 minutes later, I make a beeline for their table. I start apologizing profusely to them.
"I am so sorry. Oh my God. I am so sorry. I don't know why I said that, it just came out. I would never say that -- I -- oh God. I am so sorry."
"We saw this coming," the man responds with a smile on his face. She however, looks slightly more dejected.
"I truly am so sorry."
"It's okay," she responds, a little softer when she recognizes (I hope) my genuine guttural heartache about what has just happened. I notice that she has been sipping on a mini-pitcher of alcohol. Thank you, Jesus.
"We'll be in the sports bar if you want to join us," the guy says after I hug his girlfriend for what may have been an uncomfortably long time.
I feel a little better about everything, but it's not me that matters in this situation.
What I did was wrong. There is no excuse for it. It wasn't funny. No one gained anything from it (aside from me who learned a very important lesson.) I sometimes think about all the other women I likely offended in different audiences. It makes me feel sick and sad. And angry at myself. I wish I could go back in time and take it all back.
I, personally, will never tell another rape joke. Because I have no idea what that is like. I can't even begin to imagine the damage that that does to a person. The damage that I caused to a person will stay with me for the rest of my life. As embarrassed as I am about it happening, I'd rather help educate others by talking about it so that we can prevent it from happening again. The only way we will ever "beat" rape culture is by being vocal about it.
I believe comedians should be able to talk about whatever they want. Freedom of speech is everything. But be funny, be educated and be sensitive to the fact that not everyone will find what you are saying funny, and some may even find it offensive.
I once was a negative force in rape culture. It's real and it's not okay and it's time that we start talking about it.