Warning: This article contains content some might find sensitive.
Adrienne Truscott is telling rape jokes, lots of them, and she's not wearing any pants. The daring comedian and performance artist has crafted the final punchline to standup comedy's disastrous, ongoing rape joke with her one woman show, entitled "Adrienne Truscott's Asking for It! A one-lady rape about comedy starring her pussy...and little else!"
The raucous routine stars Truscott herself, wearing only a denim jacket and heels, running through the tumultuous history of the rape joke while drinking beers, spanning contentious topics lifted from Daniel Tosh's horribly unfunny rape joke to the "legitimate rape" conversation that haunted the last presidential election. Simultaneously delivering jokes about rape and examining the politics involved in such an endeavor, Truscott explores the rules governing humor, discussing not only sexual abuse but also race, class and other iffy territories.
Read on to learn how this commando woman is attempting to transform the reputation of the rape joke:
To start off, can you give us a rundown of the show?
It's 50 minutes of stand up comedy and I do it wearing just a jean jacket, heels and a wig. But basically the gist of that is to look gussied up and take the logic of "she was asking for it" to the extreme. You know the argument: if you're gonna get gussied up and drink -- maybe drink a little too much -- you're going to get raped.
So you suggest the possibility you could get raped during the show?
I kind of put it out there as an actual possibility, but at the same time acknowledge that the only way you really get raped is if there's a rapist at the show. It's an hour of standup with that arc, of wondering what is going to happen at the end of the show. It's also sort of a commentary on commentary -- what works and what doesn't, who is allowed to joke about what based on your experience and your skin color. But mostly it's jokes about rape that are different from the jokes about rape coming from men.
Do you play a character or are you talking as Adrienne?
It's sort of partially a heightened version of myself and also a goofy, lovable character. I project images of other comics who have material about rape on my torso and my pubic hair is their goatee. So many comics have goatees -- it is weird. George Carlin on my belly is the first image, but you can't tell right away what you're looking at right away. It's a play on letting my pussy do the talking. There's also a part where I do a headstand and have Robert De Niro from "Taxi Driver" projected onto me, with my pubic hair as his mohawk. Basically, women are told what to do and what not to do and I don't do that in this show.
I heard Rick Ross makes an appearance.
Yes, there is a section on roofies and Rick Ross is on my torso because he has that line "Put Molly all in her champagne, she ain't even know it. I took her home and I enjoyed that, she ain't even know it." Then I go into a little thing about ducks, because ducks gang rape as their main form of procreation. I actually saw it happen once while I was making this show. It was traumatizing. My search history is so awful now on my computer it's like rape jokes, duck rape. Really dodgy.
Do you think male comics have successfully pulled off rape jokes in the past?
You can make a joke about anything; I just think you should make a good joke and not a shitty joke. There are people that make smart jokes about rape and there are jokes about it that are horrible but they're well constructed. It's like, that's a good punchline but the joke just sucks. Then there are the misogynists who think they are being super edgy and its like, "No, you're just a jerk." Louis C.K. has one that I think is pretty poignant. I love comedy; I really like that this show speaks for itself so you can't pin the "it's a grumpy feminist thing" on it.
How did the audience react?
It's funny, I make some really bad puns in the show. With the rape jokes, there is a lot of talk asking, "Is that too far?" It turns out, the audience goes along with the rape jokes but they don't like the bad puns.
Did any audience members make comments that stood out to you?
I have had a lot of varied reactions, and of course, weirdly, I didn't anticipate people coming up and talking to me about their own experiences afterwards. There have been beautiful interactions as well as some sad interactions. This one really great woman who is in a comedy troupe, she came up to me and was like, "Oh my god, I just laughed so hard. I was sexually assaulted when I was 17 and this is the first time I felt like I had a new way to look at that experience."
The title of your performance specifies it's a "rape about comedy," not a "comedy about rape." Can you elaborate on this?
Well, I'm a little bit raping the audience, giving rape joke after rape joke whether they like it or not. I was very clear with the title because I didn't want anyone to come and get traumatized. Also the "Adrienne Truscott's Asking for It" part of the title was multilayered. Meaning I was asking for it from the critics as well. What I didn't expect was to be so deeply heard. My reviews were so wise and thoughtful even from people who initially thought this was going to be fucking terrible. I haven't had anyone come up and be like, "How dare you?" Female and male critics had such brilliantly wise responses to it.
Do you consider yourself a comedian or a performance artist, if you distinguish between the two?
I actually moved to New York City to become a dancer and that's what I was doing here at first. I then started doing circus stuff in a group called the Wau Wau Sisters and we began incorporating songs and doing a sort of cabaret act. And then we gradually started talking. We were always trying to be funny in our songs but standup feels like a really different thing than cabaret. I started writing this show before the rape joke standup thing blew up the way it did.
Have you read Patricia Lockwood's Rape Joke poem? What are your thoughts on that?
It's a really powerful poem. And, I could be wrong, but in some ways I think we find humor in the same place, which is to say, sometimes it lies on just the other side of utter incredulity about what transpires in the world and how the world or we respond to it. And perhaps it's that words like humor or funny are ultimately inadequate to express this place or feeling that is not humorous, but that humor... steps in to express what feels inexpressible. It also reminds me that humor is always just one way to look at things, and that in invoking it, it is never to the exclusion of other ways of expressing something. And that's part of what makes it okay to use it.
Also, there is a rawness and a fragility to this poem that is heartbreaking and complex and incredibly strong, all at once. And, it does a beautiful job at pointing out how complex someone's (anyone's) experiences can be without diverting attention from where the source of the problem, the source of the crime, lies -- with the person who raped someone.
Keep an eye out for Truscott at The Melbourne International Comedy Festival and Soho Theater in London next year.