Three Women Walk Into a Half-Naked Comedy Show About Rape…

By Judy Berman , Sarah Seltzer and Katie Halper
Originally posted on Flavorwire

Adrienne Truscott’s one-woman show Asking For It: A One-Lady Rape About Comedy Starring Her Pussy and Little Else! is part burlesque performance-art, part stand-up comedy act, part feminist conversation-piece. But if there’s one thing the self-described evening of rape jokes is not, it’s shy.

Clad only from the waist up and ankles down for much of the show, with a stack of blonde wigs on her head, Truscott uses her bared lower body and a cheery Southern belle persona to challenge and re-appropriate humor and cultural myths about rape in a manner that feels deeply, provocatively feminist without being preachy. She uses photographs of male comedians like Bill Cosby and Daniel Tosh as props, and her bare body becomes a screen for projections of words and songs that comment on rape culture. All the while, she’s swigging beer and behaving in a way that challenges the assumption that anyone is ever asking for it. Like feminist comedians Sarah Silverman, Broad City’s Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer, and Amy Schumer, Truscott is doing the work to reclaim comedic territory that was once aggressively hostile to women.

To intrepidly explore the radical potential of (naked) feminist rape comedy, two Flavorwire staffers and one feminist comedian attended a sold-out midnight performance of Asking For It at Joe’s Pub in New York, where the show will return May 30. A few days later, we discussed our reactions.

Sarah Seltzer: Did either of you have a favorite joke or gag or prop? My favorite was the rape whistle by the side of the stage that Truscott kept working back into conversation. (“Does anyone feel uncomfortable? Just grab the whistle!”) This running gag reminded me constantly of the futile and pathetic ways we try to make ourselves feel better as a society by “arming” women against rape.

Judy Berman: I was super into the framed Daisy Duck picture Truscott used to illustrate the wild connection she made between Todd “Legitimate Rape” Akin and ducks’ decoy vaginas, which actually do have “ways to shut that whole thing down.” To me, the show can’t really be broken down into individual jokes, but that bit is a good representation of how it managed to be intelligent, political, and funny at the same time.

Katie Halper: One of the things I loved about the entire piece was how unapologetically humorous it was. Every time it seemed like she was saying something earnest and conciliatory, she would undercut it with a joke or a cringe-worthy statement. It was incredibly funny and moving at the same time, while never feeling trivializing or manipulative.

SS: I feel like the contrast between Truscott’s peppy, collegiate jean jacket and platform heels and the nothing she was wearing in between was a deliberate way of undercutting the image of the perky, vulnerable sorority girl and making her point: how a woman dresses actually has nothing to do with whether she gets raped. How did her nudity function for you as a viewer? Did it work in a way that just wearing high heels and a short skirt or another sort of “asking for it” outfit might not have?

JB: I think so. Perhaps kind of counter-intuitively, to me, Truscott’s nudity seemed less objectifying and more confrontational than a sexy outfit would have. Part of that had to do with her intelligence, her confidence, and her control of the room. But I don’t think it was just that. There was a sort of thrilling brazenness to making us look straight at the body part she was talking about in her jokes about rape. Rather than making Truscott vulnerable, her security in her own nudity made the audience — especially, I imagine, the straight men — absorb any of the awkwardness. She had all the power.

KH: What’s so embarrassing about my reaction is that I found myself thinking, “Wow. She is incredibly tan and fit and has so little cellulite.” I mean, this is a one-woman show about rape and the objectification of women and their bodies, and I’m this feminist comedian fascinated by the intersection of politics and comedy. But there I am, thinking about whether I should get a spray tan. I mean, some kind of organic natural spray tan, because clearly I really respect my body and my health.

SS: Truscott spent a lot of the show catching the audience in paradoxes — what made us groan (a bad pun) or cringe (a lengthy attack on the desirability of a white male comedian) vs. the rape references she made that merely elicited laughs. Do you think she pulled off her goal of pointing out how we draw different lines?

JB: Definitely. For me, it highlighted all these unspoken rules about the discourse around rape. We can talk about it in big generalities, we can make graphic jokes about it, but when you start getting into even the mildest specifics — mentioning in public that a particular famous (or non-famous) man is a known rapist, say — everyone gets uncomfortable. In some situations, we take politeness and privacy more seriously than truth and justice.

KH: We have become so desensitized to rape that what should outrage us doesn’t. But that is not about the responses of individuals, as much as it is about how prevalent rape and rape culture are.

SS: How did her over-the-top, almost cabaret-like personality and the multimedia and choreography work in contrast to the serious material?

JB: Someone we spoke to at the show mentioned that Truscott, who has a dance background, reminded her of a particular burlesque dancer. I think that describes her persona perfectly: she’s bubbly and clever and comfortable with her own physicality, and that creates an atmosphere where she can maintain her authority even while standing on her head and projecting a Rick Ross video on her naked torso. I thought the way she interrupted her stand-up to use her own skin as a screen for offensive and disturbing clips was a hugely effective way to convey visually points that would have sounded hackneyed had she just read a quote or stood around while a video played.

KH: I thought those elements made the act that much more effective. Again, we’ve become so desensitized to rape that in order to create something effective and moving, artists need to think of new ways to present it and play with it. I really do subscribe to the idea that rape jokes can be funny. It’s always about the relationship between the joke teller, the content of the joke, the butt of the joke, and power. If anything, the humor heightens the tragic and infuriating nature of rape without presenting the artist as a mere victim or making the audience feel powerless or hopeless. Speaking truth to power doesn’t have to be boring. It’s that much more powerful when it’s done in a fun and funny way.

SS: In an interview with the Guardian, Truscott says she almost prefers a male-heavy audience to a sedate-artsy kind of crowd. We saw it with the second kind of audience. But now I wonder wow, how would this show work with a straighter, more male audience? I realized that I’d love to see it again in that context. But would that feel too dangerous to you?

JB: Maybe I’m being too optimistic, but I can’t imagine many people walking into this show who don’t already feel comfortable with the idea of a woman reclaiming the conversation around rape and comedy. I can imagine she’s had a few isolated incidents, though. I don’t necessarily think a straighter, more male audience would be livelier, though. At our show, it seemed to me like it was mostly women (and art-men) who really embraced the raunchiness and the darkness of Truscott’s material. The straight, “normal” dudes seemed less comfortable. They sort of took a backseat unless they were forced to participate — which, thankfully, they were.

KH: Like Judy, I can’t imagine this show attracting a bro-ish crowd, but I’d say that makes me more of a pessimist than an optimist. So much art and performance and comedy preaches to to the converted. Comedy has more potential to break through and reach non-converted or pre-converted audiences than other forms of art or performance, but I still find it hard to imagine an audience that isn’t already somewhat on board stumbling into Joe’s Pub. Truscott performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival; I could imagine a less self-selecting audience attending a show like this there. And maybe if this were in a comedy festival here, the same thing would happen. But as it’s being presented in New York City, I don’t see it happening. This raises a whole other issue of accessibility and art, but that’s for a different conversation.

I would also agree with Judy that the crowd Saturday night, which struck me as artsy, feminist, and queer, for the most part, was far from sedate. I do understand, however, how having a straighter, dude-ier audience would add to the show, given how interactive it is and how much the responses of the audience members would further the critique of the show. It would augment the “show and tell” aspect, which is very powerful.

SS: In a “bit” reminiscent of a controversial scene from Broad City, Truscott went on a long exploration of “reverse” or female-on-male rape. She spent quite a while telling the story of an attempt to roofie a guy on at a bar and then ply him with Viagra. Did this cross a line for you, or was it a powerful new lens on the absolutely awful idea of the existence and use of date rape drugs to begin with, which was my reaction?

JB: I thought the male-rape bit was the bravest part of the show, maybe even braver than performing pantsless. To me, there are always two questions: Is the joke funny, and is its choice of target the right one? And if the answer to both is “yes,” then there’s no such thing as crossing a line. Risqué as it was, this bit did just what you said: It made us imagine each step in the process of drugging and raping a person, which only drove home how horrific that particular variety of sexual assault is.

KH: What’s so powerful about that part of the show is how it makes us question “the line.” If, for instance, someone feels uncomfortable with that part of the show but is OK with the rest of the show, what does that say about rape? That comedy about raping women is OK, while comedy about raping men isn’t? One of the things I find myself shocked by when I perform and write comedy, especially satirical comedy, is how hard it is for people to distinguish between content and perspective. So many people who are otherwise nuanced and analytical become very obtuse and rigid in their position that certain subjects are off limits, regardless of the message or the framing. Not to go all Godwin’s Law, but it would be like equating Schindler’s List with Triumph of the Will.

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