Review: Cameron Esposito, “Rape Jokes”

Cameron Esposito’s 2018 stand-up special, Rape Jokes, raised $20,000 in donations for RAINN in the first two days she featured it on her website this summer.

But don’t think or fear that you’re in for an hour of jokes about rape. That’s simply not the case.

Esposito has delivered a powerful hour, instead, about the persistence of the patriarchy, its complicity in rape culture, and how cultural norms and standards bring us up viewing sex in all sorts of weird ways.

Her opening joke isn’t even about rape, per se, but about how horrible Donald J. Trump has been as president, and before that, as a businessman. “Every word out of his mouth is something I would punish a child for saying,” Esposito jokes of Trump. That he also has bragged about his ability to get away with sexual assault also rubs her the wrong way. Pun intended.

Of course, the rise of Trump also prompted the #MeToo movement, as well as a backlash against that.

Here’s where Esposito finds her footing both humorously and intellectually, offering advice for the male executives who wonder how they’re supposed to talk and act in the workplace now, as well as to older comedians and anyone else upset that political correctness may require them to update their terminology. “There are a lot of folks in my field who have a problem with PC culture, because they’ll say things like, ‘How can I tell jokes? How can I tell jokes without all these words?’” Esposito not only exposes such people for their hypocrisy, since they have adapted to changing times when speaking about technology, as well as roasting them for their inability to make jokes using different words. No comedian is being censored, she argues. “That’s the wrong word. Feedback. You’ve gotten feedback.”

That’s a point Esposito first made in print several years ago when she began writing columns for The AV Club and elsewhere, and has honed comedically for the stage now.

In her new hour this year, she also took a tangent talking about a trip to Oklahoma City, and goes back in time to how her Catholic upbringing may not have taught her everything she needed to know about sexuality.

She didn’t know what to look for in receiving positive attention for men, because as a lesbian, she wasn’t even seeking it out. And when a male classmate in college paid her all of the attention, she turned to alcohol, which played a role in her own victimization. “I used to tell this story at parties as a funny thing that happened to me,” she says now, of course understanding full well that she had been sexually assaulted, and “that’s a not-funny story.”

So why is she coming forward now? It’s not just about #MeToo, but about Esposito, who had been flagged for three years by Wikipedia as “a person of no consequence” in her younger days when she first started comedy, wondering about her legacy.

“Like what am I gonna leave when I’m gone. If I don’t have a baby, well, then what?”

Her not-funny college stories, in retrospect, have reminded her of the importance and influence of merely getting in the way.

Her message rings as powerful and as necessary now as when she first released Rape Jokes almost six months ago. Fortunately, we’re seeing and hearing more people echo her message, and get in the way.

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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