Obvious statement: Sometimes the media don’t pick up on the right angle when they report a story. That was almost certainly the case when OUTRAGE occurred at this year’s MICF about a “rape joke” told by stand-up Ray Badran.
Badran told the joke at the Crab Lab comedy room to an audience which included a gender studies and law student called Ceceila Devlin. As reported in The Age Devlin objected to the gag and slid under her table to make a silent protest. Badran, upon seeing Devlin was under the table, asked her what her problem was. The exchange ended with Badran saying “Good on you for taking a stand, but you’re a piece of shit and I hope you die”.
A straight up case of a male comedian getting over-sensitive when called on his perceived right to make jokes about rape? Not quite, although that seemed to be the angle the media and those on social media were running with. But wait, why are we bringing this up again? We blogged about it at the time, haven’t we all moved on? Again, not quite…
Last month Justin Hamilton interviewed Badran for his Can You Take This Photo Please? podcast; that interview has shone a new light on the story. Badran, you may remember, was largely silent after the story blew up (and became the second highest trending story in the country after the Germanwings plane crash in the French Alps). And although his management issued a statement, he declined to be interviewed by the broadcast media. To our knowledge, his interview on Can You Take This Photo Please? is his first of any length detailing his side of the story. Sound interesting? Read on…
Badran starts to discuss the controversy about 51 minutes in to the podcast. Here’s a summary of what he said:
- The Crab Lab comedy room is usually free entry but on the night in question there was a cover charge. This, he says brought in a difference audience who’d never seen comedy before.
- There were only about 30 people at Crab Lab that evening and the atmosphere in the room wasn’t great overall: the gig also over-running and “everyone was dying”. Not helping matters, he says, was a vocal female audience member (Devlin) who’d been heckling the acts all evening.
- The material he did that night, including the “rape joke”, had been well honed in both the United States and Australia throughout the previous year. He’d recently performed it in Sydney in front of Chris Rock and The Chaser (both of whom praised the offensive gag). Badran estimates approximately 50,000 people had heard the gag before this gig, pointing out that its acceptability and comic value had been decided by consensus: “I’m not going to keep doing material that isn’t working”.
- The joke isn’t actually about rape but about stereotypes in comedy, and the butt of the joke is him. It’s as follows:
“If you’re black you can do jokes about being black, if you’re gay you can do jokes about being gay…so I’m not sure if you can tell just by looking at me but…I can do rape jokes.”
- When Devlin slid under her table he wasn’t sure what was happening as she’d done it without explanation. His initial thought was that she was drunk. When he tried to engage her, her response was to yell at him “You think rape is funny?!”. Badran found her comment hard to deal with. Then the situation suddenly escalated as other audience members started to defend him, yelling at Devlin to leave: “Get out, what are you doing at comedy?!” Badran and Devlin kept yelling at each other, and he admits his final words to her before leaving the room were as reported: that he thought it was great that she was taking a stand, but he thought she was a piece of shit and he hoped she died. He admits that neither of them had a mature or intelligent exchange with each other!
- After the gig, the guy who’d invited Devlin to Crab Lab that evening approached Badran and apologised for her behaviour. He said she hadn’t been to comedy before and gets easily offended.
- The next day Badran found he was being tweeted at by a small number of feminist activists, who’d read an account of the gig posted by Devlin on Reddit.
- As well as being a student and activist, Devlin, it turned out, was an aspiring writer, and she was effective at quickly getting various media on board. The Age published a story about the incident, while Devlin wrote a piece on Mamamia and also appeared on Triple J’s Hack.
- Badran’s take on why Devlin did this is that she felt humiliated about having been ostracised on the night by the rest of the audience, and that she wanted revenge on him and was interested in self-promotion.
- Badran admits that his management were also trying to play the media, to dampen down the flames. A Triple J insider fed them information on which comedians Hack were going to ask to appear on the show; this enabled them to prevent more than 20 comedians from appearing on the show by phoning them before Hack
- After Devlin wrote her piece for Mamamia, three different writers for that website contacted Badran to apologise saying they knew the story was being misreported (one had seen Badran perform the joke before, another was friends with someone who’d been at the gig and knew the context). In the end one of them interviewed Badran for Mamamia, but the eventual story was spiked by editors over concerns that it would get the site’s female readership offside.
- Apart from being subject to a lot of abuse and trolling on Twitter, both Badran and his mother received online threats. And while the controversy was ongoing someone sent a Facebook message to Badran’s girlfriend claiming she was sleeping with him (this was untrue).
- Badran found the incident difficult to cope with and he’s since seen a counsellor to deal with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder-type symptoms.
Listening to Badran’s account, it’s clear that he’s no angel and that he dealt with Devlin’s heckling badly. And while Devlin and the activists who joined her had their hearts in the right place, they were off target with their protest and seem to have been prepared to spin the story to get media coverage. As for the media, it seemed to accept that spin without question, electing simply to fan the flames in the name of clickbait. It didn’t seem to matter to them that the joke wasn’t about rape or that this was basically an argument at a small gig that got way out of hand. They also seem to have missed the opportunity to provoke OUTRAGE over what looks like an actual rape joke, told at the same gig. From Devlin’s Mamamia article:
During the course of the show, however, several jokes were also centred around violence against women – including a zinger that went something like “you know it’s been a good night when you wake up with a fistful of hair and a dirty shovel.”
Presumably whoever told that gag was saved from days of being slated in the media by the fact that they didn’t get into a slanging match with the Devlin.
Devlin in telling her story to as many people as she could, was trying to raise awareness of the way in which rape and misogyny are often trivialised. It’s a laudable aim and the topic is worth further discussion, but it doesn’t help victims of rape and misogyny if the issue is misreported. We can only hope that somehow, somewhere, this story did something positive for anti-rape and anti-misogyny causes. It sure did bugger all to improve society’s understanding of comedy.