Three years ago, progressive, feminist, vegan comic and Citizen Radio podcast host Jamie Kilstein had a hot-shot agent, big-time manager and lots of offers for television work. Then he said, "Rape jokes aren't funny," in an MSNBC interview, and suddenly he was persona non grata in the comedy world.
"Daniel Tosh, who's a very famous comedian, made a rape joke and a woman in the audience screamed out, 'That's not funny.'" says Kilstein who's appearing at Houston's Station Theater this Sunday. "Daniel Tosh very cleverly -- you can put that in italics -- said, 'Wouldn't it be funny if this girl got raped? Wouldn't it be funny if like five guys raped this girl right now?' So me, as a comic and decent human being, I said that was horrible."
Kilstein was accused of censorship and the incident became a polarizing debate over freedom of speech. "This one well-known comic said, 'Well, what if a woman in the audience got stabbed by a monkey? Am I not allowed to make jokes about monkeys?' First of all, have one in six women been stabbed by a monkey? If a woman was stabbed by a monkey, would the police be like, 'Well, were you drinking with the monkey? Did you used to date the monkey? What did you think was going to happen if you rubbed banana all over your face and then teased the monkey?'"
"People always think that their freedom of speech is going to be taken away when they hear people say something's offensive. They say, 'I can say what I want to say.' And yeah, they can. Here's the thing, so can I. I've been on Conan O'Brian's show and talked about drone strikes, I've talked about how I'm an atheist and all these things that I thought were going to get me in trouble. Nothing has gotten me in more trouble than saying that I don't think that rape jokes are funny. I lost gigs, I lost representation, I lost friends over that."
Kilstein points out that Daniel Tosh's success, however, has continued.
"Tosh is still on Comedy Central, he has one of the top shows on Comedy Central, and just got an animated show on Comedy Central. And I have a podcast." True, it's a respected political podcast and it regularly features guests such as Sarah Silverman discussing important issues, but it's far from the commercial success Tosh enjoys on Comedy Central.
"What's so hilarious is comics who make these horrible rape jokes, say they're edgy. There's nothing edgy about living in America as a white man and harassing women. That's really the least edgy thing you can do. You're not a rebel by going along with that. Comics have so much they can come together on. We don't have health insurance. We don't have a union, but somehow when rape jokes are brought up, all the comics in the universe find something they agree on, so the black comics and the gay comics and the white comics they all unite and say rape jokes are funny. It's bullshit. I think it's lazy and it's mean.
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"I believe in freedom of speech. Your freedom of speech means that you can joke about anything you want. My freedom of speech means that I don't have to laugh at it. Everyone was so upset about being censored, about losing their freedom of speech. Forget freedom of speech; they lost their minds."
Kilstein says that while his audience is smaller than it was in the past, his current fans are dedicated.
"Here's what's really cool. I'm doing great. I'm not doing great like I was doing, I'm not on television as much as I thought I was going to be, I don't have an HBO special. Because I've made bad business decisions by sticking to my morals, the audience that I have, is so much more dedicated than your average 'take my wife' comic. You see a guy on Letterman who's makes jokes about his wife being stupid, and maybe the next day you go to work and say, 'Hey did you see that guy on Letterman?' 'The guy who said his wife was stupid?' 'Oh yeah, what's his name? I don't know but his wife is stupid.' When somebody listens to my podcast or comes to my show and says, I'm a lesbian feminist jujitsu expert and I live in Kentucky, she's going to be with me forever."
Get a dose of Jamie Kilstein's comedy at 8:30 p.m. on Sunday. Station Theater, 1230 Houston Avenue. For information, visit jamiekilstein.com. $18.