On Sunday I saw Adrienne Truscott’s Asking For It: A One-Woman Rape About Comedy Starring Her Pussy and Little Else at Adelaide Fringe. On the way out the door, I grabbed three audience members to interview. In true festival style, these ‘average punters’ turned out to be artists themselves, visiting from Edinburgh: Juliette Burton, Lizzy Mace and Frankie Lowe. Sitting beneath the Little Big Top in the Garden of Unearthly Delights, we talked for twenty minutes about the show, rape culture, rape comedy and victim blaming. Be warned, this conversation was born of a show that began “So, who here has been raped? Okay. Who here is a rapist? Well now statistically that can’t be true.” It is full on stuff so please proceed with caution. Your mental health is important to me.
SFB: Can you describe what you just saw?
Juliette: Well we saw Adrienne Truscott come onstage, very quickly strip and perform most of her show half naked from the waist down. That’s a literal description of what we just saw. On a deeper level, she was toying with constructs in comedy that deserved to be toyed with.
Lizzy: And with constructs in society. She was really examining the whole rape culture –
Frankie: Last Edinburgh Fringe that was a really, really hot topic. There were quite a few comedians in the UK making rape jokes and it divided opinion: a lot of people saying “you should never make jokes about that” and other people saying “you can make a joke about anything.” I think that was the key point that everyone agreed with: “if it’s funny, you can make a joke about anything.” The problem with all these rape jokes was that they weren’t funny.
Lizzy: A subtler way I’ve heard people talk about it is that it depends who you’re making the butt of the joke. If you’re making the victim the butt of the joke, that’s not cool but if you are making the rapist or rape culture the butt of the joke…
Juliette: It is the intention and the accountability of the joke. Is the intention to put the victim down? If you’re honest with yourself as a comedian is your material trying to make them small and you big? You have to be accountable.
Lizzy: That thing about whether something is funny or not is what annoyed me with the Daniel Tosh thing. I followed that when it all happened. Saying to a crowd “wouldn’t it be funny if she got raped by five guys now?” There is nothing funny about that!
Frankie: Jokingly alluding to someone getting raped is not actually humour.
Lizzy: That’s not alluding to it! That’s almost inciting people to do it. That’s not right on any level. Just because he’s a comedian, he doesn’t have a license to say that is okay.
Juliette: That’s not even lazy comedy. There’s lazy jokes about blondes or women or – Adrienne made some lazy jokes in there but she was doing it tongue in cheek. Like “women: we’re terrible at maths.” That’s not a joke and that’s the point. The jokes were those intelligent, witty, clever, creative ones. And I loved her use of music.
SFB: Like having us enter to Blurred Lines.
Frankie: As soon as we walked in I was like “perfect choice”.
Lizzy: What you were saying about “lazy comedy”: doing an open mic circuit around London, you can go to an open mic night where there will be seventeen new comedians and they are all trying things out. Sixteen of them will be making the laziest jokes about rape, incest and paedophilia to have some kind of shock factor. The ironic thing is that it’s not even shocking to say that any more. They’re not even finding unique or funny things to say. It can really grind you down if you’re doing that circuit and you have to sit through that.
Juliette: We’ve seen comedians here who shall remain nameless, partly because I can’t remember their names, who’ve been amazing but there were others making the same old kinds of jokes –
Frankie: Hackneyed racial stereotypes –
Juliette: Yes and just very much set-up, punch-line, gag. Nothing intelligent, nothing witty but people were loving it because they were drunk and they were used to that kind of comedy. It is people like Adrienne who are trying to do something different, which divides opinion but pushes comedy forward.
Frankie: That’s what I liked about her. It’s not just “I can make rape jokes; I’m a girl.” It is taking on the whole culture: humour around rape, gang rape, university life. There are lots of university websites back home in England which are incredibly popular and they are legitimising rape. (SFB: I’m guessing Frankie was referring to student-run, frat-type websites, not to official pages.) They say “it’s just banter” but it’s not banter because it is actually happening in universities. You can’t say that is playful, harmless fun because people are reading things like that and having it drilled into their head that it is okay, in some way.
Juliette: Women in comedy still have to deal with the question “are women funny?” YES they are! Well this kind of show is really good for women in comedy. She’s not only being brave because she’s A Woman In Comedy – that’s beside the point – it doesn’t matter that she’s a woman – it’s the fact that her content is so clever and witty and confrontational –
We’ve just seen someone come out on stage wearing nothing on her lower half. (Back home) there is Mat Fraser who is a thalidomide man. He performs erotica in the UK and has won awards for it. He comes out on stage with his massive cock hanging out and he’s told us he doesn’t feel vulnerable with that out. He feels vulnerable when he takes his prosthetic arms off. That’s the thing for him.
For women, I do think there’s a relationship between the clothes we wear and the messages that we’re sending out. But why the fuck should that message be about anyone but us? Anyone outside of our bodies? If I choose to wear a short skirt and I choose to get really drunk, that is not inviting rape. That’s not inviting anything. We’ve been to bars around here and men have just not stopped. There have been certain bars where men have just come up to us and been like “hey! Hey! Hey! Hey!” And I’m clearly ignoring them and…. Anyway.
SFB: Did you hear about Jill Meagher in the UK?
Frankie: Jill Meagher?
SFB: Jill Meagher, yeah. She was an Irish woman living in my hometown, Melbourne. She was brutally raped and murdered a little over a year ago. It was a very big thing for us. It provoked massive marches – taking back the night marches – calling for an end to violence against women. It really scared Melbourne but, in my most cynical moments, I think part of the reason that case touched such a nerve with us was that – even with very left-wing people who are never going to actively blame the victim – there is often a tiny little subconscious bit of the brain that does judge. With Jill Meagher, there was absolutely no way you could put any part of it on her. I think that shocked everyone that they couldn’t distance themselves from it by judging. They couldn’t say “she was drunk, she was this, she was that…”
(I have written previously about Jill Meagher here but I’ll also add to this now because it is such a difficult and delicate topic, and my statements need more explanation. I think this judging is almost a defense mechanism on the part of society because it is too painful to think about and hurt about every reported rape with the same intensity with which we thought about Jill Meagher. Assaults and rapes against sex workers barely cause a ripple. It is now known that Jill’s killer, Adrian Bayley, had a long history of assaulting exactly these kinds of marginalised women and, as Jill’s husband, Tom said, the meager sentences Bayley received for these previous assaults “send a very disturbing message. What it says to women is ‘Be careful what you do, ’cause if we don’t like what you do, you won’t get justice.’ And then what it says to people like Bayley is not, ‘don’t rape’, but, ‘be careful who you rape.’”)
Frankie: When you say “there’s a tiny bit of the brain,” do you mean when parents tell their sixteen-year-old daughter, “would you mind covering up a bit?” They are not saying “you deserve to get raped” or “you’re going to get raped” but there is that kind of protective –
SFB: Yes. Things like saying “what was she doing out there alone at 3am” or “you have to be careful”. The kind of language that just creeps in.
Juliette: There are two things there. There’s the fact that women who get raped generally are not the women in the short skirts who are drunk. They are raped by people who know them. I’m saying that and it sounds way too normal to say “oh you get raped by people who know you” but yeah, you do. It’s not about how you’re looking. You’re not begging for it. There’s a relationship of trust already built up.
SFB: Yes, and another statistic is that, by the end of our lives, one in four women will be a survivor of sexual assault so when you are talking about rape in a room, you must know that you will have people in that room who have been through it.
Juliette: It is one of the last frontiers: talking about and admitting to sexual abuse, that’s really difficult.
But another point that I was going to make about victim blaming and the way that you dress…
Lizzy: It is like there is some responsibility put on you to protect yourself by dressing –
Juliette: Oh and that idea that men are not responsible for their actions!
Frankie: Yeah. It is disrespectful to men as well. It says that if a girl puts on a short skirt, we’re unable to control ourselves. That whole “I’m helpless now! I have to rape you!” If anyone thought that about me I’d think “who the fuck do you think you’re talking about?” It is entirely the responsibility of the individual.
Juliette: So it’s not only offensive to women, it’s offensive to women or men.
Frankie: It’s just incredibly offensive to human beings.
SFB: Society can all say “rape is bad.” We can all agree on that but it is that last frontier; getting at that last hidden judgemental bit of the brain. And as soon as you put something inside an arts festival, you know you’re playing to an almost entirely left-wing room and so you’ve got to push them a little bit further to provoke them. In coming out naked and drinking the entire time and remember, the show’s not called Asking For It, it is called Adrienne Truscott’s Asking For It. It depends how you interpret that apostrophe.
Lizzy: Yeah, so she’s labeling herself.
SFB: Yes. She’s labeling herself to challenge us. We sit there and it is like she’s prodding all these left-wing people in the room saying “go on. Just say that I’m asking for it. I fucking dare you. Come on.”
Juliette: Yes. It is ‘a one-woman rape about comedy’. That’s funny. That’s clever. That alone is clever to me. To other people it is possibly offensive and that’s okay. If they want to go and see the hackneyed comics and have easy laughter and know when you’re meant to laugh because here comes the punch line, that’s fine. But I am really happy that I saw that. It certainly got us talking and it’s made me think and I hope it will make us produce more awesome shows in the future.
SFB: Thanks guys. I hope so too.
Adrienne Truscott’s challenging, thought-provoking show runs in Adelaide until March 16th at the Garden of Unearthly Delights before transferring to Melbourne where it will be playing March 27-April 20th.
Juliette’s solo show is When I Grow Up at Channel 9 Studios and finishes March 15th in Adelaide before transferring to Melbourne where it will be playing March 27-April 20th.
Lizzy’s solo show, Overlooked, plays at the Austral Hotel until March 16th.
I think I got them all.