When Is Sexual Assault Funny? A Helpful Guide


I lost a hero this week. Al Franken groped and forcibly kissed a sleeping woman. At the time, photos were taken. People laughed. It was all in good fun, right?

If you found a photograph of a person pantomiming groping you while you were sleeping, a photograph taken without your consent or knowledge, would you find it funny?

What if you read a New York Magazine article where someone was joking about writing a comedy sketch in which you are drugged and raped? Is that funny?

No, of course not. Those women were both professionals doing their jobs and Al Franken took it upon himself to joke about assaulting them, or in one case just flat out assaulting them as part of the joke.

I volunteered with Al Franken’s campaign in 2014. I’ve shook his hand a few times. I’ve purchased his books. The laptop that I’m writing this on sports a Franken for Senate sticker I put on there years ago. I respected and admired that man. He was like Minnesota’s fun uncle — full of stories and jokes but also a person of substance who stood up for Midwest values like kindness and inclusivity. I told everyone that in 2020 I’d vote for him for president if he ran.

But Al Franken’s behavior should not have surprised me. In his newest book, Giant of the Senate, he frequently laments that people put what he says through a “De-Humorizer”. Al says that he’s the victim here, because he’s just joking around and other people either don’t get the joke or can’t take a joke. I’m sorry, Al, but that is just not true. We get the joke. It’s just not funny.

In my personal experience, I was roofied in 2012 at a New Year’s Eve party because the host and his friends thought it would be funny. To this day, that night remains one of the single most humiliating and deeply disturbing nights of my life. The flashes of memory I do have was of people laughing at me, groping me, taking photos of me, and one brief memory of myself sitting on a curb sobbing in the rain. Funny joke, right?

To the average reader, it probably seems like I take myself very seriously at this point. I honestly don’t. I am the butt of jokes all the time amongst my family and friends. Jokes that I will laugh at until I cry and can’t breathe because it’s so funny. But these are jokes about the fact that until a few weeks ago, I thought Berkshire Hathaway was a company that sold ham. Or jokes about my voice being at such a high pitch that when I’m excited only dogs and babies can hear me. Or jokes about the giant black canvas messenger bag I thought was a very fashionable “purse” throughout middle school. These jokes are funny because these people love me, but they’re also funny because they aren’t about something that could be one the most traumatizing experiences in a person’s life. No one jokes about the time I was roofied because it isn’t funny.

Being raped, assaulted or harassed can dramatically alter the course of a person’s life. In addition to physical trauma, there are deep emotional scars that take years to heal or never heal at all. People feel shame and fear and confusion. Some people kill themselves after having been raped or assaulted. That’s not funny to me at all.

Let’s say this loud, so even the people in the back can hear us. RAPE. IS. NOT. FUNNY. Assault is not funny. Groping is not funny. Harassment is not funny. Stalking is not funny. Abuse is not funny. Pedophilia is not funny.

Obviously I’m not really the arbiter of what’s funny and what isn’t. Comedy is in the eye of the beholder. But I honestly can’t name a single decent person who thinks another person’s trauma is funny or a joke.

Here’s another thought: If you were at a party, drinking cheap beer and having a good time with your friends and then another person suddenly came at you with a hammer and broke your leg and possible maimed you forever, would that be funny to you?

Yeah, neither is sexual assault.