When you hear the phrase “rape joke,” your first reaction might be to cringe as your mind conjures up visions of Daniel Tosh or any other of the shock value comedians trying to use it as a lazy punchline. But this is not the case for the hilarious comedians and writers that make up The Box. The New York-based troupe is making comedy by women for anyone with a sense of humor and their new video is hitting all the right satirical notes.
Writer Sarah Nowak and director Kaitlin Fontana understand the need for comedy made by and for women. Fontana, who is also the founder of The Box, grew tired of the question, “What is the place of women in comedy?” When it came up for the umpteenth time, she decided to do something about it. She had taken inspiration from the punk rock world and “specifically the Riot Grrrl movement” and created “a show where the writers’ room is 100% female, and WOC are sought especially. Where the comedy is overtly feminist.”
The girl gang mentality goes deeper than just the writers and actors: “We only have female DPs, PAs, [and] producers.” The spirit of the Riot Grrls runs deep in The Box. “Riot Grrrl proved you could make political art that was cool without sacrificing the message,” Fontana says.
The truly amazing thing about this video is that it takes such a serious topic and tackles it with lightness and humor that usually isn’t achieved when talking about sexual assault. Nowak points out, “Rape isn’t funny, no, but we can use use satire to shine a light on aspects of our culture that enrage us, which is what I hope I did. I definitely get that the topic can be triggering, but we’re fully on the side of the victims,” adding, “I would be devastated if a victim took it literally or felt attacked by it.”
Fontana agrees, saying, “When asking ‘can rape be funny?’ — a distinction must be made between rape itself and the treatment of rape by the powers that be/society. Good comedy about tough topics has to take the stance of going after the perpetrator, not the victim.”
“Cash 4 Reports” does just this. The humor comes from the ridiculous claim that people make false rape reports to achieve fame and fortune. As they say in the video, “Can you name some people who have become famous for reporting their rape?” As the cast struggles to think of a single example the audience does the same to no avail. “The idea that rape victims, who largely remain anonymous,” Nowak explains, “somehow report or fake attacks because of the fame and fortune that comes with it literally makes no sense. Point to one person for whom this is true!”
“The outcome that you hope for is that maybe it helps in a minuscule way to shed light on the way we treat rape victims,” Nowak says. “So that the next time we hear someone try that ‘fame and fortune’ line we’ll know it’s bullshit. And also that people laugh. That is good too.” Fontana adds that if someone is offended, “they should ask themselves: Are you offended by our comedy, or by women being raped?”
So far they’ve received an overwhelmingly positive response, which may come from a need for women to be able to frame their own stories. When watching movies or TV, the subject of rape almost always appears in melodramas or crime shows. Women don’t get to conceptualize their own experiences or use their own stories to promote education on the subject. For The Box, it is important for people to tell their own stories and generate content from their own experiences. “What’s amazing about an all-female writers’ room,” Fontana interjects, “is that these conversations are always had in good faith.”
Fontana and Nowak went though pains to ensure that this was not just comedy, but that it also led to education. ”I took extra care to research the statistics and to educate myself and I found out that no, that is not a valid assertion at all,” Nowak retells. “It’s hard to make that clear in the face of literally 400,000 untested rape kits and the overwhelming anecdotal evidence of victims being demeaned throughout the process of reporting.”
Women are often silenced about sexual assault through various means, making the topic a dark societal secret. It makes it hard to educate people about it. Maybe videos like this can open up a larger discourse and defuse the stereotype of feminists as women who are merely angry scolds. Humor “makes it easier for people to hear what we’re trying to say,” Nowak shares, “so if we can make someone laugh and also sneak a little information in there maybe we can change a mind or two.”
Even if this video doesn’t change the mind of those who insist that survivors are trying to get rich from their reports, “Cash 4 Reports” fills a need for women who want comedy made for them. When The Box started in 2015, Fontana explains, “I put out a packet call, and got 87 responses–for a show where no one was going to be paid! That shows how hungry women are to make comedy on their own terms.”