When it comes to comedy, it’s rare that survivors of sexual violence aren’t served up as the punch line. Even otherwise smart, feminist comedians get tripped up with how to crucify the ones who deserve it – the rapists – without stumbling into the low-hanging fruit of blaming the victims. (It’s actually not that hard to make rapists the punch line, BTW.)
Just google Bill Cosby memes and you’ll find no end of jokes that make fun of the 55 women who allege the comedian drugged and raped them over a period of time spanning decades. Celebrities including Eddie Murphy, Kanye West, Whoopi Goldberg, and Damon Wayans have defended Cosby in various forms and to various degrees. It’s disappointing, but not surprising considering we still live in a society that heralds Woody Allen as a cinematic genius, despite Dylan Farrow’s gut-wrenching story of sexual abuse – one of the most vile open secrets in Hollywood.
As survivors, we fight just to be heard, let alone believed. And that’s after we fight to survive it – to keep breathing when each breath feels impossible. I still can’t say my perpetrator’s name publicly. How much harder would it be to say Bill Cosby’s name out loud? Or Jerry Sandusky? Or Dennis Hastert?
Enter: Larry Wilmore.
From the second night of his The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore, which debuted in January 2015, Wilmore declared his allegiance with Cosby’s victims. Again and again, Wilmore has found ways to circle back to Cosby’s (alleged) history of sexual assaults with the oft-repeated “I haven’t forgotten about you, mutherfucker!” Add to this his frequent #CuffCosby tweets, and there is no mistaking Wilmore’s outrage as an act. He is an ally in comedian’s clothing.
Wilmore doesn’t just reserve the anti-rape vitriol for Cosby, however. When Wilmore was visibly angry on his April 28 show (video) about the lenient sentencing for former GOP House Speaker Dennis Hastert – who admitted he molested high school-age boys – I couldn’t help jumping out of my chair in the middle of my living room and even tearing up a little. Wilmore doesn’t forget about any of these motherfuckers and in that act, he is also remembering all of us!
Sure, it’s easy to lambast Hastert and the intrinsic irony of a politician who built their career on so-called “family values” (code for Christian values) being an admitted child rapist. But to see a mainstream late night comedian not just make jokes, but be openly angry at the injustice of Hastert’s lenient 15-month sentence (because being an old white guy is a fucking get-out-of-jail free card, obviously), is so deeply validating for those of us who have been the victim of similar crimes (and no justice).
This is the essence of “keeping it 100,” Wilmore’s tagline about keeping it real. To see Wilmore looking straight into the camera and voicing outrage about this – something so few in his position have ever done with such candor and authenticity – is a kind of pushback against rape culture that we rarely ever see. Sure, fellow Daily Show alums Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and John Oliver have had their feminist moments (Colbert more than the others), but they have never taken to this issue with such personal outrage and with such frequency as Wilmore does. Considering the still pervasive bogeyman of the “angry black man,” Wilmore’s public anger is important.
And it must be said that Wilmore has done a lot to populate his show with others who challenge rape culture and sexist bullshit on the regular, including series writers/commentators Mike Yard and Holly Walker. (I will never forget Yard with his feet up in stirrups in “solidarity” with women fighting attempts to defund Planned Parenthood.)
I’m not saying Wilmore and his team are not without faults. He has had a cringe worthy public awakening about transgender issues. However, his honesty about his own ignorance on that issue actually served as a public primer for how and why to do better. And, I give him credit for acknowledging his own ignorance and using his public forum to not only educate himself, but others as well. He has since had notable trans celebrities on the show, including Janet Mock. I think that’s just about the best you can ask of someone who does something ignorant – that they hear you and do better.
I doubt that I will ever have a chance to meet Wilmore and his crew. So let this serve as my open (love) letter to The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore for making me laugh but never making those jokes at the expense of rape survivors like me. Thank you for keeping it 100 about Cosby and all those other motherfuckers – and never forgetting the very necessary outrage.