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April 13, 2012

I stumbled across a story on Jezebel about Tosh.0 encouraging his viewers to record their friends playing a game he calls “Lightly Touching Women’s Stomachs While They’re Sitting Down.”

He doesn’t talk much about the reasons why, but he does say, “Make sure she’s aware that you are in fact feeling a roll.”

I’ve seen a few episodes of Tosh.0 and his cringe-worthy humor. I have a pretty dark and morbid sense of humor, so I’ve found myself laughing in spite of my better judgement. But I’ve grown a bit bored with the whole “cruelty as humor” schtick that seems to have permeated our culture. It’s not that I’m against making jokes about particular groups or stereotypes, but it’s just so easy to be a half-wit asshole that I typically feel sorry for those who rely on cruelty humor for a laugh.

I’ve tackled the issue of fat jokes before, including Jon Stewart’s fat suit, Kathy Griffin’s Bristol Palin jokes, and George Takei’s fat comics. Here’s my litmus test for fat jokes: if you’re going to select an identifiable group for your joke, at least make sure it’s clever, original and not needlessly cruel.

In my opinion, Takei and Griffin failed because they told hack jokes (Griffin calling Palin the “white precious” and Takei posting “fat people don’t exercise” jokes), while Stewart’s fat gag just seemed needlessly cruel (no punchline, just Stewart talking about being a disgusting glutton).

My favorite show, Mystery Science Theater 3000, is no stranger to fat jokes, and while some of the RiffTrax episodes I’ve seen do fail the fat joke litmus test, MST3K did a better job of skirting that line. A perfect example of the Satellite of Love walking the fine line between humor and hatred comes from The Creeping Terror, when the abdominal-rific grandpa goes fishing with his grandson.

There are some jokes that are cringeworthy, while others are make up for the fact that they’re directed at a fat person by being so clever and so hilarious that you can’t help but laugh (“Let the current take you away! Swim!”).

I can’t think of a single group that escapes MST’s attention in the series, but since they are clever, original and rarely come as personal attacks on the person represented, they’re enjoyable for anyone who watches them.

The reason I try to distinguish between “good” fat jokes and “bad” fat jokes is because I do believe that humor gets some exceptions for inappropriateness. It’s not like the “humor helmet” Stewart recently skewered in the Rush Limbaugh/Bill Maher kerfuffle over Sandra Fluke — just because you’re a comedian doesn’t mean you’re allowed to say whatever you want because it’s “just a joke.” The words you choose have consequences, and if the words you choose cross that intangible boundary of appropriateness, then people, like me, will call you out for it.

Of course, everyone has their own standards for what “appropriate” humor looks like, but I think most of us can agree that Tosh encouraging his adolescent-minded audience to fondle the fat rolls of women is so far across the line that the line can no longer be seen by the naked eye.

And, of course, his pubescent apostles oblige, submitting videos like this one, where, after touching this THIN woman’s subject, tells her that she shouldn’t eat the dish of pasta in front of her. Now, this would obviously be inappropriate for anyone, but the fact that this woman is visibly thin and he’s telling her not to eat a completely normal lunch makes it pretty disturbing. But really, if any message is getting through in the War on Fat, it’s that women, regardless of their size, just shouldn’t eat.

Fortunately, few of these videos are being posted, with just 11 turning up in a YouTube search, and 3 of them were done by one jackass. In one of his videos, he nearly gets the shit beat out of him, which is kind of fun to watch, though you’re left hoping the woman will smack him a little harder.

So, I’d like to propose another game in the spirit of Tosh.0’s inappropriate touch game. This one is called, “Gently Bending Tosh’s Middle Finger Back Until It Snaps Like a Claussen Pickle.” If you run into Tosh in public, shake his hand, then quickly grip his middle finger and see if you can make it touch the back of his hand. And if any guy touches your belly without your permission, you may assume he is a delegate of Tosh and part of this game.

Be sure to record the hilarity that ensues!

23 Comments leave one →
  1. vesta44 permalink
    April 13, 2012 12:08 pm

    This is another instance of men assuming that women’s bodies are theirs to do with as they please and women have no say in the matter. I’m sorry, but if some stranger came up to me and even tried to touch my stomach, he’d be picking himself up off the floor (or maybe the paramedics would be picking him up, depending on my mood at the time of his attempt). I really hope that someone teaches Tosh a lesson in manners, because right now, he haz nun.

    • April 13, 2012 12:30 pm

      This exactly. To me this is more of a feminism issue than a fat issue: right on the heels of Ashley Judd kicking ass and taking names, this kind of joke/humor/whatever is the product of a paradigm where women’s bodies are public property and can be handled/groped/critiqued by anyone any time they please. Disgusting.

      • April 13, 2012 12:35 pm

        Oh, it’s definitely a feminist issue, but I felt like Jezebel covered that pretty well. The same issue arises with the kid who comments on the thin girl’s food… who the fuck appointed him Dietary Overlord? But that’s the kind of society we live in, where men can critique the diets of women without a second thought.


  2. April 13, 2012 12:37 pm

    Also, Michael J. Nelson and Kevin Murphy (legit almost typed “Tom Servo” there for a second) are also not above poking fun at themselves and both of them bring up their size in self-effacing but not ~hateful~ ways. Nelson especially, because as I recall he is quite tall. I get the impression that many (not all, granted) of the jokes they make about others they would not be above leveling at themselves.

    The only instance I can think of where they go over the line is in Overdrawn at the Memory Bank (“All you can eat? Joke’s on them!”) and, occasionally, when Joe Don Baker turns up.

    Someone like Tosh, though…I don’t think there’s that level of…humility. Or whatever.

    • April 13, 2012 1:01 pm

      Exactly, I love it when they call Mike a “big squarehead” and basically portray him as a big, dumb gallumph. He’s one of the most self-effacing characters out there. I still laugh at the Overdrawn at the Memory Bank fat jokes, I can’t help it. I’m actually more willing to laugh at “fat guy” jokes because we are kind of exempt from a lot of the criticism that fat women get. So, when they make all the fart and burp noises, I have a hard time suppressing my giggles. I’m that mature.


  3. LittleBigGirl permalink
    April 13, 2012 4:45 pm

    I don’t think it’s a foolproof method but I personally usually only find “fat humor” to be funny when it’s coming from a fat person, or someone who used to be fat. It isn’t a question of being self-deprecating, it’s just usually more relatable and intelligent and therefore more amusing.

    Think of it this way: “ridiculing a group that you have no understanding of” – does that definition make you think of someone “telling a joke”, or “being a cruel asshole”? Most fat “jokes” are really just boring and unoriginal at best. Like the idea of a fatty getting out of breath doing something supposedly simple – would a skinny asthmatic do any better? Fat ‘humor’ that focuses on how fat (and therefore supposedly also ugly and unfuckable by default) someone is, or how lazy they are, or how obsessed with food they are is really really tired and cliche. “Haha fat people love cake and hate to exercise.” Yeah, that’s not really very amusing and it isn’t true anyway.

    Mr. Tosh is stupid to everyone so I’m not surprised he would do that stupid stomach-touching thing. The fat “comedy” I detest the most comes from Seth McFarlane – if you watch what he has done with (and to) fat people on Family Guy, American Dad and especially The Clevland Show, you see a very disturbing trend that to be seems almost to the point of an obsessional hatred. He clearly believes that all fat people are fat because they are lazy gluttons, and he has no problem using his “humor” to encourage the stereotype.

    Good comics talk entertainingly about life – usually about their own misadventures. Fat comics don’t have to talk about being fat, but I think they have more of a right to riff on it than people who aren’t fat…and their material is usually better anyway!

    Being fat isn’t funny by definition, but it can be funny in context. Trying to live in this world as a fat person can suck but it can also be funny if you have the right attitude about it. Basically, being fat is as funny as being tall, short, black, white, Jewish, Catholic, liberal, conservative, Muslim, Hindu, Latino, female, male…and just about anything else you’ve ever heard a comic do a joke about.

    Life is funny, but not everyone who wants to joke about it is.

    Also, FWIW I love John Penette’s stand-up specials. One of my favorite bits is about his trying to switch to a gluten-free diet.

    • April 14, 2012 9:52 pm

      I agree with Mrs. S, I think fat people telling fat jokes can sometimes backfire in that they tell even harsher, crueler jokes than someone who isn’t fat, giving the impression that’s okay to make those jokes about fat people. Humor is such a loose concept that it’s hard to really nail down what is and is not appropriate. Comedians have WAY more room to push the envelope than the average person because when you go to see a comedian you are, in part, paying to be surprised by the way a person relates a story. If it wasn’t a surprise, it wouldn’t make us laugh. But being a comedian is tough too (I did open mics for a while) because few comics are actually seeking to alienate their audience. They’re really trying to figure out just how far they’re allowed to push that envelope without pissing people off. And there’s no way to know what will cross that line in advance for certain. Just think of when Lenny Bruce did his routine on racial epithets (warning: it’s totally unrestrained language if you don’t like that kind of thing, but if you don’t mind, it’s here). Could someone get away with that today? Probably not. But I bet Lenny Bruce could, if he were still around because his point was not to offend, but to provoke us into thinking why these words are so offensive. Another comedian who could really push the envelope without any malice was Bill Hicks. Hicks could say things that just made you wince, yet it didn’t really hurt because the truth was there in his words.

      But that’s just me. 🙂

      I think anyone can tell a fat joke if it’s in the right spirit, but we all interpret the spirits differently.


  4. Fab@54 permalink
    April 13, 2012 5:58 pm

    If a stranger ever came up to me and poked me in the belly – or even put his hands on my stomach gently- I’d slap a lawsuit on them for assault. Wow, talk about crossing boundaries. That whole premise is really- disturbing.

    • April 14, 2012 9:53 pm

      Yeah, I would love to find out if that would be an arrestable offense, because they’re posting the evidence online. Although some of them seem to know the recipients/victims.


      • April 15, 2012 12:38 pm

        Here’s the definition (from Wikipedia) of common assault in the UK:

        “Assault (or common assault) is committed if one intentionally or recklessly causes another person to apprehend immediate and unlawful personal violence. Violence in this context means any unlawful touching, though there is some debate over whether the touching must also be hostile.” (Emphasis mine.)

        I’d be really interested to see how something like this would be interpreted in a court of law, because to me, assault is exactly what it looks like.

  5. Len permalink
    April 13, 2012 10:12 pm

    If it ever happened to me, I would most likely scream the place down, then call the police. That’s the type of experience that would deeply traumatise me and I don’t think I’d be leaving the safety of my house for a long time aferwards. I agree there is acceptable humour (I always enjoy the self-deprecating kind, up to a point) but that ain’t it.

    • April 14, 2012 9:54 pm

      That’s the thing, they’re fucking with people whose background they don’t know. What if the woman they pick has been sexually assaulted? Do they have any idea what affect that could have on her? Tell your stupid, hateful jokes if you have to, but keep your fucking hands to yourself.


  6. April 14, 2012 11:30 am

    I feel fat jokes only are good if they are clever, or not really all there is about the character. For example Patrick Star, yes he’s fat, and lazy. However, the actual sea creatures he’s based on, really do nothing but lie around on a rock waiting for food to come to them. Therfore it’s not a joke about fat people, as much as it’s a joke about how nature even has it’s creatures that are like that. It’s not a joke about fat or dumb people, it’s a joke about how we observe sea creatures and perhaps, our own ridiculous judgements even when it comes to something like a sea creature.

    I’m therfore not offended by Patrick, because here’s the thing, his character is making as much fun of fat people, as much as it is making fun of how morons perceive fat people. This happens when you turn a character into so much of the stereotype, it’s hard not to laugh and say, “Only someone completely oblivious, would really think someone acts like that, all the time.” So maybe someone is laughing at Patrick for being fat, while someone is laughing at how ridiculous of a stereotype Patrick is. It’s a matter of the perspective you bring.

    However, fat jokes like this one jerk made at the comedy club I was at, about how that fat person at work doesn’t really need that extra slice of pizza. That’s not funny, it’s not creative, not even a 2nd grader would laugh at it. It’s bullying humor, plain and simple. It’s intent is to intimidate the person they are joking about. I’ve recently run across this behavior in some communities, and not only will these people demand you find their humor funny, they will tell you something is wrong with you and you must change because you’re too sensitive. Too sensitive being the attack cry, of the hopelessly insensitive. Hurting others is never funny.

    As for Tosh, I have met his followers and they are a bunch of jerk adolescents, who I don’t even know or will ever understand why their parents let them become so cruel. Maybe it’s just a culture of low level bullying, or getting at other people, is the normal for some people. I feel bad when someone else feels bad. I don’t understand, where it is that it’s more fun to make someone cry, than it is to have a laugh with them.

    • April 14, 2012 10:02 pm

      Yeah, Patrick is complicated because the big, dumb oaf is such a stock character. I don’t mind stock characters all that much, though, personally. I just want them to expand the roles that fat people (and any identifiable group, really) can perform. Like how some shitheads were shocked that in The Hunger Games, Rue is black.

      But in the past few decades, our country has gotten meaner and meaner in what it finds funny. It’s sort of the Jackassing of America. If you can hurt someone’s feelings in a really clever, incisive, and cruel way, then you’re admired for having that skill. I actually have that skill, but I try to use it for good, and not evil. 🙂


    • Kala permalink
      April 14, 2012 10:15 pm

      It’s sort of a weird thing. My partner and I are 23 and 21 respectively, and I recall seeing some Tosh clip a year or two ago and thinking it was the least funny pile of crap ever. However, everyone in the social group of my partner’s brother, thinks that it’s absolutely hilarious. Weird thing is, he’s only a couple years younger than me at 19.

      There was some degree of social networking online when I was in school, but it wasn’t as extreme and as inescapable as it is now. The obsession with trying to find the next viral trend has led to a lot of not particularly amusing stuff. And that’s all he’s trying to do. He’s fishing hoping to pull something like Jimmy Kimmel’s “give your kid an awful christmas present” gag.

      • April 14, 2012 11:38 pm

        See, I love Jimmy Kimmel. No malice in the man’s heart whatsoever.

        The kids these days. Pah!


  7. MrsS permalink
    April 14, 2012 5:39 pm

    I think there is a fine line between laughing “at” and laughing “with.” I have heard fat jokes from heavy people that are too self-deprecating, almost as though they are making fun of themselves first before anyone else does.

    When I read the comment about the white Precious, at first I thought of Golum in The Hobbit, and then I remembered the movie. Kathy Griffin didn’t insult just Bristol Palin. To equate a privileged teenager to the young girls who in real life probably do lead the life of the Precious character is pretty insensitive.

  8. lifeonfats permalink
    April 14, 2012 9:23 pm

    No one is safe on MST3K. I remember the pouncing they gave France Nguyen (I think that’s the actress’ name) on Code Diamond Head for being thin and they also made fun of the thinness of the lead actress on It Lives By Night. They actually mock more thin people than fat people, but Joe Don Baker really got the brunt of it. The fat bad guy on Overdrawn made out like a bandit compared to JDB. I read someplace he really had an ax to grind with the show for the way they made fun of him. But when it comes down to it, it’s not his weight, it’s just that he’s a really shitty actor and his movies are awful. And Mary Jo Pehl, who played Pearl Forrester, is a big woman and I don’t think I’ve ever heard a fat joke at her expense. She probably didn’t allow it. 🙂

    One of my favorite stand-up routines about fat and diets is from Sinbad, who’s a big guy as well. He did a hilarious rant about Nutrisystem, Weight Watchers, fad diets and cleansing. There was no meanness, no making fun of people, just pointing out the ridiculousness that people do to lose weight. And that’s a lot more funny than the tired, old, juvenile “haha, fatty won’t turn down food.”

    • April 14, 2012 10:09 pm

      “Jenny Craig, put me in reverse!”

      I laugh-cringe at that every time. Or when she says, “Ciao. Puppy Chow. I’m so hungry.”

      Shit, I could quote that movie anywhere.

      And I think the JDB thing is more because he’s such a slob. He’s a fat slob, which is another stock character, but that’s exactly what he’s playing. I absolutely LOVE the scenes in Mitchell in his home because you absolutely get the distinct impression that his entire apartment is coated in a greasy film. I’ve heard the thing about him having a vendetta against MST, but I forget where I heard/read it.

      Did you ever hear the interview I did with Mary Jo? She talked about the flack she got from fans and it sounded pretty rough, and a lot of it had to do with her weight. I so admire her for stepping in there, especially since she would be replacing Trace AND Frank, and she knew how the fans reacted when Mike replaced Joel. So, it takes some courage to step into a role knowing people would be mad at you, even though you’re essentially filling a void that had to be filled.

      And once they ditched the story arc in Season 9, she began to come into her own. The stupid planet hopping segments were so over-the-top, it didn’t really give her the same room to work as the Deep 13 sets.

      Holy shit, I’m talking like a huge nerd right now, aren’t I? Totally didn’t mean to. This is about the only fandom I can claim allegiance. 🙂


      • April 17, 2012 10:55 am

        You did an interview with Mary Jo?! Do you have a link? She is my fat funny lady hero.

        I totally agree, the hate she got (while predictable, again see Mike vs Joel) was unfair. Fans bitch all the time about how they can’t stand the Pearl-era mads. Really? Even at PBS pledge drive segments in *Overdrawn*? Tell me that’s not funny!

        She is HBIC and I wish she would do more RiffTrax appearances.

        • April 17, 2012 9:48 pm

          I did indeed. She’s awesome. I had a podcast, but I took it down because I couldn’t afford the PodBean subscription. But I am planning to repost them all on YouTube in the near future, so I’ll let you know as soon as I do.

          I think the problem with the Pearl era is that MST was never meant to be a “story” so much as a snapshot of the lives of the SOL/Mads. So, you just saw them fucking around most of the time and making stupid inventions and occasionally encountering aliens apropos to the movie. As soon as they tried to make the Mads “do” stuff, it took a lot of the freedom away from them. They were confined to follow an ongoing story, rather than doing the sort of bizarre movie-related segments that made Dr. Forrester and Frank so fun to watch. Once Pearl moved into Castle Forrester, it started to regain that mojo, but Sci Fi tampered with the formula and fans were rightfully pissed. It wasn’t Mary Jo or Mike or anyone else’s decision to have them gallivanting across the universe, it was Sci Fi, but I think Best Brains did the best they could to make it work.

          I’m so glad there’s RiffTrax and Cinematic Titanic, but I think the overhead on CT is killing them. It’s much more expensive to support a tour-based show than what Mike, Kevin and Bill are doing. I just wish they would all get together and make a new MST. But that’s not gonna happen. 🙂



  9. April 15, 2012 6:55 pm

    Half of Tosh’s jokes are somewhat funny, half are just lame. Just like No Hope For The Human Race on facebook, where they post submitted photos with captions that are mean to be humorous. A lot of them are misogynist beyond belief and the comments make me vulnerable to an aneurysm.

  10. The Real Cie permalink
    April 26, 2012 5:00 pm

    If anyone touches my belly (or any other part of me) without my permission, I give myself permission to drive my fist straight through their face. No joke.
    I have seen approximately 1.0 joke by Daniel Tosh that I found more than 10% funny.

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