rabble blogs are the personal pages of some of Canada's most insightful progressive activists and commentators. All opinions belong to the writer; however, writers are expected to adhere to our guidelines. We welcome new bloggers -- contact us for details.

When survivors take back the rape joke

Please chip in to support rabble's election 2019 coverage. Support rabble.ca today for as little as $1 per month!

Image: Facebook/Sexual Assault is Present and Pervasive

Like this article? rabble is reader-supported journalism. Chip in to keep stories like these coming.

Rape culture is everywhere and with it a proliference of terrible rape jokes. But what if the people telling rape jokes were survivors? That is the idea behind Rape is Real and Everywhere, a national comedy tour.

The show is the brainchild of Vancouver comedians Emma Cooper and Heather Jordan Ross. The two came up with the idea over drinks after work one evening. They discussed how they never wanted to hear rape jokes again but also wanted to perform material about their experiences. 

"We kind of said it in jest at first and then we were like no wait we should do this, this is a great idea," says Jordan Ross.

The show is a mix of stand-up comedy alongside more serious moments where performers reflect on their experiences and rape culture. This includes reminding the audience that "no one is allowed to hurt you" and offering support if audience members want to talk. It challenges the idea that rape jokes are never funny and puts the power to control narrative back in survivors' hands. 

"I think when it comes to telling rape jokes you have to consider who is laughing at the joke," says Jordan Ross. "There are two kinds of jokes you can make; punch up and you can bring something new to the conversation or you can punch down and you can make a victim feel uncomfortable." 

During the May 15 Vancouver show at the Rickshaw Theatre, performers discussed media coverage, language and there was even a Lord-of-the-Rings-themed joke. There were also a diverse array of performers representing that rape affects everyone. 

As a former reporter, Ross knows how the media can contribute to unrealistic expectations of survivors. 

"Reporters are like, 'well we saw her smiling on the sidewalk and that means her rape didn't happen, she would be crying for the rest of her life if that was true,'" she jokes. "It's like we're people, we have to keep being people. If we're funny, if we're bitchy, if we're crazy we're going to keep on doing that after we get raped, it's not like some switch was turned off and now we're just grey people."

She says she would even sometimes refer to her experience as her "alleged sexual assault." The complicated language often used to describe rape is one of the reasons Cooper and Jordan Ross decided to use the term "rape" in the title. "Rape is real and everywhere" comes from a piece of graffiti spray painted on a wall in East Vancouver.

"'Sexual assault' just kind of slowly falls of the tongue, it doesn't describe the horrible thing that happened to you and it's so vague," explains Ross. "'Rape' sounds awful because rape is awful."

Issues like language and media coverage can also make it difficult to define rape. This is compounded by a culture of silence and inadequate discussion about consent. Many performers said they didn't immediately realize what happened to them was rape. 

"You're told the narrative that it's like 'man out of bushes' 'harmless innocent girl.' So If you're anything other than 'harmless girl' and if he's anything other than the 'man out of the bushes' then you have a ton of questions for yourself and you just kind of tuck that down," says Ross.

While talking about these experiences is difficult, she says the experience has been cathartic. Many survivors have also come out to the show.

"To have the words to say, 'no this isn't my fault and everybody seems to be going through this and we're in a nightmare situation so why don't we just work together and start talking about this', that has been the greatest gift," she says. 

After two sold out shows in Vancouver the duo decided to turn it into a national show. Each show will be unique and feature local comedians. 

While response to the show has been largley positive, Jordan Ross says the show is not for everyone. 

"If you think this show is the right fit for you, if you want to laugh, if you want to cry then come out and if not then that’s okay, we respect that decision as well." 

Rape is Real and Everywhere performed by Heather Jordan Ross and Emma Cooper started its national tour May 15. It has shows tonight May 30 in Montreal and tomorrow May 31 in Fredricton. More details can be found here.

Like this article? rabble is reader-supported journalism. Chip in to keep stories like these coming.

Image: Facebook/Sexual Assault is Present and Pervasive

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.

rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.


We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:


  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.


  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.