Adrienne Truscott’s Asking For It (A One-Lady Rape About Comedy Starring Her Pussy and Little Else) was created in 2013 as a response to our casual and omnipresent rape culture. I saw it in 2015 and enjoyed how it used the stand-up format to challenge that form and space to address how a lot of mainstream comedy and comedians perpetuate rape culture through rape jokes. It was funny, serious, angry, and feisty. It smartly played with consent and power. I loved her use of burlesque techniques and how she made the show both a stand-up act and something more—provocation in a familiar construct, made unfamiliar by her twists.
Now, Truscott has a new version called (Still) Asking For It because in 2019 rape culture is still alive and well. Since 2013, the comedy world has faced a lot more than Truscott’s criticism with so many high-profile incidents finally being brought to light (alas, the inevitable comebacks for “cancelled” comedians are already happening too).
In her show, she flashes the faces of famous men (and women) accused or convicted of rapes and assaults and that list has just grown and grown. Added “bonus” in 2019 we have a predator president. So yet AGAIN it’s ripe to have this discussion.
But Truscott is not just doing a straight remount of the original. She brings on stage with her a variety of comedians and performers (the night I saw it the guests and cast members included Jenn Kidwell, Mari Moriarty, Becca Blackwell, Krishna Istha, Kerry Coddett, Carolyn Castiglia, Shamika Cotton). They share her duties in performing. They dress like her. Like her, they are all naked from the waist down, ankles up. With this expansion of the cast, she’s sought to make the piece more inclusive with trans artists and artists of color involved. Rape does not discriminate, so neither should this conversation.
I’m of two minds about this result. On the one hand, it’s a necessary change to make the work be in active conversation with where we are in 2019. Expanding the lens to other oppressed people of different backgrounds from yourself who also bear the brunt of rape culture seems like a critical and important shift that needs to be made.
On the other hand, having so many participants on stage, the comedic tension held in the room by Truscott gets dissipated with each handoff of the textual baton. What made the original so powerful for me was the way she used the stand-up comedy form.
This version is truly a different form of the work. Obviously you can have a broad bill of comedians doing stand-up, but here they are all performing Truscott’s material not their own (as far as I know). Not everyone can deliver a sly rape joke with the aplomb of Truscott.
With people emerging from the audience, backstage, and the kitchen to deliver their lines, the piece is less centered on the stage. People come and go and reemerge. In this constructed chaos, some points get lost. In a sequence with Becca Blackwell who emerges from the audience like an audience plant (a surprise that doesn’t quite work if you know Blackwell as a performer), Truscott and Blackwell make fun of a photograph of a comedian by focusing on his appearance. While this is meant to be satirical, I had no idea who the comedian was and if this was a riff on something he did or more a generalized complaint around the way male comedians denigrate the physical features of women who criticize them. Without the context, I was confused.
Despite these grumbles, I believe this remains an important and often funny/not funny show. Jenn Kidwell delivers a final monologue that is gut-wrenching. The pent-up rage and fury that survivors feel in the face of all of these “bad men” is almost too much to bear but that’s exactly what they do. They hold it and we need to recognize that.
Survivors are legion. They are everywhere and look like more than just Truscott. They might be sitting next to you. In this way, expanding the cast and the locus of the piece as she has, successfully amplifies this point.
I happened to have a doctor’s appointment the next day. He asked me what shows I had seen lately. When I told him I saw a show that deconstructs rape culture and rape jokes, he got quite pursed. “Oh rape that’s terrible,” he muttered. He just kept trailing off “terrible, terrible” and I could not tell if he meant the act of rape or going to see a show about it. Let’s say, he meant both.
He’s probably someone who could afford to see this show. Accepting rape is terrible is really only the beginning. Getting people to change their behavior and the culture will only happen if others do this work. The past few years have been a lesson in this for me. A complicated emotionally fraught lesson.
I spent two hours over “fun” reunion drinks arguing with a former male colleague that what Louis CK did was in fact just as bad as what (my former boss) Harvey Weinstein did. I got nowhere with him.
A lot of people I know are bone-tired getting through every day in a world where people keep not showing up for them. People who have experienced rape and sexual assault need support and to know they are not alone in these fights. Things won’t change if we don’t work together. Truscott’s team approach certainly embodies that action.