TRIGGER WARNING: Rape I was at an improv audition where my character was forced into sex on stage. I was put on all fours & another improviser pantomimed sex with me. In improv we are taught to Yes, And, but what about when No Means No? We assume the best intentions from our scene partners, but what about when there is no context or they do not have knowledge of our own perspectives & experiences, particularly with sexual assault? Can we stop making rape a punch line or are we forced to bear it?
Thank you for sending in this question. And I’m very sorry this happened to you.
Full disclosure: I discussed this with the individual, but I wanted to post about it, spread the word and possibly open up a discussion and maybe then, yes, we could stop making rape a punchline.
It happens too much. I can think of three Harolds where I was raped. And now that I think about it, that’s pretty crazy.
One should never be forced to endure anything that’s painful (physically, emotionally) on stage. And you’re fully within your right to react how you want to with this. I don’t know what that would mean, exactly, but you know what’s right for you.
Like, it’s taking an unfun idea (and things like this are basically the opposite of fun and comedy), and doing what you can with it to make it as bearable as possible for you and the audience. It might be impossible to make it fun or interesting. Maybe emotionally truthful? I don’t know. You’re fully within your rights to do whatever you want.
It makes me think of that kid with the Spider-man pinata. I can’t put a gif of it in this post, but that link’ll take you to a YouTube video. I think react like this kid would… truthfully? Honestly? (I apologize if this is a bad analogy.)
Finally, Nicole Lee (with whom this was also discussed) wrote an excellent post on Pimping vs. Gifting. This excerpt might be more helpful:
…But many people are uncomfortable with being pimped into playing a racist, doing a lap dance, giving a blow job, or having “sex” on stage.
This is how Lydia boiled down the strategy for dealing with this kind of pimping: Deny it.
Your improv alarm system might go off at that idea and say, “But you can’t negate your partner; that’s the first rule of improv. You have to Yes-And.” I think most players would agree and, even if they don’t want to play a Nazi on stage, will find themselves Yes-Anding their way into ordering Jews into the gas chambers.
That’s the thing - we are often pimped into playing tropes and stereotypes that are uncomfortable for us, depending on who we are as people.
I’ve had discussions with people about this in the past, especially since I have had my share of being pimped into playing things I’m uncomfortable with. Ryan Karels shared an example from a 201 class he taught in which a male student pimped his female partner into giving him a lap dance. She responded by saying something along the lines of, “FBI, asshole! Get down on the ground. This is a bust!” This is a perfect example of denying her partner’s pimp to do something she probably didn’t want to do, while also Yes-Anding him. By saying, “This is a bust,” she is Yes-ing the reality that he wants her to do a lap dance, but And-ing him by revealing that she was an undercover agent posing as a stripper or prostitute.
Lydia shared a similar piece of advice - if someone pimped her into giving him a blow job, she would respond by saying, “Why are you always telling me what to do?” In this way, she has denied the pimp that would make her uncomfortable, but Yes-Anding, by acknowledging the reality and choosing to focus on the relationship.
I think that’s the best way to “deny” - don’t do the activity you don’t want to do, but Yes-And it by focusing on the dynamic between you and your scene partner. Ask yourself (or ask them) why they are making you do this thing. Make choices about why this is happening and push them in the direction of making the scene about the relationship between two people. Gift them by labeling their behavior. “You’re so controlling.” “You always ask for sex during the most inappropriate moments.”
Ultimately, I think the idea of denying a pimp is the converse of the idea Kirk is always advising improvisers to do: be in scenes you want to be in.
Hot button conversation. Depends as well if you’re in a show or in rehearsal in my opinion. Think Nic Lee’s examples are relatively good. I know Amey G’s discussion on this was something along the line of “if you’re pimped into giving a blow job, make it interesting, make it the craziest fucking blowjob you’ve ever seen”. Dave Razowsky says “if there’s something you’re unwilling to do on stage, you’re the asshole.” But I think yeah, reacting and playing through the pimps and then definitely having the discussion afterwards is good protocol.
Nick brings up good points. One can argue that there should be no limits in improv because it could become a slippery slope (if this isn’t okay to do, what’s to stop us from prohibiting everything). But across comic media (stand-up, sketch, etc.), people have boundaries for what they find acceptable and unacceptable comedy. It starts getting sociocultural and political because everyone has different tastes. Regardless of your personal beliefs, they are that - yours alone. What is acceptable to you might be extremely offensive for someone else. You have to know your audience and know your teammates (as best you can) and gauge what is acceptable to do in a show or rehearsal. During an audition, I think it’s inappropriate to make a move that would offend someone you’ve never met and know nothing about.
If Dave Razowsky says you’re the asshole for not doing something you’re unwilling to do, I would agree if this were a group game scenario or if it pertains to personally challenging yourself. Susan Messing says that you need to leave your personal dignity at the door when you get on stage because improvisers need to be willing to look stupid. But Susan Messing also says that if you’re not having fun, you’re the asshole. If someone doesn’t think pantomiming a rape on stage is fun, that doesn’t make this person an asshole. That’s not the same thing as challenging yourself to do silent scenes or to kill your scene partner or to play a child.
If you are willing to have sex on stage or do a lap dance, you better commit to it hard. If you’re uncomfortable - figure out if it’s because you don’t want to look stupid or if it’s because this feels very wrong and traumatic for you. I think they are very different.
If you’re on a team, a discussion should take place over what everyone’s personal boundaries are. On my first team, I would’ve been completely uncomfortable if a particular teammate touched me in a sexual way, even if the scene called for it. On my current team, I would be completely fine if one of my teammates grabbed my boob, again, if the scene called for it. I would not be okay with getting raped or raping my scene partner. I would find a way to deny it and focus on something else in the scene - our relationship, justifying the weird behavior, etc.
Things I have been pimped into: BJ’s, anal sex, group sex, orgy scenes, rapes.
Do it. If it’s something you’re not comfortable with, work with that, be uncomfortable.
If rape is the punch line of any scene, you’re not working hard enough. To make a sexual act the punchline, is lazy improv. Play to the top of your intellegence, if you’re pimped into pantomime sex, say “Oh before we start, I should tell you I have herpes pretty bad, I mean, if you’re cool with it, then we can keep going, but I wanted to let you know, also I have crabs” Turn it around. And to all you boy improvisers out there, we get that you’re trying to be cool and masculine, but if you want to simulate sex onstage, pimp yourself into masturbating.