You Had To Be There: Rape Jokes

Vanessa Place
Foreword by Dave Hickey; Afterword by Natasha Stagg

$ 15.95

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Trim Size: 4-1/2 x 7
Page Count: 160
ISBN: 9781576879009

You Had To Be There: Rape Jokes is a text version of Vanessa Place’s live performance I’ve got this really great joke about rape, in which the artist recites rape jokes for 45 minutes to a seated audience in a gallery or from a small stage. It is art performance, not stand-up comedy. Many of the jokes were found on various English-language websites dedicated to offensive jokes; inspired by the form, the artist has improved some of the jokes, and written some herself.

Place decided to work with rape jokes several years ago after various stand-up comics were rebuked for making rape jokes on and off-stage; the gist of the criticism being that “rape jokes aren’t funny,” and that a rape joke is tantamount to rape itself. But Place’s work shows that rape jokes aren’t rape and considers why rape jokes are very funny to very many people, and persistently so. As Place’s audiences have demonstrated, those categorically opposed to the rape joke tend to find themselves straining not to laugh, just as those usually thrilled by such raw language find themselves gagging on something hard to swallow. What then proves interesting is the activation of art: the when, why, and how of such charged words being funny, being revolting, becoming sound, fashioning suspense. To experience this language that hangs thick in the air; to see where, in each of us, the joke sticks.


Vanessa Place was the first poet to perform as part of the Whitney Biennial; a content advisory was posted. Selected performance venues include Getty Villa, Los Angeles; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Detroit Museum of Contemporary Art; Mestno Musej, Ljubljana; Swiss Institute, New York; the Kitchen, New York; Andre Bely Center, St. Petersburg, Russia; Kunstverein, Cologne; Whitechapel Gallery, London; Frye Art Museum, Seattle; the Sorbonne; and De Young Museum, San Francisco. Exhibition work has appeared at MAK Center/Schindler House; Denver Museum of Contemporary Art; the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art; The Power Plant, Toronto; the Broad Museum, East Lansing; Various Small Fires, Los Angeles; and Cage 83 Gallery, New York. Books include BoycottStatement of FactsLa MedusaDies: A SentenceThe Guilt Project: Rape, Morality, and LawNotes on Conceptualisms, co-authored with Robert Fitterman, her translations from the French of Guantanamo (poetry, Frank Smith) and Image-Material (art theory, Dominique Peysson), and her art-audio book, Last Words. Place also works as a critic and criminal defense attorney specializing in sex offenses.

Dave Hickey has been an art and cultural critic for over five decades, is a MacArthur Fellowship recipient and Peabody Award-winner, and is the author of six books.

Natasha Stagg’s novel, Surveys (Semiotext(e), Emily Books) was published in 2016. Her essays and stories appear in the books Excellences & Perfections by Amalia Ulman (Prestel, 2018), The Present in Drag by DIS (Distanz, 2016), and Intersubjectivity Vol. 2 by Lou Cantor (Sternberg Press, 2018).

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