Can you joke about rape? An interview with Adrienne Truscott

Exeposé Arts & Lit online (3 May 2016)

It’s an odd feeling, knowing you’re chatting to the woman whose vagina you’re going to see on stage later this week. Luckily, Adrienne Truscott’s got a knack for dispelling awkwardness. It’s probably got something to do with that “One-lady rape about comedy” she’s here to perform.

Yep – showing at Exeter’s Corn Exchange on Wednesday in collaboration with Devon Rape Crisis, Asking For It is a brutal take-down of our attitudes to sexual assault. It’s been performed at the Edinburgh Fringe, Brighton Fringe and in theatres across London, earning five star reviews from The Guardian – along with a fair share of angry letters from “conservative folk.” And it’s not hard to imagine why.

“When you just read about it, it can sound a bit dodgy…” Truscott admits. I guess she’s talking about that line that says she’ll “let her pussy do the talking.” (Oh yeah – she’s half-naked for much of the performance. Like, literally. I wasn’t joking when I said we’d be seeing everything.)

Can you really joke about rape though?

“I’m a performer,” Truscott explains. “I use humour to make people laugh, but also to make them think.” But why rape? “There were a bunch of things I wasn’t hearing on this topic,” she explains. “So many people spoke and joked about it so lazily… So I had this mischievous idea: what if I could make a stand-up comedy show about it, and actually get people to pay attention to what I was saying?!”

Basically, it’s a satire of rape culture – not rape itself. And it seems this is an issue affecting students across the UK. In fact, many universities have asked Truscott to come and perform Asking For It “precisely because they feel like rape culture is a problem on campus that’s not being addressed.”

University can be a “really confusing time,” she says. “And our culture sends pretty confusing messages about sexuality and consent to both men and women. Like who’s allowed to do what, whose fault it is…”

Of course, on the topic of casual ‘rape culture’ at Exeter, it’s hard not to mention one infamous spot.

“Rape Alley?” Truscott repeats. “I haven’t heard of it, no, but I understand that sort of thing…” (For those who’re unaware, ‘Rape Alley’ is the highly controversial nickname given to Hoopern Lane – one of the narrow pathways close to Exeter University.)

“The crazy thing is,” she says, “it does happen in alleys, but that’s not where it happens the most. Usually it’s with someone you know, when somebody crosses a line or ignores someone else’s ‘No’…”

Labelling somewhere ‘Rape Alley’ also sends out a pretty disturbing message, she adds. “It’s like saying: Rape Alley is somewhere you shouldn’t go if you don’t want to get raped, as opposed to saying: look, the only way not to get raped is if somebody doesn’t rape another person.”

This whole notion that you can be “in charge” of whether you get sexually assaulted is something Truscott wants to tear apart during the show, and it’s actually one of the reasons she’s decided to bare all. “The show’s called Asking For It,” she says. “So I’m sort of putting out there – isn’t this the most ‘asking for it’ outfit you could wear? And I’m not looking to get raped. This is me really making an exaggerated point…”

But that’s not the only reason behind the nakedness. “It’s also… the ‘site of the crime’ right?” she half laughs. “So it kind of makes the audience deal with the fact that this is what we’re talking about. We’re not just talking about some lad who’s had a couple, feels a bit rowdy and goes a bit too far but ‘boys will be boys…’

“Plus it is also a pretty hilarious look to see a lady wearing a denim jacket, shoes and no trousers.”

Hilarious, yes. But easy? No way. None of the show is easy. “You can write a joke that works – but just because it works, doesn’t mean it’s not tricky!” Truscott laughs. “Plus you can make a joke that’s dark, and it can be dark in a really ignorant and gross way, or it can be dark in an illuminating way. There are a few punchlines in here that I know are pretty intense, but they’re truthful – and they speak to truths in the world that don’t get talked about that much.

“But I also build other things into the show so there’s a bit of relief. So it’ll get all intense and then a song comes on and you’re like: ‘Oh thank God, Beyoncé, phew!’”

No amount of Beyoncé can make Asking For It suitable for everyone, though.

“It’s never, ever in my interest to have someone come to the show who doesn’t know what it’s about,” Truscott stresses. “And if there’s someone who’s had a really recent trauma, then it’s probably not the show for them yet. But I’ve had many women and men who are survivors of sexual assault who have come to my show and said, ‘Thank God; that was the first time I’ve had the chance to think about it differently.’”

Featured Image: Press photo by Sara Brown

>>View original Exeposé Arts & Lit interview>>


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