Of course rape isn’t funny! It is fucking heinous. It is a violent act of sexual terrorism. It has been and continues to be used as a means to control women in one of the most misogynistic ways possible. The mere threat of rape has silenced countless women (and men) since the beginning of human culture.
Also, know this: I have a daughter. I am heavily invested in eradicating all forms of misogyny to ensure that she or any woman never has to experience anything like rape or sexism.
With that said rape jokes can be funny and, more importantly, culturally useful. There is a distinction. These types of jokes can challenge people since comedy, when done correctly, lowers a person’s guard. Their defenses go down regarding their own preconceived notions. Comedy allows huge swaths of people to see controversial topics that may be alien to them from another person’s or group’s perspective in an accessible way. An intelligent and subversive rape joke may allow a man that would previously use misogynistic language or have that attitude to think about the ramifications of such language and actions. In Wanda Sykes bit below, she casually discusses how easy it would be to remove her vagina from her body so she could simply go out at night without having to be a potential target. That is an alien concept to a male. It really is. However, her jokes about this are a way to express something frightening and unmentionable while simultaneously exposing males to the emotions of that anxiety.
This has worked on racism with great success. I have previously used the examples of Richard Pryor and Dave Chappelle as comedians that cracked the walls between blacks and whites in America by employing jokes about racism. Comedy can be used as a means to introduce subjects that are taboo and difficult to discuss. Via comedy, horrible topics can have that taboo removed for a moment and it allows many to consider the other side. In Chappelle’s bit linked above he contrasts the open racism of the American South with the WASP-y, hidden racism of the Northeast, because that shit is true! As someone from the “North” I previously looked down upon the “South”. Between the experience of having lived there for a time and Chappelle’s and others' comedy shoving that subtle racism in my face I realized how deep the cultural institution of racism goes.
Now, I am not defending all rape jokes. Many of these jokes aren’t even jokes. They are rape threats disguised as a joke, and fuck those people. How do you tell the difference? Context. Thinking about it. Not condemning wholesale all instances of a joke or reference. That is a position that allows no nuance; no subversive, unconscious ridicule of the targeted position. It is reactionary and unthinking. By condemning every instance of a taboo joke we lose an important tool in fighting that taboo.
Comedy can diminish the taboo of talking about taboo subjects. It can allow those that wouldn’t normally care about a subject or be able to identify with a subject to do just that.