Tonight’s episode of “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” explores rape culture, the problems of free speech, and whether or not it’s okay to make jokes about rape.
Jonathan Silverman plays Josh Galloway, a comedian who frequently makes demeaning jokes about women and rape, and two of his fans end up assaulting a fellow student after his set at their university. ADA Barba (Raul Esparza) can’t arrest Galloway for speaking his mind, but then, a student at the university accuses the comedian of rape.
I participated in a press conference call with Jonathan and Executive Producer/Showrunner Warren Leight about the episode, and below are some of the highlights.
I interviewed Warren last year (read that article here), and he told me that it can be difficult to get actors to play perpetrators on the show. So, I asked Jonathan if he had any qualms about playing Galloway:
Jonathan: When he [Warren] presented me with the script, I was blown away by how powerful it was and a little scared about just the work load involved. Then, of course, my next reaction was, “Oh, can I do this?” It’s obviously a subject matter that is very delicate to me, to my wife, to some of our dear friends, and I was somewhat hesitant. I had to discuss it with my reps, with my manager, with my agent, and we ultimately decided that this is what I do for a living. And you don’t always get to play reputable characters. Sometimes, you get your hands a little dirty and play a bad guy, and I’m so glad I did.
Warren: It was very brave of Jonathan, and I will tell you now that there is probably not a stand-up comic in the country who would have dared to do the part. I am very comfortable with Jonathan because we had done a play together, and I knew he could land every beat of this thing. It has worked well for Pablo Schreiber playing one of our villains, and I think it should work out well for Jonathan…. Like Pablo, he didn’t flinch for a moment. You have to drive into the skid of this character, and man, did he drive into the skid.
Warren on what inspired the episode:
We were aware last year that there were a spate of comics getting a lot of attention for rape jokes, and obviously, there was the [Daniel] Tosh incident. It was, I think, one of the more public and egregious incidents. Someone was heckling him, and he said, “Wouldn’t it be funny if these guys gang raped you right here?” At SVU, we don’t think that’s funny….
I was a comedy writer years ago, and we used to call it “joke-like material.” If you didn’t have a joke, you would reach for “joke-like material.” So, it felt like all of a sudden, a lot of sitcoms were also thinking it was really funny to make a rape joke if they didn’t have something funny to say. Doing this show, we deal with the real life part of rape … so, we wanted to do an episode about rape culture and what we call “rape comics.”
Of course, there’s a giant defense of these guys. A lot of comics stood up and said, “You’ve gotta let people say what they want. They’re shedding light on the dark areas.” Are they? Or are they just going for shock? Or are they just being puerile? For me, the point of good stand-up comedy is to take on the people in power, not to take on people who’ve been disempowered by something as horrible as rape.
Jonathan on the character of Josh Galloway:
Warren and the staff created truly a despicable and uncomfortable human being. But Mariska Hargitay and I had a lengthy discussion at one point, and we both found reasons to sympathize with this gentleman’s plight. He looks at himself as a social satirist who wants to hold a mirror up to society, and he actually discusses how it’s important to look at society’s evils. And if you can’t laugh at it, then all you really can do is cry. So, it’s his opportunity to put it out there.
The other interesting thing about this character is at times, we find out he practices what he preaches on stage, and I tried to figure out a way to make him a little more sympathetic as well….
There are a number of scenes in this episode where it was very uncomfortable, very raw. I got to do things I really don’t get a chance to do – thankfully, in my own life, and certainly on screen as well. And I felt awful, actually. I didn’t really think I would, but I really felt I needed to scrub and bathe after one particular scene that we shot. So, it affected me. It really threw me for a loop, actually….
Warren: It was a little scary at times how effortless he made the disturbing scenes seem. I can’t say enough about Jonathan’s acting. I hope nobody catches on before I get to create my own series [for Jonathan].
Below is a sneak peek of “Comic Perversion.” The show airs tonight, Feb. 26, 2014, 9/8c on NBC.