The Doc Project

A national comedy tour about rape: rape jokes by survivors

Heather Jordan Ross is a comedian. After she reported her sexual assault, the first question she asked herself was, "Now how do I make this funny?" That question led to a national comedy tour featuring rape jokes told by survivors.
Heather Jordan Ross, performing at the Comedy Bar in Toronto. (Scott McLean)

By Heather Jordan Ross

Like many ideas, this one started over a beer between two friends. Unlike the average beer between friends, I had just reported my sexual assault, and I was asking fellow comedian Emma Cooper how to make it funny.

Heather Jordan Ross and Emma Cooper. (Scott McLean)
I was at a crossroads. As a survivor, I never wanted to hear a rape joke again. As a comedian, I'd always talked about my own experiences, and surviving sexual assault was one of them.

Emma joked, why not have a comedy show performed only by survivors? After a beat, we wrote down every comedian we knew of that had experienced something similar, our dream venue, and a title that would intrigue and annoy a nation.

Rape is Real & Everywhere, an homage to a piece of Vancouver graffiti, would be comedy show about rape, as told by survivors. Three weeks later, we were performing in front of a sold out audience in one of the hottest comedy venues in Vancouver.

The show was genuine, unnerving, and most importantly — funny.

The show was genuine, unnerving, and most importantly — funny. The performers were powerful and vulnerable, the crowd was supportive. Comedians liked it. Survivors loved it.

After two more successful runs in Vancouver, comedians across the country were asking how they could get involved. At first, we gave our blessing for cities to organize their own shows. But as traction grew, Emma and I decided to tour nationally with local talent in each city.

We reached out to stand-ups across the country, asking if they would do the two hardest things ever: talk publicly about sexual assault and then promise to make it funny. 

An astonishing 25 comedians responded to the call.

In May of 2016, we set out on an odyssey of 15 shows across 13 cities. But after selling out an alternative comedy show in Vancouver, touring nationally would be a whole other kettle of funny.

On our national tour, Emma and I were confronted with the definition of a survivor, our own prejudices, and the strength it would take to pull the whole thing off.

A year later, Emma and I reflected on our tour in this radio documentary of the same name: Rape is Real & Everywhere.

About the Producer

(Joan Ullyett)
Heather Jordan Ross is a stand-up comedian and freelancer. She's performed for The Tragedy Show and OutTV's Teen Angst Night, and she's the co-producer of the critically successful comedy show Rape is Real & Everywhere: Rape Jokes by Survivors. She has freelanced for The Coast, Definitely Not the Opera, and The 180. Heather hails from Fortune, PEI, but is currently based in Edinburgh completing a masters in screenwriting. Heather and her co-producer Emma plan to tour Rape is Real again across universities this fall.

This episode features music by Jahzzar.