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Just the name of Cameron Esposito’s new stand-up special may make you wince.

Rape jokes were once the topic of choice for unfunny men. The kind Esposito says in the special are now crying about censorship. In a brash set, she mocks their delivery of those kinds of provocative but toothless acts.

Esposito, however, has a lot more say, and she wants to reclaim “rape jokes” for the better.

Esposito doesn’t mince words when talking about why she called her special “Rape Jokes.” She reveals that she’s a survivor of sexual assault. After she makes fun of Catholic school sex ed and her first kiss with a woman, she talks about the incident with as much detail as she cares to go into.

She’s in control of her narrative, while challenging what it means to be provocative onstage.

Stand-up comedians have always been somewhat confessional. There’s so much absurdity in everyday life to be mined for punchlines. However, in the 2010s, there seemed to be a shift from shallow bad boy comics repeating jokes on Comedy Central to a much more deeply humanizing form of comedy.

Esposito’s special is another chapter to this entry, especially since there is a debate about whether rape jokes are appropriate to be told at all. She warms the crowd up with other topics, and when she does begin to talk about heavier subjects, the laughs don’t stop. A few tears may well up, sure, but laughing and crying are not unusual consequences of coping with grief or trauma.

Not only does Esposito deconstruct the old school rape joke, but she does so while poking fun at herself, society and cultural attitudes toward the LGBTQ community.

In addressing her “straight sisters,” she reaffirms them, “I see you here, and I want you to know I’m an ally,” playfully mimicking the responses queer folks may hear from well-meaning straight progressives. It’s a disarming joke hidden in the middle of talking about the very serious topic of post-traumatic stress disorder.

This is how she chooses to tell her story. Esposito’s “Rape Jokes” feels like another step toward healing and teaching an audience to listen.

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