While late-night hosts had no qualms making fun of Lorena Bobbitt in the early '90s, Whoopi Goldberg crafted a very different set about the case. Her standup became such an integral part of the story that she's actually featured in Lorena, a new four-part Amazon Prime docuseries from Jordan Peele. But viewers who don't remember the 1994 trial as it happened may be wondering how to watch Whoopi Goldberg's Lorena Bobbitt standup set. It's definitely worth revisiting.
Goldberg performed the set as part of Comic Relief IV, a series of standup specials benefitting an organization called Comic Relief USA. The specials would air on HBO as fundraisers with proceeds benefitting America's homeless, and Comic Relief IV also starred Billy Crystal, Robin Williams, Kimberly Clarice Aiken. Goldberg's set is available on YouTube.
"From my perspective as a woman, I was so glad to see that someone finally evened up the odds," she opened, miming the cutting off of a penis. "Motherf*ckers are panicking across the country. Men don't know what to do!"
"Women live with the knowledge that weird sh*t can happen at any point," she continued. "You go down a dark alley and, whoosh, somebody grabs you. And now, men actually have to think about this sh*t."
The audience loved it.
It's been 25 years since Lorena became a cultural punchline for cutting off her husband John's penis while he slept and throwing it out her car window as she fled the scene. In 1994, she underwent trial for "malicious wounding," the Washington Post reported, just three weeks after her husband had been acquitted on charges of marital sexual assault — part of a larger pattern of alleged abuse which her attorneys argued was the impetus for her crime. Lorena, too, was found not guilty by reason of temporary insanity, and she served 45 days in a psychiatric facility, according to Time, before returning to what was, by all accounts, a quiet, private life in Virginia.
But the media circus which capitalized on the nation's grotesque fascination with the case is shocking to revisit in a post-#MeToo era. Lorena was portrayed as a scorned woman who acted out of revenge, while sympathy was heaped upon her husband. According to the New York Times, he couldn't even be tried for rape under Virginia law at the time, because the legal definition of rape only applied if couples lived apart or if the victim was seriously physically injured. Goldberg was one of the few prominent voices pointing out these injustices.
"It's 1994 and the sh*t is hitting the fan," she proclaimed in her standup set about Lorena. "Women are pissed!"
With the vocabulary we now have to discuss issues of consent, domestic violence, and the psychological repercussions of abuse, Lorena comes into focus as a much more serious indictment of sexism in media. But at the time, Goldberg's evisceration of abusive men was among the lone voices in comedy punching up and her contribution was a vital one to the conversation at the time. Lorena is now streaming on Amazon Prime.