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Controversial Comedy headlines this week's 'Law & Order: SVU'

Jonathan Silverman guest starts on "Law & Order: SVU."
Jonathan Silverman guest starts on "Law & Order: SVU."
Michael Parmalee/NBC.

It should go without saying that the crime of rape is no joke, but, in 2012 comedian Daniel Tosh allegedly made statements in front of an audience at a comedy club that alluded to the idea that it would be funny if five guys gang-raped a woman who was attending the show.

This is the basis for Wednesday night’s episode of ‘SVU.’ The official synopsis reads, “A comedian’s words prove dangerous when a student is assaulted by his fans,” but that’s really just the beginning of the story as the comedian finds himself under investigation not only for his words but for the suspected attack of a female fan.

Stepping into the role of the comedian, Josh Galloway, is veteran actor Jonathan Silverman, who generally plays a funnyman in the majority of his screen appearances.

Silverman doesn’t deny that he had reservations about playing the role, saying, “I was blown away by how powerful it was and a little scared about the workload involved. And then, of course, my next reaction was, ‘Oh, can I do this?’ You know it’s obviously a subject matter that is very delicate.” But Silverman ultimately decided that the reward was worth the risk. “You don’t always get to play reputable characters. Sometimes you get your hands a little dirty, literally, and play the bad guy.”

To Silverman’s credit, he’s the perfect combination of likeable and smarmy in this role. Given the charm he displays as Galloway, it’s not at all far-fetched to see why women would want to be a part of Galloway’s world.

Executive Producer Warren Leight has nothing but praise for Silverman, saying, “It’s interesting to me how many people tell me how much they want to be on SVU but they don’t want to play a pedophile or a bad guy. And really that’s what we have to offer. I will say it was very brave of Jonathan. There’s probably not a standup comic in the country who would have dared to do the part. I’m very comfortable with Jonathan because we had done a play together, and I knew he could land every beat of this thing. He didn’t flinch for a moment.”

Silverman quickly overcame his initial skittishness, revealing, “I relish doing anything that’s a bit out of my wheelhouse. I supposed there’s a certain comfort level for me in doing comedy, but I’ve certainly done my share of dramas and anytime I get a chance to play a somewhat nefarious bad guy, I leap at it.”

Once he dove in, Silverman was surprised to find that the character had more depth than he originally thought. “Something interesting happened while we were shooting it. In trying to dissect and attack the role, I found a way to sympathize with the character I was playing and to try and make him human. He looks at himself as a social satirist who wants to hold a mirror up to society and its pitfalls. 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.”

“Comic Perversion” was written by Brianna Yellen who’s worked on ‘SVU’ for five years in various capacities. This is her first script for the show.

She pitched the concept to Leight, stating that, “The idea of the 'rape joke' is clearly a topic that evokes strong opinions one way or another. I think it’s a topic that comes up often and is debated a lot. It’s discussed on Twitter, on other online sites, and it’s constantly covered in the press. So it's exciting that this episode can serve as a fresh entry point into more discussion about this.”

Yellen gave a bit more insight into the episode, revealing, “There’s a character who was in an earlier episode of ‘SVU,‘ entitled ‘Girl Dishonored,’ In that episode, Renee was the victim of an on-campus assault. We don’t have many characters on our show that come back but I thought she was an insightful character and that it would be worthwhile to continue her story. So, in the year and half since we’ve seen her, she’s become an advocate on her campus and kind of a ‘mini-Benson’ in her crusade against predators. It’s really terrific to watch her interaction with Benson who acts as mentor for Renee.”

This season of ‘SVU’ has seen its share of action-packed drama, but several episodes have leaned more toward a tense, psychological nature and this is definitely the case with “Comic Perversion.”

Yellen explains the dynamic, saying, “The police work and the courtroom time are split about 50-50 in this episode, but because this is a challenging case to prosecute we see some real conflict between Benson and District Attorney Barba. She’s pushing him and he’s pushing back, which is new for them. They’re friends and colleagues and they trust each other so this is both different and difficult for both of them. And then, when Barba’s in the courtroom, he’s facing off against defense attorney Rita Calhoun (Elizabeth Marvel) who’s tough as nails. And, finally, Barba also has to use everything he can to keep the jury from falling under the spell of the funny and charismatic Galloway. Barba’s really juggling a lot here and that’s what makes this so tense.”

To interact with fans, Yellen will be tweeting from the handle @SVUWritersRoom on Wednesday night. You can also follow Warren Leight by using @warrenleightTV

Unfortunately, Silverman is not on Twitter, saying that he’s “just happy with technology from 50 years ago.”

After his dark turn on ‘SVU,’ Silverman has no shortage of comedic entities in the works for fans to take in.

Currently, he’s starring in a movie called “The Hungover Games” which he describes as “a spoof movie based on ripping off ‘The Hangover’ and ‘The Hunger Games.’” He’s also directed a National Lampoon comedy which, ironically, stars ‘SVU’s’ own former Captain Cragen, Dann Florek. That film won Silverman a Best Director Award at the Los Angeles Comedy Festival. Currently, Silverman and his wife, actress Jennifer Finnigan, are putting the finishing touches on a romantic comedy they co-directed entitled “A Bet’s a Bet,” starring Mena Suvari, Geoff Stults, Kristin Chenoweth and Keenan Thompson.

After seeing Silverman on ‘SVU’ as Galloway, while he may favor comedic roles, no one will ever doubt the range of his acting ability.

This week’s hashtag for the show is #RapeisNoJoke, which is something that should seem rather obvious to the masses, but unfortunately apparently needs to be said on a regular basis, hence the exploration of this topic in this setting.

Once again, ‘SVU’ points a big spotlight directly at a controversial topic that, for reasons not quite clear, continues to need attention to combat its negative message. Hopefully, this episode will have precisely the effect that its writer Yellen desires; further positive discussion to change attitudes and actions toward the use of rape jokes as entertainment.

"Law & Order: SVU" airs Wednesday nights at 9/8c.