Written by Christian O’Brien
One of the very few mutually beloved comedians left, Louis C.K., fell to the MeToo movement for his admitted habit of masturbating in front of women. Nobody with a basic sense of decency is going to try to convince you that that isn’t simultaneously pathetic, weak, and potentially exploitative. But that doesn’t make make his bag of dicks joke or any other unfunny because of his lack of virtue.
It doesn’t, for example, make his latest set at the Governor’s club less than hysterical, which it was. It was in keeping with the style of all his other sets: lewdly stated absurdities and comical self-loathing. CK opens (0:27) by asking the audience, “Have you ever had a whole bad year? A whole year that sucks 365 shit cunt days in a row? I mean, fuck.”
Maybe he deserved that kind of year. But the outrage that he was met with for this set at an obscure comedy club, which he wasn’t even aware was being recorded had very little to do with his past sins, and more to do with the targets of his jokes. And his targets looked a lot more like David Hogg and Emma Gonzalez than Ted Cruz and Donald Trump. A world where he mocks Republicans only to be reluctantly offered back into the elites’ good graces isn’t hard to imagine by any means. That’s what stood out as his cardinal sin: if he had came out swinging at the right, no doubt the New York Times would at least consider his atonement.
Instead, scorn is heaped upon his fluorescent head because of his most controversial joke yet: that the Parkland kids have no expertise on gun policy. An obvious statement made in a comical fashion. We’re told that this was an act of “punching down”, as though a fat, exiled, masturbating public menace could “punch down” a group of kids who’ve been esteemed as policy experts and given air time to preach their case on every major media outlet from CNN to MSNBC.
Because his set is funny, his most vicious critics would rather pretend that it was “hacky, unfunny, shallow” as criticized by Judd Apatow. Being the same guy who went on a tweetstorm telling Trump to “ Shut the fuck up”, you’d expect he’d know a thing or two about being hacky. More damning is the clear moral hypocrisy of the people who are at the center of Hollywood’s power circles, just like Judd Apatow. On the podcast, the Church of What’s Happening Now, comedians Joey Diaz and Sam Tripoli discuss just how piranha-like people like Apatow are. Joey asks the question of what point he can come back and claims that, “the same people who put him up are the same people who took him down.” Tripoli continues on that track, adding that you can’t get offended retroactively because what was known internally has now come to light.
Leftist critics aren’t used to being the butts of jokes, so instead of simply admitting that they were offended by a joke, the best they can do is remind us of just how unfunny the joke in question is, hoping that if they say it loud enough it’ll drown out our laughter.
Because of his damaged public image, of course these same people who let him make the kind of offensive humor he once did are going to come out of the woodwork to take him down as many notches possible. It’s easy in the wake of the onslaught of MeToo scandals to be swept up by the bottomless depth of wrongdoing and lump his inappropriate conduct in with the likes of Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey, but that just can’t be the case here.
For one thing, in 2001, when this behavior seems to have began, Louis CK was by no means the superstar he was at the time of his downfall. He didn’t have the kind of professional leverage these men had, and he wasn’t physically forcing himself on these women. Many are asking the question of what the proportionate punishment for his actions should be. It’s not a question with a decisive answer, but public humiliation that will overshadow his career and live in infamy long after he’s gone might be that punishment.
We can speculate about how privy to his behavior the people who are now attacking him were while it was happening, especially given that these rumors were widespread internally years ago. This has often been the case with MeToo revelations. There’s no doubt that some of his most proudly outraged critics in the comedy world that were aware only now heap upon him either because it saves face publicly or because they think it absolves of them of guilt. Either way, the perversion of the entertainment industry doesn’t come near to beginning or ending with Louis CK. To borrow from our first video, Hurricane Harvey, on the Weinstein case that brought this deluge of sexual scandals forward, it was certainly the case that nearly every Hollywood power broker knew of his vile acts for years and years — doing nothing for the sake of landing another primetime role. Celebrity after knowing celebrity would wait in the wings until someone with a large enough profile would tell them that the water’s warm, and that they can finally puff their chests out and heroically add to the chorus of truth-tellers. As by now we all know, this is a uniquely grotesque, cowardly, and self-servicing industry.
There’s an obviously freeing element to this for Louis, though, and he summarized it better than anyone else by asking offended audience members the question: “What are you going to do, take away my Birthday?” This gives him the liberating license to joke about the policy ignorance of teenagers and to even mention trans folk in a funny way, as though you should need that sort of license in the first place.
Anyone who has had their careers tanked by the professionally offended already know this feeling well, even if it’s new to Louis. It’s why the comedy world is now stunted, and why you see comedian after comedian from Bill Burr, Joe Rogan, Joey Diaz and others complain about it endlessly — and these people aren’t right-wingers. They were people who could take a joke, and understood that a joke is what takes the sting out of otherwise painful subjects. People like Apatow simply don’t get this, and as more people become rapidly aware of this fact, and as the tides turn against his fossilized brand of “humor”, we’ll have a more forgiving, measured, and funny world.
Even though his set at the governor’s club wasn’t mean to be broadcast to the outside world, this is a gamble that could play in Louis’ favor. Inauthentic outrage rarely sticks, and because the politicized anger isn’t even about his scandals per se, fans of having a sense of humor could very well reject hypocritically moral finger-wagging.
If ever we do see Louis selling out stadiums again, we can thank elite moral gatekeepers like Apatow, who would like to see socially polite sensitivity dictate what’s funny.