The Louis C.K. Show Starring Louis C.K.
Louis C.K. was my teacher. As a comedian myself, I turn to the greats to learn my craft. Through his specials and his show “Louie,” he was one of my top sources of inspiration and lessons both about comedy and life. “Was” isn’t even the right word, because his jokes still stain my brain. He is one of my biggest influences. To this day, I can recite numerous bits of his verbatim—a skill I have become less proud of in the last year. C.K.’s rise to fame was a long-time coming and well-deserved. His jokes are childish but wise—juvenile, grotesque, and self-deprecating, but always leading to a grand revelation about life.
Not only did Louis C.K. shape my sense of humor, but he also shaped my understanding of relationships. He is a master of digging himself into a hole of horrible thoughts and climbing out as the most open-minded person in the room. The problem is that his negative views on women weren’t just jokes. While I always assumed C.K. was being sarcastic, he was putting those sexist thoughts into practice behind the curtain. It brings into question the very moral compass…or lack thereof…that allowed him to “sarcastically” say nasty things about himself, his ex-wife, his children, his audience, and the world around him.
Ali Wong, who has become a beacon in comedy for a new age of women’s careers, has a bit about male comedians becoming more famous when they become fathers while their wives stay at home tending to the child. She points out that these male comedians talk openly about their hatred for their children. This is undoubtedly a trend, and Louis C.K. is on that list. Some of C.K.’s most beloved jokes are at the expense of his kids—jokes where he victimizes himself as the hardworking, dedicated father who gets no credit from his stupid babies who don’t understand the world—but he does get credit for fatherhood from his massive fan base. Wong’s bit finishes with her suggesting that the bad fathers in the audience point and laugh saying “I identify!” This struck me.
As someone with no children, I figured those jokes were funny under the assumption that, of course, Louis loves his kids, and, of course, his fans love their own kids. I assumed no respectable human being would truly identify with jokes made at their children’s expense, but it’s becoming clear that perhaps I am not like-minded with all Louis C.K. fans. At the same time, C.K. has a joke about wanting to “throw buckets of cum on women” while casually walking down the street…a thoughtful point about the male perspective until you realize he might have actually done something exactly like that (probably not a bucket-full, but a few squirts is all the same) prior to or after that show. It makes me wholeheartedly believe I was laughing along with some men who very literally applaud sexual abuse—men who might participate in abuse themselves. It’s sickening.
At the time of C.K.’s “downfall,” I was hopeful. As a diehard fan of his aforementioned ability to open with a horrible subject but leave as the most open-minded person in the room, I figured he would use this as an opportunity to grow with the industry...to take a string of awful decisions and say something truly profound. I thought we had more to learn from him. To be fair, he still could come back with some meditation about his year that helps push the #metoo movement into its next stages. Thus far, that has not been the case.
Last month, Louis C.K. made his first appearance at the Comedy Cellar since the truth about his treatment of women was discovered. Not only did he not confront the elephant in the room, he made a throw-away joke about rape whistles. A little on the nose, no? Last week, C.K. made his second appearance at the same place. As is explained in Matt Miller’s coverage of it for Esquire, the Comedy Cellar created a new policy allowing audience members to leave without paying their bill if they are uncomfortable with a performance. Some audience members took that opportunity during C.K.’s set. Personally, I do not see this as the Comedy Cellar embracing and supporting bad people. Rather, I see this as them giving people an opportunity to right their wrongs—an opportunity to have a real conversation and possibly even ask for and earn forgiveness. That is what I want from Louis C.K.
Everyone make mistakes, but men, be it in entertainment, business, religion, or really anywhere else, have spent too long sweeping abusive mistakes under the rug. As a predominantly white man (though he partly identifies as Mexican), Louis C.K. is granted the opportunity to come back. The Comedy Cellar has even bent their rules, which I assume was specifically for him. Surely, Colin Kaepernick (demonized for an action we can all agree is not as bad as coercing women to let you masturbate at them) would have loved the same opportunity. If C.K.’s Mexican heritage was more visible, he likely wouldn’t be the “Lucky Louie” we see farting about on stage today. His road back to the mic wouldn’t have been easy, or even possible.
After Louis C.K.’s “downfall,” I was hopeful, and I still am. Clearly, we, as an audience, can’t expect C.K. not to return. That ship has sailed; Louis C.K. is mid-comeback. That is the privilege given to powerful men with his skin tone—men whose bad deeds simply weren’t appalling enough in the eyes of other powerful men with his skin tone. Whether or not this comeback will stick is another question. He could easily fail and fail quickly. He is having a one-way conversation, but all comics get heckled. That’s part of the deal.
Still, I am hopeful. I am hopeful that C.K.’s return can help others, not just serve his own career. I am hopeful that people in his position can help prevent abuse by others. I am hopeful that there is a road to redemption for those who have done wicked things.
Turn this ship around, Louis. Address the problem, and help others heal while you’re at it. Each one of us wrestles with the dark side of our soul; some of us are unlucky enough to have that part of ourselves become visible. This is nothing but an opportunity on top of the absolute blessing it is for you to be on stage at all this year. Louis, don’t squash this like a cucaracha. Here’s a chance to embrace and show your whole self, darkness and light alike. Doing just that is what you built your career around, so you know you are capable of making a huge difference right now. You’re one of maybe five male comedians I would trust to talk about this subject with brutal honesty and eloquence, and some of those five are dead. So do that. Work harder.