Disgraced actor-comedian Louis C.K. is in trouble again, this time for a typically foul-mouthed routine – recorded illicitly at a recent New York gig and briefly released on YouTube – in which he cruelly mocks the victims of the Parkland shootings, rips into millennials confused about their gender identity, and makes an obscene, all-purposely offensive reference to his doctor whom he describes as an “old fucking Jewish fag.”
God, I wish I’d been there.
It sounds like the kind of set that comics scarcely dare do these days: edgy, obnoxious, fearless, unapologetic and – to judge by the uproarious laughter and applause in the background – sidesplittingly funny.
Sure on paper, I would concede, a lot of it looks in shockingly poor taste. But one of the functions of comedy has always been to let us say the unsayable – and in doing so broach important truths which might otherwise remain concealed or, worse, censored.
Shakespeare’s Fool in King Lear is one historical example of this. In the guise of jest he is able to spout home truths to his master that, coming from any other servant, would result in whipping or dismissal.
But this tradition goes back much further than that, at least to the era of the 4th century BC tyrant Dionysius I of Syracuse, who was mercilessly mocked by comic playwrights of the day in a way which, for anyone else, would have resulted in torture and execution.
Comedy, in other words, is the little man’s (or woman’s) only defense against the excesses of tyranny.
Louis C.K. – did he but know it – is the heir to this fine tradition.
And no: I’m really not joking here. The service Louis C.K. is performing to contemporary Western culture is every bit as important as the one those irreverent playwrights performed 2,500 years ago in the era of Dionysius I.
All that has changed is the nature of the tyranny being mocked. Back then it was the cruel, vain, capricious nature of Dionysius I’s regime. Today it is political correctness.
One of the primary aims of political correctness is to prevent people speaking freely. More specifically, it is the left’s way of closing down their critics not by besting them in debate but by refusing them permission to speak.
Look at the left-liberal response to Louis C.K.’s recent set and you can see that this is what is happening here.
This hacky, unfunny, shallow routine is just a symptom of how people are afraid to feel empathy. It’s much easier to laugh at our most vulnerable than to look at their pain directly & show them love and concern. Louis CK is all fear and bitterness now. He can’t look inward. https://t.co/aQVG0rk87y
— Judd Apatow (@JuddApatow) December 31, 2018
Louis CK is back doing jokes on climate change and Parkland. So gross. Murdered teens and our ruined planet are about the least funny subjects possible. Guess he figured out that the best way to avoid any consequences and stay in the spotlight was to become a right-wing asshole.
— Adam Best (@adamcbest) December 31, 2018
Judd Apatow – himself a comic, allegedly – has chosen to critique Louis C.K. by arbitrarily rewriting the rules of what good comedy actually is. Apparently, to be funny now you have to feel “empathy” with people and “show them love and concern.”
Adam Best, meanwhile, has decided – equally arbitrarily – that certain subjects are simply off-limits for comedy. (Oddly these seem to align with Adam Best’s personal political prejudices, including his evidently heartfelt belief in the horrors of climate change doom).
Note too the bizarre double standards here. Left-liberals like Apatow and Best are forever championing the importance of safe spaces where people should feel free to be themselves and express themselves as they wish. Yet here they are seeking to deny the world what should be the ultimate safe space: the realm of comedy where the only criterion of success or failure ought to be whether or not it makes people laugh.
Also among Louis C.K.’s detractors – inevitably given how easy it is to whip up an outrage mob in the age of social media – are various Parkland victims and their relatives.
Louis C.K, although taking jello shots & eating mushrooms might have been ideal for you when you were 18, that is not the luxury that we have after having to see our friends and classmates in caskets because of preventable gun violence. https://t.co/Hx5cGoxOPn
— Kyra Parrow (@longlivekcx) December 31, 2018
Obviously we can all empathize with their pain and irritation. If any of us — or any of our children — had been involved in a horrible tragedy like Parkland I’m sure we’d feel disgusted at the way our suffering had been mined for the purposes of comedy.
The problem is, though, that being nice and being funny don’t always go together. Indeed, cuddly, nurturing, generosity of spirit and a really good laugh are all too often the bitterest of enemies. That’s because comedy often acts as a release valve: enabling us to expunge through laughter some of the pain and fear we all feel about the tragedy of the human condition, the frailty of flesh and the inevitability of death.
It’s worth noting here that Cameron Kasky, a Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School survivor defended C.K. on Monday, saying “comedy exists to be offensive.”
Only a fool or a woke millennial — but I repeat myself — would be so stupid as to imagine that when Louis C.K. spat out those lines about the Parkland shooting that the targets of his satire were the kids who died, or their grieving relatives, or the traumatized survivors. No. If those people felt hurt — and I’m sure they did — it was only because they were unfortunate collateral damage of Louis C.K.’s much more important satirical point: the way Parkland victims like David Hogg have exploited their personal tragedy for political gain.
Sure if you agree with the gun control lobby the survivors’ campaigning may be no bad thing.
But if you don’t — and a good half of America doesn’t — then this actually looks like a somewhat ugly development in our political culture: the way, apparently, if you’re a photogenic, articulate kid who has survived a school shooting, you now have carte blanche to lobby against the Second Amendment – and yet not be held to account because, hey, your youth and your victimhood renders you beyond reproach.
(Oh, and that’s before you get on to this free pass you apparently now get into Harvard, even when you haven’t got anywhere near the appropriate grade point average…)
If the job of satire is to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted, then Louis C.K.’s Parkland sketch was bang on the money.
No comedian, anywhere, would be making light of Parkland if the kids had all kept schtum and not decided to reinvent themselves as crusaders for Social Justice, gun control and the Democrats. The moment they did, then they became fair game for comedians like Louis C.K.
Not that Louis C.K. probably ever thought of himself before as being in opposition to Social Justice or the Democrats or possibly even gun control. He’d probably hoped he could get away with being politically undeclared. (As he once said: “Some things I think are very conservative, or very liberal. I think when someone falls into one category for everything, I’m very suspicious. It doesn’t make sense to me that you’d have the same solution to every issue”). Although he publicly picked sides — notably during the 2016 election, in which he endorsed Hillary Clinton, and months later compared President Donald Trump to Adolf Hitler.
But as C.K. has now very painfully discovered, in the current culture wars which are ravaging the United States and the West generally, there are no neutral participants. Either you’re on the side that believes in tone-policing, censorship, eradicating “hate speech”, virtue-signaling, and aggressively celebrating such trendy modern shibboleths as transgenderism and third wave feminism. Or you’re on the side that finds those things a massive joke.
Welcome to the right side, Louis C.K. Now you’re here, I fear there’s no going back…