Louis C.K. is Back Along with the Problem of Comedy and Controversy
Louis C.K.'s latest set has leaked with jokes about school shootings and gender pronouns angering the comedy world.
Creating comedy is never easy, but we live in a time that has made it even more complicated. Louis C.K. was one of many prominent figures in entertainment hit with a #metoo scandal that dramatically altered the course of his career.
C.K. went from the darling of the comedy world to a pariah almost instantaneously. Rolling Stone has picked up a story on his leaked stand-up and the jokes are defensive, angry and almost seem to be targeting the youth culture and movement that brought about his own recent struggles.
"...You’re not interesting cause you went to a high school where kids got shot. Why does that mean I have to listen to you? How does that make you interesting? You didn’t get shot. You pushed some fat kid in the way and now I got to listen to you talking?”
Reactions from fellow comics to Louis set have been negative across the boards. Judd Apatow tweeted, "Louis CK is all fear and bitterness now. He can’t look inward."
The problem at the heart of it all is that comedy is often at its best when it's pushing buttons. We laugh when we are surprised, or even shocked. We laugh at the things that maybe we take too seriously.
Anyone who grew up listening to George Carlin knows that pushing the envelope and taking aim at cultural norms can be cathartic, hilarious, and powerful. Carlin was a true master. He somehow managed to insult all of us without being overly offensive. He did it with a light touch. Most importantly though... when he did it it was funny.
And that's the really tricky part. You can get away with a lot if the joke lands. If it doesn't, you just seem insensitive. Carlin wasn't just a product of a time where the "politically correct culture police" had yet to crack down. He was able to navigate the choppy waters with aplomb.
Far too many lesser comics fall prey to the notion that they must be shocking to get a laugh, and think less about crafting a good joke, or set. Many great comics have lived entirely without resorting to shock tactics, or insults. Bill Cosby and Jerry Seinfeld stand out as two such comics. Of course, Cosby has been embroiled in scandal and was convicted of crimes himself. The nature of his jokes had nothing to do with that.
We live in tricky times for comedy because pushing buttons is a particularly dangerous game. Louis' career was derailed by sexual misconduct, not the nature of his jokes, but now that he is back, his jokes seem to be suffering from some of his hurt over how things went down.
It would be a mistake to police our comedians content and punish them for being offensive. We want artists to be free to express any views, just like anyone else. The real problem with Louis latest set?
It's just not that funny.
"Punching down" so to speak, at a group of people who suffered a school shooting isn't going to win over a crowd. Louis used to present a self-deprecating voice and unique worldview, now he seems embroiled in a battle with the culture of political correctness and "social justice warriors."
But it's not young people who survived school shootings, or transgendered people who wish to change their pronouns who put a halt to Louis many show and movie deals. It was his abuse of power.