A Letter About Louis CK From A Straight White Man To A Women and Gay Rights Activist
Basically you are going to have to come over to my house and watch a Louis CK comedy special, because I spend way too much time wondering what you would think of his material. But I think it would be beneficial if I were able to communicate a couple of things to you first. Disclaimers, I guess.
First of all, a couple disclaimers to this disclaimer. I know that you are as capable as anyone of watching a thing and enjoying it. You don’t need protection, and you don’t need special treatment. But knowing you fairly well as I do, and knowing CK’s material very well as I do, I predict that some friction might occur, and I think it’s possible for me to minimize the damage. Also, I’m going to be using this letter as a springboard to expand some of my thoughts about CK’s work, which is going to make it overblown far beyond anything you would actually find useful.
So, I think the biggest disconnect you’re going to have with CK is that he is a straight white man, and that point of view is an intrinsic aspect to his work. It’s not that I think you’d have a problem with that, but I do think you might have some trouble connecting to it because of this. CK’s work is basically mapping out the furthest reaches of what a straight white male mind as a product of modern America thinks about. As a result, his work very strongly connects with this contingency. I think the fact that he is currently so massively popular but you only seem to have heard of him in passing speaks to how little overlap there is between his culture and yours.
Again, it’s not that I don’t think you’re capable of understanding the straight white male mind. It’s more that I predict the method with which he depicts the far out reaches of it to be a little confusing and possibly concerning to you. I have this theory about CK’s work that when he’s delivering his observations to the audience, he’s not saying “Isn’t this crazy?” but he’s in fact saying “Isn’t it crazy that I think that?” He is sometimes explicit about this, calling himself stupid or crazy or fucked up, but he often isn’t. So when he talks about gay people being kind of a mystery or how great privilege is, that’s what I strongly feel he is intentionally doing. Because of this, he’s often going to be saying things that are flat out wrong.
One sentiment that people seem to have is that comedy is comedy and you shouldn’t take it seriously. That it’s unfair to find it at fault. That it’s okay to say anything, as long as it’s funny. (Jon Stewart hides behind this idea often in order to absolve himself of any responsibility for The Daily Show.) I’m pretty sure I disagree with this. While I believe it’s important to be able to mock and laugh at literally everything (not in a “defending our rights” kind of a way, but as a cathartic release), I also think that words matter. The implications of laughing at something are real. That said, I agree with like 99% of what CK says. I believe that the high level of, for lack of a better word, truth of much of what he’s saying to be another big reason for his success. I predict that there will be things he says that we will flat out disagree on. I fully expect you to bury me in these conversations. In my, and CK’s, defense, your thoughts on the issues you might bring up are going to be far more developed than my own. But I trust my instincts, and I might stand my ground on something despite not being able to articulate exactly why. But I am open to being wrong, as is CK. (The opening of the Season One episode of his series Louie titled “Poker/Divorce” speaks directly to this.)
The only time I can recall ever feeling a complete disconnect with what CK was saying, and I swear the analogy of this to you is a coincidence, was when he said something along the lines of, and I’m heavily paraphrasing here, “I don’t get how women can have sex with each other. It’s like pressing the openings of two buckets together. You’re not doing anything! It doesn’t make sense! It’s wrong.” I get extremely uncomfortable when I hear that, and I feel that it’s flat out wrong. Two vaginas sounds like a total party to me, even if there’s no dick in the room. But again, I refer you to my “Isn’t it crazy that I think that?” theory of his work. As a straight white male, I can almost understand how he could have that thought. I guess my problem with that bit is that he never blinks. He just says that lesbian sex makes no sense and moves on. (I later heard him rescind on this in a bit where he refers to the, to him, mysterious act of lesbian sex as “whatever wonderful thing those people do”.)
So I guess the biggest question raised by this is “Why?” Why define and parade around all these dark, often incorrect thoughts? I think the answer to that line of questioning is not an uncommon reason for much of the controversial material found in comedy. It’s to get it out there. To expose and address it. Comedy is a great way to broach a difficult subject. It softens the blow, and the entertainment value tricks people into listening. And I honestly think CK is making an impact on this front. I think he’s clearly labeling intolerant thought as being ludicrous, and making a strong case for tolerance being common sense. I mean, really, a big part of the biggest comic in America right now’s act is saying stuff like ”I never understood anger toward gay people, because a person being gay doesn’t affect your life… I can understand hating gay people if, say, like you’re mowing your lawn and two guys are blowing each other right on the grass.” Basically, I think this work exists so that you and I can sit down together and watch it and then talk about it. I’m free this weekend, let me know.