Meet Louis C.K.: New SWPL Icon
This is is an Irish/Jewish mix. He got the Irish looks, but the Jewish name and attitude.
Why liberals love the acerbic comedian Louis C.K.
Monica Potts | October 15, 2010
In one of the most talked-about scenes from Louie, the cable show from the comedian known as Louis C.K., a group of comics playing poker segue from a particularly raunchy conversation about male genitalia to one about gay sex. The only gay man in the group, a comedian named Rick Crom, points out that he talks about sex more with this group of straight comedians than he does with his gay friends. He targets Louis, who he says is obsessed with the word faggot. In a re-enactment of a real conversation the two comedians had years before, Louis asks, "Rick, does it offend you when I say that word?"
What follows is a dissertation, a lengthy one in the context of television, on the word's etymology and what it might mean to gay men. Crom tells us that, in times when witches were regularly burned at the stake, gay men were considered too low to merit even a vertical pole and were thrown directly onto the blaze. (In the late 13th century, a "faggot" was a bundle of wood.) He goes on to say that nearly every gay man in America has probably been called the word as he was physically attacked, and so its use brings up painful memories. "By all means, use it. Get your laughs," Crom says. "But now you know what it means." An uncomfortable silence hangs in the air before someone breaks the tension with another joke.
Louis, whose real last name, Szekely, is pronounced "C.K.," talked about that scene with Terry Gross, host of National Public Radio's Fresh Air, in July. He said he wasn't trying to tell people not to use the word but was simply trying to show that comedians reflect on the language they use. "We do wonder about this stuff," he said. "There are times I go, 'Is this OK really? What does that mean that I'm hurting people that I don't know who are watching me on TV?'" The popular gay blog Queerty quoted The Washington Post's review, which called the scene deplorable yet oddly poetic, and declared, "Louis C.K.'s New FX Series Will Try to Make You Laugh at 'Faggot.'" Whether or not the episode succeeded, the consensus was: At least he went there.
And that's why Louie, which just finished its first season, has been subject to the same word-of-mouth buzz that led liberals to hail The Wire, the five-season HBO drama set in Baltimore, as television's best show ever and convinced a bunch of 20- and 30-somethings to watch a Nickelodeon cartoon called Avatar: The Last Airbender. Like those two shows, Louie's first season got ratings that were not terrible but not spectacular. Viewers grew to 2.5 million, which was enough to ensure a second 13-episode season.
Louis turned down another sitcom opportunity to produce the show for FX, where he has more freedom with language and style. The result is an experimental format that seems designed to make the viewer slightly uncomfortable. Bits of his stand-up, as sharp as ever, are interspersed with scenes of his melancholy life as a 42-year-old divorcee and father of two who isn't so smooth with his peers. Unlike most other shows on television, in almost every episode Louie deals with a deep moral quandary -- whether it's ever OK to use the word faggot, for instance -- which is addressed from a fundamentally liberal point of view. In the first episode, Louis responds to a bus malfunction on a school field trip he is chaperoning by sending every kid home in a limousine. In the stand-up section that follows, he says, "There are people who are starving in the world, and I'm driving an Infiniti." In the third episode, a fellow comedian complains that white people don't stand a chance in the age of Obama, and Louis asks, "What is 10,000 years of unchecked prosperity? That's not enough for you?"
This is new. For the most part, people of color are the ones who initiate serious discussions about race and privilege in the public sphere -- and in the world of comedy. We expect Dave Chappelle and Chris Rock, like Richard Pryor before them, to talk about race. Some white comedians, like Sarah Silverman, tend to joke about racism, making fun of white people and their ignorance in ways that shock and offend. Likewise, we expect female comics to tackle gender, and male comics to make jokes about how they don't understand women. But Louis' comedy is about being a white man -- and about how others view white men. He doesn't accept ignorance as a point of view. Moreover, this isn't the occasional stand-up bit; a significant number of his jokes are about race, class, and gender....
Zu der Zeit war kein König in Israel; ein jeglicher tat, was ihn recht deuchte.