Not a stand-up guy
This column is adapted from Gene's Nov. 14 online chat introduction.
WASHINGTON -- This column is about humor. But it is not funny.
If you read about Louis C.K.'s actions, and if you understand and care about standup comedy, you might well be aghast. What he said and did was particularly manipulative, and particularly insidious.
Imagine yourself a female comic, talented but not yet successful, invited to the hotel room of Louis C.K., who is rightfully considered one of the best comics of all time. He is cutting-edge -- a man who, for example, managed to successfully deliver, on Saturday Night Live, a shtick that was at least ostensibly sympathetic to pedophiles. He did it because he knew how. He's that good.
So there you are, in his hotel room. You are flattered to be there. Selfishly, perhaps, you think a friendship with Louis might provide a boost to your career. And he looks you up and down and he says, deadpan, something like: "Do you mind if I take my clothes off and masturbate while looking at you?"
You laugh. Of course you laugh. It is funny. He is doing something sophisticated, from the standpoint of comedy, and is inviting you into a pretty rarefied club. He is making fun of romance by reducing the entire absurd mating dance to its most absurd, un-hypocritical center. Not, "Hey, can I buy you a drink?" Not, "Come here often?" The hell with all that. Let's get down to the nakedly disgusting basics.
That's satire. That's comedy.
So, yes, you laugh. This guy is edgy. Edge is good. Edge is the essence of the best comedy. And he seems to be honoring you by assuming you'll get it.
Then he takes off his clothes.
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"Holy cow, this guy is really edgy." See, you may well be extremely uncomfortable -- who wouldn't be? -- but you also understand on some level that it's the identical joke, but taken to a greater, edgier extreme. Edgy humor is supposed to make you uncomfortable. You think: This must be the way really great comics deal with each other: We are above niceties. We don't have to pretend, among ourselves. We can tell it raw. And he is doing that, and he is doing that with you. He is respecting your talent. You are kind of grateful, maybe.
Then he ... does it.
Now where are you?
This is why I really, really hate what Louis C.K. did to these women. He is taking advantage of their professional adulation of him, and of their ambition, and -- more than anything else -- of the professional comic's endemic insecurity about their art, and manipulating them through the inherent ambiguity of humor. These women are comedians. He takes the thing they love and turns it against them.
So yeah, screw you, Louie.
Gene Weingarten can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter, @geneweingarten. Chat with him online Tuesdays at noon Eastern at www.washingtonpost.com.
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