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Louis CK's brand of standup comedy isn't effective in the aftermath of his sexual misconduct scandal

  • As Lili Loofbourow explains, the comedy in Louis CK's new self-released special, "trollishly titled" Sorry, would've worked better pre-scandal. "Let me explain," says Loofbourow. "The way C.K.’s flirtations with the offensive and the taboo work, at least historically, is by making himself a temporary stand-in for the bad guy. He ventriloquizes everything a pedophile might be thinking in exceptional detail, for instance. Or take the bit in Sorry about a Black woman picking out bananas. The joke starts off with how creepy he feels being a white man watching a Black woman pick bananas, then gets mad that he feels creepy because he isn’t creepy—he just wants bananas and it’s not his fault that a racist association exists—and finally ends with him giving up and going to the strawberries, where there’s 'a Jew.' It’s sort of a typical triple lutz of a Louis C.K. joke, right? The twist being that the persona he’s been playing as not just enlightened about stereotypes but righteously offended at being wrongly suspected of being a racist creep turns out to be kind of a race-obsessed weirdo in this whole other 'Jew-in-the-strawberries' way. It’s sort of a brave joke (tactically) in that, like many C.K. bits, it annihilates the C.K. character’s ethical 'goodness.' The person whose perspective you thought you were in sympathy with is kind of horrible. I thought this particular example was a little weak, but it’s the kind of joke Louis C.K. is really, really good at. It’s also obviously a riskier kind of humor for him to attempt post-scandal. The success of such a joke depends heavily on the audience trusting that the comic beneath the 'creep' persona isn’t horrible. That by so precisely articulating such a perspective, it’s implicitly a critique. That meta layer is the safety net I’m talking about: For most of C.K.’s career, the 'real' Louis C.K.—a genuinely good guy troubled by demons but with a compassionate and decent core—has functioned as an authorizing alibi of sorts for the special’s boundary-violating experiments. 'Louis is a creep' is a leitmotif in C.K.’s comedy, a rich vein he’s mined in special after special, but the subtext has always been that he really isn’t: The Real Louis C.K. was the hapless, kind of dirty, but conscientious guy who bought a Girls Gone Wild DVD after his divorce but couldn’t jack off to it because he kept—as a dad—getting mad at the girls for making stupid choices. The revelations have made it harder to believe in that version of him; to a lot of his former fans, one horrifying thing about the allegations was that he turned out to be the very creep we thought he was lampooning." ALSO: Many of Louis CK's current fans care less about jokes than a culture war dynamic that's mostly in their heads.

    TOPICS: Louis CK, Louis CK: Sorry, Standup Comedy