Louis CK hosted this weekend’s season finale of Saturday Night Live. The opener made light fun of the weird and robotic Hillary Clinton (played by the wonderful Kate McKinnon). Some skits were mildly funny. Most were not. Weekend Update, with Michael Che and Colin Jost, is still underperforming, sadly. Rihanna performed the catchy-but-not-great “Bitch Better Have My Money” and less-catchy “American Oxygen.” US Weekly — always a reliable source for music critiques — said she “pushed boundaries” but I honestly have zero idea what those boundaries might have been.
But you know who did push some boundaries was Louis CK. I’ll embed it here, but if you’re super sensitive or simply have good taste, you may want to skip it:
His opening monologue began with a discussion of what he called his “mild racism,” which he blamed on being a child who grew up in the 1970s.
“That was a very racist decade. People said racist things all the time. And nobody got offended. The only time somebody got offended if you said something racist in the 70s was if you interrupted someone and they said, ‘Hey, you interrupted me! I was saying something racist.'”
He gave some examples, such as that if he is in a gas station and sees someone young wearing a hoodie who is white, he thinks it’s an athlete:
“If he’s black, unless he has a big smile on his face, I think: ‘That’s fine, everything’s fine, nothing’s going to happen, of course everything’s fine, why did I even think that for a second?'”
This is all pretty standard or even mild fare for Louis CK. (And nothing compared to Bill Hicks, Lenny Bruce, George Carlin or Richard Pryor.) He then went into a discussion of the Israel-Palestine conflict, explaining it through the prism of the way his daughters fight. He compared the daughter he likes less to Palestine, and generally made fun of their plight. He openly embraced favoring Israel.
Somehow this segued into a discussion of child molestation. It was actually quite disgusting and completely offensive. I can not possibly characterize how tasteless it was.
It was also hilarious.
Perhaps I should end there. It was funny. The joke stands on those merits alone.
But — and as Pee Wee Herman eloquently said:
So let’s talk about my big ‘but.’ I wrote a few weeks ago about a few recent instances of jokes being met with abject horror by their audiences. David Letterman referenced an old joke about how to treat a lady and the audience was so aghast that it got written up in the New York Post. Jamie Foxx was accused of transphobia for the mildest of jokes at Bruce Jenner’s expense. Trevor Noah’s every tweet was scrutinized when he was announced as the new host of The Daily Show. People were upset at his jokes about fat women and not, as they should have been, at how unfunny everything was.
Anyway, as I wrote in I’ve Seen The Future. It’s Comedy Speakeasies:
The social justice warriors are creating a culture where comedians can’t make most jokes about race, sex, sexual choices, or any of the things that used to be staples of the comedy circuit. One joke in a stand-up set bombs for being over the line and the social media mobs come forth with pitchforks and your career is over or your comedy is seriously proscribed. It’s a free country, though, which means, in these cases, that if a bunch of coddled children can’t handle transgressive comedy without losing their minds, they can make life for a comic a living hell. Just because you’re trying something out in an intimate setting with a particular group of people doesn’t keep them from blasting it on the internet for a global audience that couldn’t possibly understand what you were going for. Comedians such as Chris Rock say it’s just not fun any more.
All this to say that Louis CK knew he’d be met with social justice warrior outrage — and he was — and he went ahead with the monologue anyway. Not in a speakeasy but on network television. No trigger warnings. No concerns about punching all the way down to a pedophile. Again, the jokes about child molesting were tasteless, horribly offensive, and shocking. And there was something very refreshing — and ballsy — about that in a culture where people are afraid to tell even mild jokes.