“Why can’t I have normal sex fantasies?”
If an artist’s life and work are inseparable, then Louis C.K. must be one of the purest creators in recent memory.
His stage act and TV shows are filled with masturbation jokes, shameful sexual thoughts, and general confusion about how to romantically approach a woman, if that’s even possible. Louie is pretty much always the butt of the joke, punished by ridicule and rejection, left to further ponder his inadequacy.
It’s a very Catholic outlook, as any veteran of the Church will recognize. I don’t know if nuns whacked Louie’s hands with wooden rulers as they did mine, but their savage lessons must have had a lasting effect. The priests were no picnic, either. They could fuck you up without even touching you.
So Louie goes into the world, wanting to be a comedian. Pryor and Carlin are major influences. It’s a confessional form, and Louie has a lot to say. The comedy boom guarantees a stage for anyone game, regardless of talent or insight. But Louie has talent; he’s bright, committed and determined. He’s in it for the duration, however tarnished and compromised that might be.
Problem is, Louie comes of comic age in a time of angry male reaction. The ’70s and ’80s rubbed a lot of young male comics the wrong way. They viewed that period as soft, effeminate, weak. Women were pushy, gay men a threat, hence the constant queer-baiting and bashing. A new generation of male comics would assert its manhood.
Their boys’ club was aggressively juvenile and showed up everywhere. Even SNL was dominated by it for a brief time. Women were seen as bitches, whores, idiots, and extreme mother figures. Saying cunt became common. Ball busting focused more on vaginas than testicles. Male toxicity was the New Funny, and if you didn’t appreciate it, then you were gay or a girl, and girls had no sense of humor.
Louis C.K. worked in the middle of all this. Some of his best friends were misogynistic comedians. But unlike most of them, Louie had more artistic goals in mind. He saw things cinematically, knew that comedy and drama were essentially the same. He began making short films while writing for established comics. His stand up was a storyboard for the deeper themes he wanted to explore.
Of course, this more or less dovetails into the sordid stories that are now common knowledge. In the midst of Louis C.K.’s creative evolution, he misbehaves. Horribly. Abusively. Repeatedly. Pushed against the wall by The New York Times, he confesses to all of it. Many women are angry that he didn’t say “I’m sorry,” but honestly, that wouldn’t have seriously mattered. As the most accomplished comedian of his generation, Louie must pay a higher price. Just saying “sorry” could never cover it.
“I wish I was one of those people who has clean sex. Nice clean boners.”
Much of Louis C.K.’s output reveals an obvious, steady pattern of confession. He’s clearly conflicted about sex and his relationship to women — at least those women he wanted to fuck or masturbate to. Professionally, many women who’ve worked with him sing his praises, so obviously he can control his desires.
Maybe he no longer behaves that way and hasn’t for awhile. It would explain his extensive self-autopsies. In a sense, Pryor and Carlin’s influence is even more profound. Jokes are nice; ripping open your chest to an audience requires a certain critical focus.
Given the period in which he creatively grew, Louis C.K.’s level of work is remarkable. He’s the misogynistic era’s Byron. He has serious chops, and one wonders what he might have accomplished in a more expansive time. It’s never too late, even for the worst of us.