In A Defect’s Mirror

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“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.

Contrition Nation

If there’s anything cheaper than life in present day America, it’s the public apology. Bad behavior, criminal choices, sociopathic outbursts, even murder, can be mitigated somewhat with the right plaintive tone. (Except for cops — cops never apologize.) Doesn’t matter if it’s sincere, so long as the intended audience believes it’s sincere. Which they usually don’t.

Louis C.K. is finding that out, assuming he’s still paying attention. If he’s smart, he’ll take what money he has left and go into hiding for three or four years. Discover Buddhism. Practice yoga with a morally-strict instructor. Deny himself the pleasures of the flesh, which inevitably lead to pain, destruction and ruin. All life is suffering. You bet.

In my day, comedians set themselves on fire, shot up their cars, freebased coke until their hearts exploded — and that was just Richard Pryor. Freddie Prinze briefly ruled before ending his career with a bullet to the brain. Belushi, Farley, Mitch Hedberg, and Greg Giraldo overdosed. That’s how comics used to do it. Louie’s crash is decidedly softer, which is why a lot of people aren’t satisfied with his mea culpa.

A random scroll through Twitter reveals various desires for Louie’s death, imprisonment, castration, or whatever torture a cubicle drone can imagine while sitting on the office toilet. Twitter may not reflect all Americans who use it (or we are seriously fucked), but much of it puts the lie to the perennial canard that Americans are a forgiving people. Not when there’s blood in the air. Not when the powerless can momentarily elevate themselves through shared moral outrage.

Of course, what Louis C.K. did was reprehensible, maybe even criminal, depending on how the law is interpreted. Those close to him knew, or had to have some idea, thus their relative silence so far. (Expect plenty of “What? I had no clue! My heart’s broken!”) Rumors are one thing, but as we’re discovering daily, there’s a lot of truth to them. In a country this twisted, is that any real surprise? Rape, sexual abuse, harassment, and all the shit that goes with it are no longer in the shadows. Women have truly had it. They’re done, which means they’re only getting started.

At least when it comes to showbiz. Countless wrongs may never be completely righted, but there are plenty of cases to work with, and you can almost smell the sweat coming from talent agencies and entertainment law offices alike. A lot of anxious professionals are going to log some serious overtime before this is over, if it’s ever over.

Meanwhile, those who rape the economy and financially bludgeon the populace are doubtless unconcerned with the current uproar. It must amuse them to see their underlings exposed, disgraced, perhaps even prosecuted. So long as the real power brokers aren’t dragged into daylight and set aflame, it’s all good. In fact, for them, it’s probably better than ever.

As for Louie, well, there’s always that yoga retreat in the distant hills where he can watch I LOVE YOU, DADDY on a loop, as did the hermetic Howard Hughes with ICE STATION ZEBRA. Life may be suffering, but that doesn’t mean you make it worse for others. Lights out at 10. No exceptions.

Wankers

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I’ve always loved comedy. In a sense, comedy saved my life. But comedians are some of the worst people I’ve ever met.

Self-loathing. Contempt for others (audiences and fellow comics alike). Anger. Pettiness. Bitterness. And in many of the men, misogyny, casual racism, sexual confusion, all couched, naturally, in The Joke. Because once the stage lights dim, no matter how vile the material, it’s considered little more than a fading joke.

The comic minds who moved me were absurdist and satirical — not that they didn’t utter awful things or explore twisted premises, but there was, ideally, something behind just getting laughs. When I entered the NYC comedy world of the early-1980s, most performers I encountered had no interest in conceptual bits. They mined familiar themes for easy laughs and hoped for commercial success. Thus was the tenor of that decade’s comedy boom.

I was there for most of it, yet not really a part of it. The only reason I performed stand up was to have my writing heard. I had no intention nor desire to be a club comic, and this put me at a distance. But my writing kept me close enough to the game which disabused me of any lingering romantic thoughts about comedy’s potential power. I was young. It was heartbreaking.

So does this mean I believe what’s being said about Louis C.K.? Yes, I think the accusations are most likely true. Given the sexual masochism of Louie’s work, the open shame and self-flagellation, it’s nearly impossible to think that this isn’t part of the real him. Sometimes comedians behave worse offstage. This clearly seems to be the case here.

Again, it’s part and parcel of that world. Even as recently as six years ago, when I returned to the stage out of curiosity and a feeling of unfinished business, I was shocked by how degraded the stand up form had become. I wrote about it at the time, and felt badly for the women who endured sexist, garbage material in an effort to realize their own comedy dreams.

Women aren’t funny. Bullshit — plenty of women are funny. Feminists have no sense of humor. Ha — I know and have worked with witty feminists. Having seen how lesser male comics treated the women in their midst, Louis C.K.’s alleged behavior rings true. As ugly as this is, maybe it will inspire a comedy boom led by women. It’s well overdue, and we certainly could use some fresh jokes.

UPDATE: Louis C.K. confessed to it all. Not much else he could do and still be taken seriously, yet he seemed relatively contrite (though for many it’ll never be enough). Moving on, hopefully to a women’s comedy era.