The finale of Showtimes’ The Comedy Store aired two days before the election last week, and it featured an interview with Louis C.K. that I assumed would make some waves on the Internet. There was an election to contend with, however, and maybe not that many people were watching The Comedy Store to begin with, so I never saw it come up. It’s been nine days, but I think it’s still worth revisiting (and for what it’s worth, Dan and I also get into it on tomorrow’s Podjiba podcast).
The final episode of the series largely explores the legacy of The Comedy Store, but director Mike Binder also decides to take a detour into “cancel culture,” which is a thing that’s not actually real. One example that the series offers — Joey Diaz — illustrates the point. Diaz made a joke over the summer on Joe Rogan’s podcast about exchanging stage time for blowjobs, and he got “canceled” for it, except that Joey Diaz figures prominently in this very documentary series, and he still hosts a successful podcast. (I didn’t know who Joey Diaz was until this series, but now I do, which seems like the opposite of cancellation).
David Spade also says something in this episode that I sort of agree with, which is that if a comedian says something heinous in real life or in an interview on a talk show, then it’s fair game, but they shouldn’t be canceled for jokes they make on stage. I don’t disagree with that, but like Maron — who says that comedians should take some responsibility for their jokes — I also don’t think that they should be immune from criticism for making, say, an AIDS joke in 2020 simply because they made it while on stage. You can take issue with someone’s act without “canceling” them, which again is not a real thing. Besides, if you don’t like something, you are allowed to share that opinion with others, which is often the very nature of stand-up comedy itself: An airing of grievances in joke form. Stand-up comedians were the original cancel culture warriors!
All of this is moot where it concerns Louis C.K., because his offenses were not jokes, and they did not occur on stage. However, a panel of comedians Binder brought on to the show — — Whitney Cummings, Joe Rogan, Jay Leno, Bill Burr, etc. — believe Louis C.K. is being unfairly treated.
“Louis C.K. did some shows in New York, and they sold out. But one person made a complaint, and that becomes the headline,” Jay Leno complains, as though selling out shows in New York somehow erases the sexual misconduct Louis admitted to engaging in.
“If you don’t like what he did,” Bill Burr adds, “then don’t go to the show.”
“How long do you punish somebody?” Binder asks.
“Picasso,” Leno chimes in again. “People aren’t tearing up his paintings. He did horrible things to women.”
“There’s this unfair expectation that every person is supposed to have lived a perfect life,” Annie Lederman adds. “Their record has to be perfect.”
“I just go with ‘never explain, never complain.’ And then people go away,” Leno add again. “When you get on Twitter (and explain yourself), you now make a one-day story, a three-day story.”
By their logic, if a supervisor at the marketing company cornered an employee in his office, took off all his clothes, and masturbated in front of her, he should only be suspended temporarily from his job?. How long should he be punished for engaging in this years-long behavior and covering it up with the help of his colleagues? Or should we let the man keep his job because the things he did weren’t as horrible as what Picasso did in the 1940s?
Is there not a line between “living a perfect life” and jerking off to your employee while she is in the room? Should Louis C.K. have simply kept his mouth shut, so as not to turn a “one-day story into a three-day story”? What reality do these comedians live in where the behavior that Louis C.K. engaged in warranted only some time away and some modest public shaming. HASN’T HE SUFFERED ENOUGH?
“I know you’ve gone through a tough period in your life,” Mike Binder says in his one-on-one interview with Louis C.K., as though circumstances in the world conspired against him, instead of Louis C.K. bringing this upon himself. “I don’t mean to be Pollyanna about it,” Binder continues, “but I think this is going to make you such a better comic.”
What?! Mike Binder believes that perpetrating multiple incidents of sexual misconduct will make Louis C.K. “such a better comic.”
Unsurprisingly, Louis C.K. agrees. “I think comedy should be better when things are harder. That should be the case.”
Binder compares Louis C.K’s situation to that of Richard Pryor, saying that when Pryor came back to The Comedy Store after burning out, he turned that into one of his best hours. But Richard Pryor did not sexually exploit a power differential; he did a lot of drugs and set himself on fire. He hurt only himself. This is not that, and it’s f**ked up to compare Louis C.K.’s situation to that of Richard Pryor.
Louis C.K. is all too willing to go along with the comparison, however. “I was in a chess store … and the guy who ran the store says, ‘I know who you are. You are a great martyr for history. And like the martyr, you will be crucified and destroyed, and then you will live on,’ Louis C.K. joked. “And I’m like, ‘Jesus, man. I’d really rather just fucking live my life.’”
I know what “martyr” means, but I still had to look it up three times to make sure. It sure sounds like Louis C.K. (and this guy who ran a chess store) believe that he’s a “martyr for history” being unfairly crucified for standing up for his beliefs, which is apparently the belief that one ought to be able to jerk off in front of female comedians? There’s no accountability here. This is all, “This unfairness is happening to me,” without any acknowledgment of his victims.
But sure, the “martyr for history” who sold out multiple shows in New York City was “canceled,” and the real problem with the politically correct SJWs who get outraged every time a man whips his dick out in front of an unwilling woman. The NERVE!
(Publisher’s Note: For the record, some comedians take issue in the documentary with the way their comments are taken out of context, divorced from the comedy, and used against them. I took nothing out of context in the interview between Binder and Louis C.K. That’s almost verbatim the exchange in that segment, but it is missing the somber looks and the woe-is-me music playing over the interview).
Header Image Source: Showtime