Monday, November 27, 2017

"Examining The Connection"

I don’t usually do “Torn from the Headlines!”  That’s for people who are trying to be popular.  Instead, I sort of do, “Torn from the headlines, and then it sits on my desk till I get around to writing about it.”  Which makes me proportionally less exploitational than the – generously described – predatory jackals.  At the price of being late to the party and nobody’s interested anymore.  Call it, “Breaking News – The Nostalgia Version.”

Okay, so… Louis C.K.

Here’s the thing.  His aberrant behavior? – Inexcusable.

But you know that already.

Powerful men putting women in terrible predicaments – Unacceptable.

Adequately covered.  (And more evocatively that I could.)

Appropriate punishment?

I don’t know.  Can we bring back “stoning”? 

I just remember hearing, in some class I took on the evolution of justice that a less mainstream interpretation of “An eye for an eye” was that it reflected a progressive upgrade in the arena of personal “retribution.”  Which works like this:

They knock out your eye: you retributively knock out their eye.  But you, more humanely, do not kill them. 

So there’s that, if you’re interested, and want to temper your justifiable anger with calibrated fairness.  Though I can understand if you are not in the mood.

What I choose to consider, not just to avoid covering old ground or inviting unwelcome controversy, although there is a little of that as well. is the peripheral “comedy perspective.”  Not of Louis C.K.’s behavior, I hastily clarify, but involving my longstanding curiosity about the relationship between who you are personally, and the material you create. 

I am aware that this terrain is exponentially less important than the other stuff.  That hurt people.  But I do comedy.  And I have always been drawn to the question concerning the giants of my business – Lenny Bruce.  Jonathan Winters.  Richard Pryor.  Robin Williams.  To name four.

That intriguing – to me – question is the following:

Do you have to be a little “funny in the head” to come up with the kind of groundbreaking comedy that people who are not “funny in the head” or, at least, not sufficiently “funny in the head” – not mentioning any names here – are, despite their best creative efforts, unable to deliver?

In Louis C.K’s case, we are referring to a comedian who has been accused of and confessed to – a subset of harassing sexual deviance.

Which brings me to a piece of material performed by Louis C.K., while hosting Saturday Night Live.

Let me preemptively acknowledge that when I originally heard this piece of material – I do not now remember where, but it was before the recent revelations – I was bowled over by its audacity and its “twisted reasoning” sensibility.  I thought it was hilarious, and I reflexively envied Louis C.K’s original mind for coming up with it.

Here it is, in part, transcribed from my viewing of the YouTube-recorded performance:

“When you consider the risk in being a child molester – speaking not even of the damage you’re doing, but the risk – there is no worse life available to a human than being a caught child molester, and yet they still do it.  From which, you can only really surmise… that it must be really good.  I mean from their point of view, not ours, but from their point of view, it must be amazing for them to risk so much.”

Laugh or don’t laugh.  I laughed.  Really hard.

Beyond the, literally, unimaginable idea, I admired the joke’s meticulous construction.  The way he identified with the appropriate side  “… from their point of view, not ours…” and the way he carefully distinguished between the plight of a child molester and the plight of a “caught child molester.”  And, of course, his willingness to stand in front of an audience and courageously “go there” in the first place.

I thought it was gutsy and wonderful.

Then the news broke, and I was like, “Hm.”

Time to re-think.

Dr. M, a trained psychologist with psychoanalytic certification, drew on decades of training and experience, calling Louis C.K.’s intolerable behavior “bent.”  Though she may have been simplifying, talking to a layman.  I do not think the DSM Manual of Mental Disorders includes the word “bent.”  (Though I have not myself read it.) 

The joke and the subsequent heinous revelation reignited my original question, applied now to this specific situation:

“Do have to be ‘bent’ to come up with ‘bent’ comedic material?”

This was nothing unusual for the comedian.  “Going to uncomfortable places” is at the heart of Louis C.K.’s comic persona.  That is pretty much his entire act, an intrepid “Truth Teller”, pointing an enlightening finger at our cultural hypocrisies.

Two comments, and I’m out.

One:  The comedic “Truth Teller” selectively neglected to tell the truth about himself

And Two:  There was, upon subsequent review, no “exposing cultural hypocrisy” in that joke.  It was funny “idea”, which made reasonable logical sense.  Until, upon further consideration, it didn’t

You can only “surmise” child molestation must be great because of the accompanying risk?  How about surmising, “It’s a serious illness, and, despite the punishing consequences, the molester can’t help himself”?

As it turns out, the joke was more “teenage dare” than “illuminating insight.”  You can actually hear that in Louis C.K’s performance.  At the end of his SNL monologue, he exults, “All right.  We did it.  We got through it.”  As if someone – perhaps Louis C.K. himself – had bet big money he couldn’t.     

A “bent” guy doing bent” material is a tradeoff I can easily live without.

Without abandoning the question,

“Can you get there without bending?”
Illustrative Bonus Addendum:  On a recent Bill Maher HBO show, Michael Moore commented that 99.9 per cent of mass murderers were men.  To which, Sarah Silverman mock-hopefully replied, “Some day…” 

That’s “bent” material that hits the bull’s eye.


Wendy M. Grossman said...

I like Sarah Silverman's comedy a lot.

Maybe the question we now need to apply to comedians is, "Would this still be funny if it were autobiographical?"


FFS said...

I think we can all agree that with the obvious exceptions (pedophiles, sociopaths) none of us are as bad as the worst thing we have done or as good as the best thing we have done. And if I am plagiarizing someone with this observation, it is not the worst thing I have done.

JED said...

I tend to agree more with your assessment of, "It's a serious illness, and, despite the punishing consequences, the molester can’t help himself." rather than having any mention of "molesting" and "good" in the same breath. We need a new word for how the molester feels. No matter what it is, it is not "good".

But maybe Mr. C.K. tried that and it didn't sound funny. To him. And maybe now we know why.