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Louis C.K., Edgy Jokes, and Manufactured Outrage

By Tyler Bauer

Note: This blog contains a fair amount of explicit language and material, so it may not be for everyone.

By now, you probably know about Louis C.K.’s story. If you don’t, here’s the abridged version.

Allegations of Sexual Misconduct

Late in 2017, at the height of the #MeToo movement, multiple women came forward to accuse the famous comedian of sexual misconduct. Louis C.K. cleared the air by admitting to the accused acts (the acts in question were a history of masturbating in front of women) and apologizing for any harm he may have done to the women involved.

In his official statement, Louis C.K. apologized for his actions and admitted that he should not have done what he did. The issue, though, is that the accusers and Louis C.K. all agreed that the acts were consensual. Louis C.K. said so in his statement, saying that “I said to myself that what I did was okay” because he asked for and received consent. Louis C.K. always asked for consent before doing these acts. On occasions where the woman declined, Louis C.K. respected her decision and did not go forward with his intentions.

So, what did Louis C.K. do wrong? Louis C.K., being one of the most famous comedians of our time, is a wealthy and powerful man. Many think that, as a result of the power disparity, the women he asked to take part in the aforementioned acts had no real choice. While I sympathize with the women, I have to disagree with this belief. The women did have a choice, as evidenced by the multiple women who turned Louis C.K. down. Furthermore, if a power disparity makes sexual acts non-consensual, nearly all sexual acts that have ever occurred can be deemed to be non-consensual. After all, historically speaking, men have held more power and wealth than women. By this logic, most – if not all – sexual encounters throughout history have been non-consensual.

Should Louis C.K. have asked fellow comedians to watch him masturbate? No, he probably shouldn’t have. Doing so was unprofessional and clearly caused offense. However, we shouldn’t criticize a man whose only misdeed was doing consensual, albeit a bit strange, sexual acts. We should save that criticism for those who truly deserve it – the men and women who go forward with sexual acts without receiving consent.

Louis C.K.’s Return to Comedy

On Monday, leaked audio of one of Louis C.K.’s recent performances surfaced on the internet. In his performance, Louis C.K. addressed current events, as he often does in his act. One of the current events he addressed was the recent shooting in Parkland, Florida. Specifically, Louis C.K. questioned why the children who survived the shooting are being given such a large platform on which to speak. Louis C.K. questioned why kids who survived such an event are allowed to testify in front of Congress and give their opinion on what laws need be created or amended.

While many took issue with Louis C.K.’s commentary, I agree with what he said. Surviving a tragedy does not necessarily make one an expert in a given area. Surviving a car crash doesn’t make you an expert in highway safety. Having surgery doesn’t make you an expert surgeon. So why should surviving a shooting make you an expert on gun laws? I think Louis C.K. makes a good point.

To be fair, one can argue that joking about a school shooting is in poor taste, and one would be right. Jokes often cause offense, and not all jokes are for everybody. I prefer dark and twisted comedians, such as Anthony Jeselnik, while others may prefer harmless knock-knock jokes. Comedy is like music – we all have different tastes, and that’s fine.

Does Louis C.K. joke about things many people think he shouldn’t joke about? Of course he does. However, if you’re shocked that Louis C.K. would joke about a school shooting, you clearly haven’t been following his career. In 2011, GQ put together a list of Louis C.K.’s ten most offensive comedy routines. Included on that list are his joke about masturbating in the time between the two Twin Towers collapsing on 9/11 and an alternative view on pedophilia.

Louis C.K.’s Political Leanings

Since Louis C.K. made fun of the survivors of the Parkland school shooting, many immediately accused him of being a right-winger or even alt-right (there’s something ironic about lumping a comedian of Hungarian-Jewish and Mexican decent like Louis C.K. in with white nationalists). Suddenly, Louis C.K.’s apparent right-wing politics caused his sexual misdeeds to make sense. Of course a right-winger would masturbate in front of women.

And, to make matters worse, Louis C.K. had the audacity to joke about climate change in his leaked routine.

Here’s the thing, though: Louis C.K. isn’t right-wing. In fact, he’s pretty solidly a Democrat. Louis C.K. supported Hillary Clinton. Louis C.K. likened President Trump to Hitler. And, believe it or not, Louis C.K. comes across as an environmentalist. The following is proof.

Does that sound like a right-winger to you? I certainly don’t think so.

What to Make of All of This

To put it simply, the widespread condemnation of Louis C.K. comes across as manufactured outrage. Everyone loved his edgy comedy and overlooked the jokes about masturbating on 9/11 and homicidal pedophiles. He was perhaps the most famous and successful comedian around until a group of women complained about consensual sexual encounters with him. Everyone loved his politics until he said something that didn’t fall in line with the left’s views by questioning the student activists from Parkland. My question is this: Why are we making Louis C.K. out to be anything other than a left-leaning, edgy comedian?

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