‘Louis CK’s SNL Opening Monologue Was Awesomely Offensive’
In a late-night post involving Louis CK, and Mollie Hemingway, we find ourselves in familiar territory. Testing the limits of good taste, defending freedom of expression, and witnessing fallout from violating powerful social taboos. In the current edition of The Federalist, it’s gratifying to see one of my favorite media writers stand up for one of my favorite comedians. As we see in the video above, Louis CK goes where few comedians would dare to tread.
“It was actually quite disgusting and completely offensive. I can not possibly characterize how tasteless it was. It was also hilarious.”
— Mollie Hemingway
If you’ve ever heard Louis C.K. talk about SNL preparation–as I did recently, listening to a recent radio an interview–you know he seeks out difficult audiences rather than easy ones. He described testing his SNL monologue material in unfavorable environments, on disinterested audiences, intentionally, in order to find weaknesses in the material, and win over tough crowds.
Unlike his usual hip New York audiences, he discovered, SNL audience are comprised mostly of non-New Yorkers. Tourists, regular folks from the heartland. Edgy material he might normally do doesn’t necessarily connect here. After one disappointing performance on SNL, he worked harder at it the next time—testing, calibrating, rehearsing more. And coming better prepared, in his subsequent appearance, he succeeded. (it’s a good interview, if I find the audio clip or transcript of it, I’ll link it) Which is why his recent appearance on SNL surprised me. Because even if the now-infamous controversial material seemed risky, or misguided, you can be sure that the choices made were not arrived at casually.
Likewise for Lorne Michaels. SNL is shot live, the material is vetted in advance. I can’t imagine anything was performed that wasn’t approved. (or at least not disapproved) Knowing Louis C.K.’s work habits (more disciplined than they appear) it’s likely that he rehearsed his monologue for weeks, in front of difficult audiences, in different settings. And then, on live TV, Louis said exactly what he wanted to say. Knowing the risks. Expecting to offend people. But reasonably confident that it was funny.
When asked, in the interview, about his willingness to make people uncomfortable, referring to his frequent run-ins with authority figures in childhood, Louis C.K. said, “I’m used to getting in trouble”. It doesn’t bother him, the experience of being in trouble. He’s often talked about the challenge, and joy, of taking audiences to uneasy places, to explore what’s there, and find what’s funny about it.
To me, this is classic Louis C.K. There’s something about his frankness, sincerity, and delivery, that allows him to get away with things other comics would get crucified for. There’s more here than meets the eye.
The social justice warriors are creating a culture where comedians can’t make most jokes about race, sex, sexual choices, or any of the things that used to be staples of the comedy circuit. One joke in a stand-up set bombs for being over the line and the social media mobs come forth with pitchforks and your career is over or your comedy is seriously proscribed. It’s a free country, though, which means, in these cases, that if a bunch of coddled children can’t handle transgressive comedy without losing their minds, they can make life for a comic a living hell. Just because you’re trying something out in an intimate setting with a particular group of people doesn’t keep them from blasting it on the internet for a global audience that couldn’t possibly understand what you were going for. Comedians such as Chris Rock say it’s just not fun any more….(more)
“It’s a free country, though, which means, in these cases, that if a bunch of coddled children can’t handle transgressive comedy without losing their minds, they can make life for a comic a living hell.”
— Mollie Hemingway
While not exactly endorsing the content of Louis C.K.’s queasy monologue, The Federalist‘s Mollie Hemingway defends it, describing it as “refreshing — and ballsy”, and links to an earlier article discussing the necessity of tolerance. Comedy will suffer if comics are threatened and stop taking risks. Enforcing current PC-orthodoxy with online shaming campaigns, social justice warriors provoke and exploit social media hysteria to keep violators in line. Thus, the idea of Comedy Speakeasies.
The problem with comedy is that people can share what happens in the club with anyone in the world. In the future, when comedy speakeasies are the only way for people to hear transgressive jokes about race and sex, people will have to have the password. But they’ll also have to be patted down for recording equipment. No phones. No audio recorders. No pens and pads. Any recitation of the bits will be fully denied…
In her current column, Mollie continues…
…Louis CK knew he’d be met with social justice warrior outrage — and he was — and he went ahead with the monologue anyway. Not in a speakeasy but on network television. No trigger warnings. No concerns about punching all the way down…
For Variety, Maane Khatchatourian writes: The first trailer for the documentary “Live From New York!” — which chronicles the iconic NBC sketch comedy show’s cultural and historical impact — has debuted, offering old footage from the series and a new look at the behind-the-scenes magic that goes into putting it on week to week.
“It’s the only form where everyone is necessary to the end. We don’t go on because we’re ready, we go on because it’s 11:30.”
— Creator and executive producer Lorne Michaels