Even though there’s a rising tide of critics questioning his possibly sexist behavior, when Louis C.K. stepped on Saturday Night Live’s stage to do his monologue last night, he did so as perhaps America’s most respected and relevant comic. After picking up third-rail issues such as racism, the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, and child molestation, though, he may or may not have stepped off that same stage with his shine a bit tarnished.
With no song-and-dance numbers shoehorned in, C.K. dove straight into an exploration of his own “mild racism” which he claimed was a product of his 1970s upbringing. Watching for yourself, it’s easy to see how someone truly concerned about the state of race in this country—an issue we’re constantly seeing in 3D thanks to wall-to-wall police abuses and ongoing economic disparities—might drop the hammer on the comic. It feels somewhat hollow to say that C.K. was doing more to skewer any white person who feels themselves free of racism than he was perpetuating racial stereotypes—and yet, there it is. Clumsy as he was, C.K. was showing America how deeply racism is imprinted on even the most progressive of people, which should have been a good thing. Alas, SNL probably wasn’t the venue for such layered work (this is, after all, the same show that begat the “Colonel Angus” sketch).
Not satisfied with racism, he moved on to Palestine, comparing the conflict there to the pitched battles between his two young daughters with plenty of insults for both parties. We can imagine that those with an axe to grind on each side of the coin were ready to throw things at the screen—which is a pretty good sign that he was dead on. Did he go too far here? Yeah, comparing a conflict that’s thousands of years old and has cost possibly hundreds of thousands of lives to a spat between tweens is pretty callous. Then again, it’s also comedy.
Finally, Louis ran right up and kissed America’s least-favorite issue on the lips. There’s pretty much no one with a heart who would claim that comparing pedophilia to a love of Mounds bars isn’t going too far. We all know the costs of child molestation too well to laugh at it. Yet, C.K. did make us laugh.
There’s an ongoing and persuasive argument that child-molestation and rape jokes simply shouldn’t be part of comedy today—an argument we agree with. Even if C.K. is good enough to make us forget that for just a second and laugh, it’s disappointing and unnecessary. More than that, this was network television, guys—a place with an audience so broad that it’s simply not a safe for such problematic comedy.
Look, Louis C.K. is a favorite of ours and that’s why recent claims of sexual harassment and some—just some—of his jokes last night leave us troubled. Basically, if this was Dane Cook doing a stand at the Paramount Theater, we wouldn’t have batted an eye. But this is one of America’s smartest, most progressive comics on one of America’s most watched comedy shows. Considering all that, what C.K. did last night wasn’t criminal, but, yeah, it was kind of dumb and maybe went too far—whatever that means. Then again—like we said—the guy’s one of the smartest out there. Maybe causing this kind of uproar is all part of his master plan and he’s sitting on a couch somewhere eating a greasy slice and laughing at us.