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You Support Louis C.K.? Fine, Have Fun With That

The uncancelable comedian’s fans care less about jokes than a culture war dynamic that's mostly in their heads

You may have noticed that comedian Louis C.K., who admitted a pattern of sexual misconduct amid the wave of #MeToo revelations in 2017, has a new special out. Maybe you know, too, that his last special, Sincerely Louis CK, in which he joked about the scandal, earned a Grammy nomination for Best Comedy Album. He’s been touring nationally this year and has announced shows around Europe in 2022. All in all, the guy’s doing well for someone whose career was allegedly “ruined” by the women he masturbated in front of without consent. 

Whether you believe C.K. suffered appropriate consequences before mounting this comeback is almost immaterial. He has an audience of people who either don’t care what he did or believe he deserves a second chance. They’re entitled to those opinions, just as he has the right to continue performing and working with peers who feel likewise. But somehow, that’s still not good enough for C.K.’s newest fans — the right-wing grifters inveighing against “cancel culture.” To them, C.K. is an icon for surviving the wrath of the woke mob and reclaiming his status, and they delight in the notion that this triggers the left, has them rending their garments and so on.

It’s barely worth mentioning the hypocrisy of a “conservative values” chump hating C.K. when he was lobbing crass jokes about Sarah Palin only to champion him the minute he was outed as a creep with a habit of indecent exposure. What’s more interesting to me is the instinct to endorse him by way of imagined hysteria — that C.K. is hilarious because his celebrity is offensive to your political enemies. But when his name trends on Twitter, you don’t see a lot of whining from critics: Instead, many are firing off one-liners about his pervy past. A representative post, from comedian Lili Michelle Koohestani, describes plans to masturbate to C.K.’s new special “to turn the tables on him.” 

Far from calls to blacklist him in Hollywood and at nightclubs across the country, these are the kinds of merciless roasts that C.K. himself would probably find amusing.   

Yes, there are those who remain outraged that C.K. has a platform at all. Yet the prevailing attitude is more like, “Fine, you can do your specials — and we get to keep making fun of you.” It’s the other side, the supporters, unable to let go of their resentment. Some, it appears, cannot enjoy his material without telling themselves it makes someone else mad. It’s beyond the old question of “separating the art from the artist,” since they rely on C.K.’s connection to culture war controversy to argue his greatness. 

Personally, I found him funny in the past, would’ve considered myself a fan and have no doubt there’s a few solid laughs in the new show, even if I have no interest in watching it. How exactly am I being owned by the demographic that does?

You have to wonder if C.K. is embarrassed at these acolytes, or how easy they are to please. When you’ve got a conservative dweeb like the Canadian professor Jordan Peterson singing your praises and scolding the unspecified persons “bothering” him, it strips away your subversive cred. It doesn’t even matter that C.K.’s style caters to the edgelord personality, as there’s no actual risk in crossing lines for an audience that wants nothing else. His talent for provocation in the old days rested on shared, though flexible, norms — crowds that might broadly agree there are some subjects you shouldn’t joke about, only to find themselves in stitches when C.K. blurted out the unsayable. Now the promise of transgression, and the supposed waves of outrage it will cause, is all that’s left. It’s hard to picture someone like Peterson laughing, let alone paying for C.K.’s special and sitting down to screen it in that living room full of hoarded Soviet art. His approval is ideological, divorced from the art of comedy.     

Understand, though: Your enthusiasm for Louis C.K. doesn’t have a measurable impact in anyone else’s life. Please, indulge and be merry. Most of us don’t factor in the hypothetical opinions of strangers when choosing media to consume, but you’ve got a system, and that’s fine. The snowflakes can’t stop you. You’re having fun, right? So much fun you need to turn around every five minutes to see if you’re getting a negative reaction. Ah, that’s entertainment.