A Feminist Analysis of Louis CK on Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show

Louis CK is known the world over for his down-to-earth antics and his pointed, apropos jokes as a standup comedian. People seem to identify with him because he so pointedly and articulately reflects American life and society in his standup shows. In an interview on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, CK offers up “man-to-man” advice to Stewart in a well thought-out and carefully planned dialogue where he offers tips on what men and women in a relationship should do should they ever get in a fight over “rape jokes.” In the interview, CK talks about how, stereotypically, feminists and comedians differ, and because of the audience’s reaction, he reaffirms a hypothetical situation which only bolsters the hypothetical stereotype he mentions. A feminist analysis of this text would argue that gender binaries reinforce false stereotypes, and that comedy, when done in a distasteful way (i.e., blames women, tears down the structures through which rapists are held accountable for their actions), comedy is a detriment to society more than it adds to the quality or value of it.

CK portrays comedians and feminists as “natural enemies.” A feminist analysis would say that comedy and the fact of being a woman are not opposites or enemies. In fact, such feminist comedians, such as Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Rachel Dratch, just to name a few, would say that some men are the natural enemy to comedy, many of whom exploit sweeping generalizations at a meek ploy to get rare laughs in brick-walled basement comedy clubs. CK explains that, stereotypically, feminists can’t take a joke. This is not funny, or accurate. Pigeonholing an entire section of a population based on a misguided trope is not good practice. There are funny and un-funny feminists, just like there are funny and un-funny men, according to political comedian and blogger Katie Halper. Also, CeCe Lederer says that, knowing CK’s body of work, CK is himself a feminist. Surely he believes in universal human rights. It is a tragedy, according to Lederer, that intelligent people, such as CK, still don’t understand the definition of feminism as no more than someone who believes in equal rights for the sexes. “Would [CK] tell his daughters not to believe in equality for the sake of their ability to take a joke?” asks Lederer. Lederer adds, on the subject of rape, that it is a human problem, not a female problem. CK needs to understand that people are multi-faceted, and just because someone has an opinion on gender equality doesn’t mean they have a good or bad sense of humor.

CK mentions how online blogs have “enlightened” him to things he knew nothing of previously. He mentioned a woman’s post about how rape “polices the lives of women,” explaining how they have a narrow corridor: they can’t go out late, they can’t go to certain neighborhoods, they can’t dress a certain way.” CK explains that he understands and can even relate to the plight of women, but that as a comedian, he can still “enjoy a good rape joke.” The word “good” is the operative one here. The late great comedian George Carlin put it best: “I believe you can joke about anything. It all depends on how you construct the joke, what the exaggeration is.” This is a classic example of a comedian getting it right on stage and helping advance the positive narrative. By making a crude statement towards a female heckler in the crowd, Daniel Tosh doesn’t advance positive, unifying sentiment. He makes an unfunny, cheap joke that is grossly insensitive and frankly not creative, innovative, or nuanced, qualities that all new, enjoyable humor has in today’s society. According to Nato Green, comedian and writer, “Also, of course standup is not antithetical to analysis. The world of standup is much like the world, with people that are and are not interested in nuance and analysis.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5FsfLPohZ_c#t=0m27s

CK talks about a “classic gender mistake” by giving a hypothetical situation and explaining how typically the male and female would respond to such a situation. In her essay Television, Representation and Gender, Julie D’Acci explains that “representations of the conventional binaries of male/female, masculinity/femininity, man/woman need to be studied not only for how they get constructed, reproduced, and enforced, but also for how they already are and can continue to be broken apart.” (D’Acci 381) The following is a prime, paradigm example of how gender binaries are made popular and are reinforced through comedian pieces, either intentionally or unintentionally. CK explains that when a couple is fighting over “Tosh and rape jokes…women are saying, ‘This is how I feel and it should be everyone’s primary concern.’ And men are saying, ‘your feelings don’t matter, your feelings are wrong, and your feelings are stupid.’” This false dichotomy of how men and women react to each other only perpetuates an already caustic stereotype and gender binary that impedes so much meaningful discussion in popular culture spheres. CK then offers advice to both genders. To the men, he advises that they listen. To the women, CK proposes, “Now that we’ve listened to you, shut the fuck up for a minute, and let’s get back together and kill the Jews.” Taken aback at the abruptness of this joke, Stewart advises the viewers to send all complains to Brian Williams, the NBC news anchor. Postmodernists would evoke the concept of irony to emphasize the outlandishness of CK’s statements. By casting his views in an ironic light, one is able to ascertain that CK’s actual views might be mixed in with views that he doesn’t necessarily espouse, yet still uses in his bit in order to maintain the audience’s attention and to highlight gross discrepancies in our society.

D’Acci notes that “representations and constructions of gender variations need to be studied as much as representations of conventional masculinity and femininity; and we need to figure out how to forge ahead with such studies within minimizing the repressive and oftentimes horrific power that accompanies the enforcement of the conventional binary.” (D’Acci 381) By reaffirming grotesque descriptions of gender roles and how a relationship reconciles its societal roles of the male and female, CK reinforces a gender binary oft championed by mass media. D’Acci asks us to consider what messages do the media send to contemporary audiences about gender. This question is answered simply by examining the content of the interview and the everyman approach and demeanor with which CK tackles questions of gender roles: by talking in plain, down-to-earth language, and by relating to the common man, CK is able to connect widely with the American culture, thereby making his argument more approachable and mainstream. These messages that CK espouses not only relate to, but reaffirm dominant gender discourses which tend to marginalize women and pigeonhole the roles of males and females when interacting with one another in an relationship. Viewers take these messages and subconsciously interpellate them into their own daily discourses with their peers because such views are made popular and accessible by discussions such as these. Comments on the Daily Show website in response to the CK interview clip make this clear. Some support his rationale, saying “Brilliant! I love Louis. His humor reminds of ‘truth-telling’ without taking consideration about others [sic] feelings [of] being political [sic] correct.” The clip was widely shared on social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, and comments supportive of Tosh were made, even though some commenters themselves never saw the original joke in question. “I haven’t heard the joke yet but I assume it’s a very good one, and I have seen him making outrageous remarks on every show, too. But he does it [in] an endearing way, and the shock factor is precisely timed. Screw the critics.” It turns out that this commenter was misinformed – that the “joke” in question was indeed not a joke, but Tosh’s response to a female heckler in a comedy club in which he implied the threat of gang rape and immediate bodily harm to the heckler. Yet because of the false dichotomy which prevails that feminists and comedians are natural enemies, and because of the loyal fan base of Tosh, people are willing to put their credibility on the line to support a man’s actions, even without knowing the actual actions for which they are pledging their support.

So long as there are ills in society, comedians and citizens alike will need to be more informed when making dialectic choices and be conscious of the impact their words make. According to Anne Elizabeth Moore, writer and humorist: “Humor can be used to shift our presumptions about the world, but the people currently rewarded for makin’ jokes seem to have a pretty faulty set of presumptions about the world to begin with. It would be great to live in a world where gang rape was so unthinkable it was hilarious.” Until then, comedians will need to come up with ways to subvert the prevailing, malicious ideologies that lesser comedians fall into utilizing, only to highlight their own lack of comedic prowess.

 

Sources:

Clip of Louie, on FX, Ep. 106, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zNRNCk3YwqE

D’Acci, Julie, Television, Representation and Gender

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Interview with Louis CK, July 16, 2012, Comedy Central. http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/mon-july-16-2012/louis-c-k-

George Carlin stand up, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5FsfLPohZ_c#t=0m27s

 Louis C.K. Explains Why Rape Jokes Are Good for America on the Daily Show, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rVXHX53GmJ4

Pozner, Jennifer L. “Louis C.K. on Daniel Tosh’s Rape Joke: Are Comedy and Feminism Enemies?” The Daily Beast. July 18, 2012. http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/07/18/daniel-tosh-rape-joke-are-comedy-and-feminism-enemies.html

 

 

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