Louis CK seems to be changing his target audience

Louis CK seems to be changing his target audience

Louis CK did a show a couple of days ago.

Back in 2017 (after his disgraceful exit from comedy following the revelations of his awful treatment of women) he said “I have spent my long and lucky career talking and saying anything I want. I will now step back and take a long time to listen.”

Well, he’s done listening. He apparently didn’t like what he heard. Here are some of the headlines of the reviews of his show…

Slate’s Browbeat: Audio of a New Louis C.K. Set Has Leaked, and It’s Sickening
Daily Beast: Louis C.K.’s Leaked Comedy Cellar Set Panders to the Alt-Right
Jezebel: Louis C.K.’s Rebrand Is Old Crank

I heard a handful of excerpts of the show on the twitters, but finding the audio proved to be difficult. It seems to be taken down from youtube within minutes of it being put up. The Louis CK subreddit is full of people asking for it. There are a number of links in there that go to stuff that’s been taken down and the ones that haven’t been taken down yet seem sketchy. So I don’t have a link to the audio for you.

I *HAVE* listened to the show, though (on one of the sketchy sites) and it got me thinking about comedy. (I talked about comedy back here in 2013 (ironically, Louis CK shows up a lot in comments).)

So what is comedy?

In Mel Brooks’ History of the World Part I, there’s an analogy made to philosophy. As I think of the best comedians, they’re pretty much all stand-up philosophers. They make an observation about the world and they explain something. They also have a natural charisma that makes the explanation of their observation something pleasant to listen to.

I mean, the worst comedians… we could go on and on about the tropes they deal with. Making the audience cringe and then laugh to defuse the cringe (I’ve never been a fan of cringe comedy). Slaughtering a sacred cow on stage and then the audience laughing to defuse that. Catering to the audience’s prejudices (telling Democrat jokes in a Republican stronghold, for example).

And so that brings me back to Louis CK’s new direction.

He seems to have decided to cater to a new audience than his old one and slaughter a few sacred cows along the way.

Now, I’m not a particularly good judge of comedy (I have never really been a fan of stand-up) but I didn’t find his set particularly funny. (I was most reminded of Andrew “Dice” Clay, listening to it.)

One thing that I thought might have been possible prior to hearing the set was that Louis would use his considerable charisma and insight to attack the pieties of the left the way that the pieties of the Christian Conservatives were mocked in the 70’s and 80’s. As it is, he seems to me to just run as far as he can with the whole “what are you going to do? Take away my birthday? My life is already ruined” thing as fast and as far as it will take him.

And, barring the main currents in his set changing, I imagine that, decades hence, we’ll remember him about the same way that we remember Andrew “Dice” Clay.

(Featured image is “Dice” by Nazir Amin. Used under a creative commons license.)


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Jaybird is Birdmojo on Xbox Live and Jaybirdmojo on Playstation's network. He's been playing consoles since the Atari 2600 and it was Zork that taught him how to touch-type. If you've got a song for Wednesday, a commercial for Saturday, a recommendation for Tuesday, an essay for Monday, or, heck, just a handful a questions, fire off an email to AskJaybird-at-gmail.com

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36 thoughts on “Louis CK seems to be changing his target audience

  1. I’ll grant that comedy clubs are places where comedians hone their craft and hammer jokes that don’t work into jokes that do work (Sister Rose wrote a post back in 2012 about comedy as poetry and the hard work of Jerry Seinfeld to come up with his Pop Tart joke).

    But this set was *ROUGH*.

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    • It doesn’t surprise me that him work-shopping stuff would be rough. When your shtick is finding ways to say/imply horrible things and get away with it, finding the exact setup, timing, and execution is gonna result in a lot of fails. Those fails will just sound like you saying horrible things. Even the fully polished stuff taken in text form and out of context is horrible. For example:

      One time I was at school, and I was volunteering at recess. It’s something you do, you know, if you’re a good parent, about once a month or whatever it is. You go to school and you just stand there and you watch recess. You masturbate, whatever you want to do. That is now the worst thing. That’s the worst thing. Now that’s the worst thing I ever said. Okay. Alright. We’ll find it. I mean you could. It’s a public school nobody would even give a shit. But, I haven’t thus far. It hasn’t gotten that bad.

      That was from his 2011 special. I just dug that one up on the quick. Look up any transcript of “the good stuff” and examples like the above abound.

      Personally, I am interested to see if he gets socially perma banned (ala Michael Richards), another “timeout”, or just a news cycle round of twitter/social media beatings.

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  2. Interesting; its one of the meta issues with the new Morality that there doesn’t seem to be a path to forgiveness… so its not entirely surprising that he might just go WTF and see what’s out there.

    That said, the jokes quoted in the article don’t seem like Louis CK … like he doesn’t really know the subject material or the audience (yet?) … or maybe he does and I’m just that far out of that loopses.

    But, I’d be curious to hear rather than read excerpts before settling on an option… what’s odd about Louis CK is that he was team liberal before (I suppose during) his incidents… that was his schtick… his comeback could take several forms – if what people are quoting so far is true, its not exactly the form I would have expected…

    {I should note that I didn’t like him *before* the revelations… but I could see what he was doing and why some would}

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    • With few exceptions every music act I like at some point starts to suck. Either they run out of new ground to break with the original sound and try to reinvent themselves with something that never quite works, or they keep redoing the same thing until it becomes stale to the point of self parody. Now in those cases you still go see them live, and enjoy the old stuff while politely clapping for the new stuff, push up the Soviet fiction that its just as good even though everyone knows its not.

      I think the different dimension is when the art is tangled up with, as you put it, the new morality. Now the change, and the revelation that it was all just a show, isn’t just growing stale, it’s heresy.

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      • True. One difference though with comedy is that what is in fashion and funny changes very fast. Always has. Good music can be good in different eras and stick around. Comedy is ephemeral. Not just with what bothers people but the jokes people get. Most comedians know this.

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        • Oh I agree. I think Louis CK probably knows that too, realizes that the old schtick is dead, that his own apparent conduct killed the audience for his greatest hits, and is now trying and perhaps failing to reinvent.

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      • I’m confused about the new morality here and what should be the path for forgiveness.

        Fame is fleeting. There are plenty of people who go from being the Kings and Queens of the world to down and outs because of changing fashion or they were a one-trick pony or maybe the industry bet wrong and the hype just flopped. In Louis CK’s case, he did some really bad things and even admitted to them.

        He still has millions of dollars which can presumably keep him comfortable for the rest of his life. He probably has a very nice house. But he lost his old audience because his old audience decided masturbating in front of women without their consent is not cool.

        It sure sounds like some people want to blame Louis CK’s nasty turn on the people who think masturbating in front of women without their consent is not cool. This seems odd.

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        • Well I’m not trying to assign blame to anyone for anything. He admitted to misconduct and plenty of show biz careers have permanently ended over less. I have never been a fan of Louis CK. I am very much of the separate the art from the artist school of thought but I get not everyone is, and I have no beef with anyone who can’t.

          I do think the episode illustrates the lack of path to forgiveness, or if there is such a path, it probably precludes ever being funny again. Like, assuming accuracy of the reviews, does a lame reinvention as a ‘get off my lawn’ old guy really merit 10,000 think pieces? That’s what I find interesting, not that he pissed enough people off that he may never make it in comedy again.

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          • Many people seem to believe that there should be no path to forgiveness or that the path to forgiveness is going away and never coming back. The theory being that since we are dealing with a very long history of what they see as sexual assault and other crimes against women, radical action is needed to change the system permanently. This means that men who engage in such conduct must be punished, especially if they are too varying degrees powerful or high status men. It also means that the reformers or revolutionaries are willing to handle a lot of collateral damage.

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            • I think we as a society should have some social mechanism for forgiveness.

              But as with previous historical periods, such a mechanism requires a shared social structure where those terms are defined, where there are trusted institutions that can give absolution, and symbols and rituals that can give physical manifestation.

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          • I know you have a whole thing about trying to raise everyone up to a certain level of privilege as opposed to tearing others (mainly white people) down. It seems that it is worth investigating whether this is actually possible though and to what extent.

            Based on various events from the Obama admin until today, I can see why many minorities might feel that raising up is impossible. There always seems like there will be a good chunk of white people (not a majority but maybe a decent plurality) that screams “Bloody never” to the idea of this. Maybe this will change when lots of old people die but plenty of younger white seem to have inherited the bigotries of their elders.

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          • “and plenty of show biz careers have permanently ended over less.” And probably a lot, maybe even a majority, didn’t…because it was convenient for them not to lose their status…or they had too much power or leverage..or they served a purpose. Harvey Weinstein anyone?

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            • For some reason, Louis CK makes me also remember what Harvey Weinstein said in the bottom part of his statement to the New York Times back in 2017 (a lifetime ago):

              I am going to need a place to channel that anger so I’ve decided that I’m going to give the NRA my full attention. I hope Wayne LaPierre will enjoy his retirement party. I’m going to do it at the same place I had my Bar Mitzvah. I’m making a movie about our President, perhaps we can make it a joint retirement party. One year ago, I began organizing a $5 million foundation to give scholarships to women directors at USC. While this might seem coincidental, it has been in the works for a year. It will be named after my mom and I won’t disappoint her.

              For some reason, he seemed to believe that if he mouthed the right public pieties, he could get away with some pretty awful behavior.

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            • Rich, well connected celebrities have means of hiding and defending themselves from consequences for misconduct and crimes unavailable to most people. Of course a lot of them are also under microscopes from the press and the basic nature of what they do for a living. With rare exceptions I’m comfortable with the idea that fame and fortune comes with the loss of one’s ability to lead a normal, anonymous life. Anyone who doesn’t like it is free to give up their millions and be working stiffs like the rest of us.

              However I don’t see loads of logic, much less conspiracy as your comment implies, as to who is and isn’t excommunicated from popular culture. I think it has way more to do with chance, news cycles, and fleeting cultural attitudes about the the crime or dirty laundry at the particular time its revealed.

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              • I wasn’t attempting to portray it as a conspiracy. Weisten got away with it because he had power, made people money, made people famous, and they were willing to tolerate it, look the other way, cover it up, etc. for their own reason: fear, a piece of the loot, what he could do for them, whatever.

                When he became “inconvenient’ he was burned at the stake.

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          • I think Louis CK is actually a pretty good example of how difficult it can be to separate the art and artist, and I say this because I was a fan prior to the revelations of his appalling conduct.

            Now, it’s not like I don’t like any artists who have done awful things, some, in fact, worse than anything Louis CK is accused of.

            But so much of his act is tied up in the sort of self-deprecating humor where he says these horrible things not just to shock (though there’s some of that) but also because he’s exposing, presumably, dark (and dumb, and self-destructive) impulses that we may recognize in ourselves but resist, or try to resist,.

            And then we find out that he wasn’t resisting them at all.

            Suddenly his sets (even his old ones which were better than this) aren’t so funny anymore.

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  3. I’m not sure if this is relevant to the OP but as I’ve read the commentary/outrage hot takes all I can think about is that Louis C.K. wrote and directed Pooty Tang. Obviously most people hated it but it has its fans, including those who see it as weird in an important and ground breaking way for the comedic art.

    It’s a good reminder that he wasn’t always the hero to a particular class and cultural set he became as a result of his TV show. Nor is he obligated to be, or to live forever by those particular cultural values. Now of course no one owes him a TV show or their money or applause or attendance or whatever either but I do wonder if the reaction isnt sharpened by a perception of betrayal.

    In terms of how he’s remembered… well I think it’s a reminder that successful artists find ways to re-invent themselves, but also, and for that reason, very few people in show business survive their own success long term.

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  4. I hadn’t ever heard any of his comedy before but i listened to one of the clips that is floating around. What struck me more than the gratuitous edge pushing was how hack and cliched it was. People say he used to be great at stand up, but an old guy ( 51) complaining about kids these days is weak sauce. Not that people haven’t made careers, for a bit, of apoplectic ranting, but he didn’t seem to have any material. Just a lot of ” here is the edge, let me f*ck it.” It was mostly just a heavily diluted Carlin wanabee who had never actually heard Carlin.

    And rich dudes who never have to work again complaining about their lives being ruined. Two facepalms up. Carlin would have ripped him to shreds on an off night.

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    • It’s good that you should mention Carlin, because Carlin had a run of stuff that really wasn’t funny at all. Some of it was included in his last set (of which I have a DVD). But he added other stuff on top of it that was very good, very solid.

      Sometimes, as a person, certain ideas just take hold of you and perhaps as a performer, you have to give them their due. If you were a novelist, you have to write that novel, even if it sucks and can’t be published. Maybe that’s what’s going on with Louis.

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  5. I will admit to not having seen this little bit of doggerel and to not having liked CK beforehand. I never thought that the comedy that brought him fame (different than that which he started with? dunno) was truly funny. But if he is trying a new audience, one edgier than the last, I am not surprised.

    Comedy works by pushing against convention. Taking the commonplace and turning it on its head. Liberal mores are the new commonality. Much like how many comedians back in the ’70s and ’80s made fun of the bland pervasive Christianity and the hypocrisy that came along with it? Well, here you go, this is the new version.

    I doubt that CK has a feel for what is funny in an underground sense now, but I bet he knows what direction to point in.

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  6. In which Jaybird decides to do a semi-hot take to kind of/sort of defend Louis CK.

    Louis CK got in trouble for masturbating in front of women without their consent. This is serious stuff. He promised to reflect and ended up saying “No, it is my critics that are wrong.” Now he decided to be even more horrible.

    I keep on coming back to Tallyrand’s observation on the ancien regime. “They remembered everything and learned nothing.” So the people that are allegedly currently under fire by the new “PC/SJW” regime remember every bit of pushback or every attempt to chip away at their privileges and they hate these fiercely. They don’t seem to remember any of the antics and abuses that caused the third estate to rise up in the first place. Always such innocents they are.

    And here we keep talking about how discussing racism or challenging people on their beliefs/alleged privileges is the real cause of open and loud and proud racism. “If it weren’t for those uppity women, brown people, Jews, LBGT, people, etc. complaining about things than we would need to be such horrible people. How dare people think Louis CK masturbating in front of women without their consent should have negative consequences.”

    It is not the jobs of minorities to make paths of amnesty/forgiveness for the bigotries, prejudices, and stereotypical beliefs of the majority.

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  7. I listened to two different clips, one where he made fun of people who insist on being referred to by plural pronouns, and the one with the Parkland kids. Honestly, I don’t really see any evidence that he’s going in a radically new direction. He’s generally liberal on social issues, but he has a history of making fun of the pseudojustice left. He’s been using that annoying, high-pitched voice he does to mock them for years.

    Unless there’s more I don’t know about, the leaked recordings total about ten minutes of material that wouldn’t really have felt out of place in his pre-scandal shows. The idea that this constitutes “pandering to the alt-right” is just clickbait shitrags being clickbait shitrags.

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      • Yes, I mentioned that I listened to the entire set. I don’t have a link that I endorse you going to, but, on the LouisCK subreddit, I found a link to a sketchy site that had the whole thing. Be sure to have all of your protection running if you decide to go that route.

        Having listened to the whole thing, I came to the conclusion that Louis is saying “better to be hung for a sheep than a lamb”.

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        • I read the slate article and heard a portion of the audio on youtube.

          Frankly I laughed at the “you pushed a fat kid in the way”. It WAS funny. Frankly, I don’t care if it offends anyone. I’m offended quite often and I’m big enough not to be a whiny bitch about it.

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        • I read the Slate piece and heard a portion of the audio…and it aligns with what Slate had. Frankly I laughed at the “shoved a fat kid in the way” comment.

          I don’t think this is awful. I think it’s funny and tactless. That’s what comics do. I’m offended rather often and I don’t go about bitching about it.

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  8. I listened to a little of it. I always love a good math joke, so I appreciated it when he said that he lost millions and millions of dollars last year, and that means it was at least $4 million.

    Louis CK has never been a favorite of mine. He’s a decent joke writer. He’ll have lines I like. But his delivery style is caustic. We’re in a really bad era of stand-up – no, let me amend that; our sitcoms are unwatchable and no one makes romcoms anymore, the late-night network shows are tired, and I can’t think of a good sketch-comedy troupe, so I should say that we’re in a really bad era for the comedy industry. We’re becoming a narcissistic culture, and narcissists have no sense of humor. They like laughing at others’ misfortune, maybe. Narcissism plus cruelty equals Twitter. What percentage of people’s exposure to jokes comes through social media these days, and what percentage of that is intended to cause pain? Now, since I’m on this digression, I should say that I’m not wedded to old comedy media. There’s a lot of funny stuff on YouTube. If Sears and Walden Books and the local newspaper can be brought down by emerging tech, then why not NBC’s Must-See Thursday? It’s just, among all the failing establishments, I’m not surprised you’d have to include Louis CK – and also Slate, Jezebel, and The Daily Beast.

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