The comic Louis C.K. was interviewed on “Nightline,” where he defended recent homophobic comments by Tracy Morgan, who I am as reluctant to refer to as a comedian as I am to refer to Rick Santorum as a homosapien.
During a Nashville stand-up appearance in June, Morgan told a joke in which he said if his son talked to him in an effeminate voice, he would “stab that little (n word) in the throat.” The statement later sparked enormous public outrage and Morgan publicly apologized several times, making it clear that there was no excuse for his comments.
C.K. took to Morgan’s defense, saying at the time that he was “on a comedy stage, not a pulpit.” In a recent “Nightline” interview, C.K. told Weir that he thought the gay community missed a prime chance to have a discussion with Morgan, verses just attacking him for his comments.
“To me that joke is Tracy trying to figure it out, ‘my sons gay now, ok, but he better not talk like that cause I can’t it. I don’t know how to deal with it,’” C.K. told Weir. “He’s afraid of it or he’s confused by it and then he blasts through the whole idea with a joke. That’s what jokes are. You don’t tiptoe through the idea, you just go ‘I would stab that little (n word) in the throat,’ and that brings everybody a huge relief in a very scary place and makes them laugh.”
It’s fortunate that we have a straight white man to explain to homosexuals what they should find offensive. Stand up comedy tends to be a predominately masculine field and a lot of what passes for humor is overtly sexist, homophobic, or racist. It’s the playground bully making jokes about the fat kid. The other children laughed, as well. That didn’t make it art. What rises above mere bullying is when humor is used as a slingshot at the Goliaths of the world or when the Goliaths satirize themselves and their position of power (I always thought Steve Martin did that well).
Was Morgan really satirizing the unfortunate homophobia in many parts of the black community? Was he shining a harsh light on his own fears and failings as a father? Unlike Morgan, I’m not a parent, but I would venture to say that if you stab your son in the throat because he talks like Michael Jackson, you’re not a very good one.
It’s clear to me that Morgan’s “joke” was just cheap shock value at gays’ expense. C.K. might choose to bend over backwards to find some inner meaning and depth as if it’s “The Scarlet Letter” but none of that is in the routine itself. Why would any intelligent person regardless of sexual orientation think Morgan’s comments were the “starting point of a conversation” about homophobia. If I’m walking down a dark street and a group of guys shout out, “Hey fag!” I would not wander over to debate them.
As a comedian, C.K. should also know how important the punchline is. When do we laugh? And who are we laughing at? Morgan’s punchline is a father assaulting his gay son. The intent is for us to laugh at that image. Contrast this with Stephen Colbert, who plays the role of a homophobe on “The Colbert Report.”
“If we provide gay marriage, then that nullifies my marriage because I only got married to taunt gay people. I wrote my own vows and I quote: na-na-na-na-na.”
The punchlines are always Colbert’s ignorance. That’s what we’re supposed to find funny rather than his character’s misguided views on gays. Even if Morgan was playing a similar role in order to spark debate, he ultimately failed — just as if I put on a show identical to “Jersey Shore” and claimed I was just “satirizing” “Jersey Shore.”
C.K. has a daughter. If he joked that if he caught her studying law rather than reading “Cosmo,” he’d stab “the little bitch” in the throat, would we find this funny? I doubt it if the punchline was just child abuse — even if the intent was to satirize gender roles and sexism. If he went further — “I didn’t do it because I knew there’d be no way I’d win against her in court” — he might salvage it by turning it back on himself. However, Morgan attempted nothing of the sort.
C.K. has written for Chris Rock, who once joked that it wasn’t always wrong to call someone a faggot. “What if he was really acting like a faggot?” he asked. This was in the same routine where he says it’s never OK to call a black person nigger. Apparently, there’s no instance where a black person is really acting like a nigger.
The best humor allows those who are most often society’s victims to come out on top. This is why it’s unfortunate when a female comic spends her entire act running down herself — “Hey, guys, you think I’m shallow, self-absorbed, and obsessed with my appearance! You’re right. Now please laugh at me, because it’s also true that I’m desperate for attention.”
Gays hardly came out on top in Morgan’s routine, and yet C.K. wants to position them as the power-wielding arbiters of good taste who oppress the true artists of their world. It’s their own lack of humor that stalls dialogues that could in C.K.’s words “make a difference in how people feel about homophobia.”
Now, that is funny.