When Louis C.K. used jokes mocking Parkland, Fla., school shooting victims while attempting to revive his comedy career, a father of one such victim responded in an unusual way: by filming his own stand-up routine to denounce the comedian.
“You guys ever heard dead baby jokes? I got a dead baby. His name was Joaquin Oliver. He’s going to be 18, but now he’s dead,” Manuel Oliver says, pausing and looking straight at the camera as he stands on what appears to be a dark stage. A nearly empty bottle of water sits on a stool next to him. “And that’s not a joke.”
He then quietly walks away.
Oliver’s son, Joaquin, also known as Guac, was one of the 17 students and staff members killed Feb. 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Oliver’s activism has caught the attention of the Democratic congressman who represents Parkland. Rep. Ted Deutch (D) has invited Oliver to be his guest at President Trump’s State of the Union address Tuesday.
In a tweet announcing his attendance, Oliver mused about whether the president would address gun violence. He called it “the real national emergency,” a jab at Trump’s long-promised wall along the southern border. The president has said there’s a “good chance” he’ll declare a national emergency to build the border wall, and some are wondering how much of Trump’s speech will be spent making a case for the wall.
Oliver, an artist, has spent the past year not only grieving the death of Joaquin — his only son, best friend and partner — but also taking on the life of an activist. He and his wife started a gun-control group called Change the Ref after their son died. He used his art to call attention to his cause, creating interactive displays and giant murals, many of his son’s face.
He said he was invited to the State of the Union because of his cause, not because of the way he responded to C.K.
In December, C.K. angered parents when he mocked Parkland survivors during a stand-up routine at a comedy club in Long Island. The comedian doubled down last month, telling a crowd at a San Jose comedy club why he joked about shooting victims.
“If you ever need people to forget that you jerked off, what you do is you make a joke about kids getting shot,” C.K. said, according to Daily Beast writer Stacey Solie, who watched the routine. C.K.'s career came to a screeching halt in 2017 after the New York Times reported that he had masturbated in front of female colleagues without their consent.
In response, Oliver’s organization produced a public service announcement in the form of a stand-up routine. He began by talking about C.K.
“Recently, I heard this great line from a comedian. He said, ‘If you want people to forget that you were jerking off, just make a joke about kids getting shot.’ ”
“And I thought, ‘Jokes about kids getting shot?’ I can do that.”
Oliver then tells the story of a student who went to school one Valentine’s Day. A skinny kid wearing headphones. His father dropped him off at school. “I love you,” he told his father before getting out of the car. He was shot to death a couple of hours later.
The video ends with a footage of a younger Joaquin playing drums and telling a joke. His son loved to tell jokes, Oliver said.
“Why didn’t the skeleton cross the road?” Joaquin asks.
“I have no idea!” Oliver, who was taking a video, can be heard saying.
“Coz it didn’t have the guts!” the teen exclaims, banging on his drums.
Joaquin was 14 at that time. He and his father were having fun in Oliver’s art studio in Parkland.
“We don’t have fun anymore,” Oliver said Tuesday, after he arrived in Washington for the State of the Union.
In his set in San Jose, C.K. explained the crudeness of his jokes by saying that comedy is all about saying things one shouldn’t say in normal settings, according to Solie’s account.
“I think you don’t need to be a bullying guy and hurt people in order to be funny,” he said. “I also know that his comments were very painful to a lot of youths that are trying to do the right thing for the future of the nation.”
The Founding Fathers, he said, did not protect the right to free speech so that people “will say whatever stupid thing they think is okay,” or for a comedian to make light of dead children.
“As a father, I need to protect my son no matter what. Anybody who fools around with the memory of my son, I will stand up against anyone. I don’t care. It’s not a funny thing,” he said.
Oliver is one of at least three Parkland parents who will attend the State of the Union address.
Fred Guttenberg will attend as a guest of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). Guttenberg was seen extending his hand to Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh during the judge’s confirmation hearing in September. “My daughter was murdered in Parkland,” he appeared to say. The then-Supreme Court nominee looked at Guttenberg but did not shake his hand. It’s not clear whether Kavanaugh heard Guttenberg. But that moment, captured in photos and videos from different angles, immediately reverberated along political fault lines.
The other is Andy Pollack, who will be a guest of Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.). Pollack’s daughter, Meadow, was killed at Stoneman Douglas.
Eli Rosenberg and Seung Min Kim contributed to this report.