Last week Fox News personality Greta Van Susteren called for a boycott of the Radio & Television Congressional Correspondents dinner. That’s because the entertainer who’d been booked for the evening was comedian and actor Louis C.K. “He uses filthy language about women. ... and yes, even to describe a woman candidate for vice president of the United States. It isn’t just Governor Palin he denigrates. He denigrates all women.”
This is yet more fallout from Rush Limbaugh’s verbal attacks on Georgetown Law student Sandra Fluke, after she testified about insurance coverage of birth control But it’s the First Amendment that’s losing out.
In this current climate in which sponsors are fleeing from anyone who could potentially be painted with a misogynistic brush, comics too are finding themselves in the crosshairs.
Think Progress leaked a memo confirming some 150 sponsors have ditched the Rush Limbaugh show over his “slut” and “prostitute” comments about Fluke. Reportedly — my calls to the network have not been returned — HBO has seen people removing the channel from their cable lineup over comments by “Real Time” host Bill Maher. He also has used profane slurs in reference to Palin.
Van Susteren and others, including my “She the People” colleague Melinda Henneberger, argue that we can’t call out one trash talker and not the rest of them. But I argue that actually, we should do just that.
As someone who loves (and occasionally performs) standup comedy, I find Louis C.K. a virtuoso and the state of American comedy improved by him.
As I see it, C.K. is a comedian. He is not a pundit. He is not a mouthpiece for any political party. He speaks for and to Americans who subscribe to the belief that laughter is good. Louis is irreverent, absurd and usually rather trenchant in his judgments of people and situations. And I completely defend his use of a word that some women believe is unforgivable to ever use.
Not only is C.K. the wrong guy to go after on this topic, but he would have been perfect to needle a roomful of working journalists.
Comedians should speak frankly, in the tradition of the court jester, whose role was not only to entertain the king but to help him see the wrong happening in some other kingdom (wink, wink). And the jester also had to know how the common people would respond and react — and informed the citizenry through humor.
Political comedians have a like role to play in this free and fair democracy. Louis C.K. is a profane defender of the First Amendment in the mold of George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Lenny Bruce and Mark Twain.
As far back as the Civil War era, tent shows, medicine shows, minstrel shows and the like used comedy to influence interactions between people and to talk about their government and their politicians in a way that was far more palatable because it was in jest. Not always has such power been used for good, and sometimes it has pandered or gone for the cheap laugh. But every good comic leaves his or her audience more knowledgeable at the end of the routine.
In today’s “all-speech-must-be-monetized” environment, Louis doubly bucks the trend. He just raised $1 million with his own self-produced, self-distributed and self-financed comedy show that didn’t rely on traditional means to get to fans. And he’s got no sponsors to tell him what he may not say.
My unbroken piggy bank is the only winner here.