Disgraced stand-up comic and comedy auteur Louis C.K. caught some more flak from the social justice scolds, recently, as recordings of some of recent performances were “leaked” (oh, how sinister and socially responsible that term is!). The quoted jokes are indeed rather harsh, and it’s not remotely surprising that some found them offensive. But, they are vintage Louis, and in line with my recollections of the several stand-up sets I’ve seen live and the countless times I heard him as a guest on various satellite radio programs.

It seems C.K. has given the last of his fucks, and has (correctly, in my opinion) concluded that he’ll never come back into the good graces of the cultural arbiters.

C.K. (deservedly, again in my opinion) got shit-stormed when the world found out about his penchant for masturbating in front of women who may have felt professional jeopardy had they not consented. He got some just deserts, thanks to the #metoo movement that has unmasked many creeps in entertainment. It’s up to us, now and individually, to decide whether to re-partake of his product, now that he’s paid some price and offered some penance.

Today’s matter isn’t about C.K., though, but rather the bottomless well of demands and expectations that the social arbiters seek to impose on everyone else in society. C.K.’s career is in the hands of the consumers, i.e. you and me, who will decide whether to attend his performances and/or watch his television shows, and that’s as it should be. We have the information about his behaviors and misdeeds, we have witnessed his responses, and we can each judge how we feel about all of that.

The problem lies in the social arbiters’ unilateral decision to judge on our behalf, and not just his behaviors and society’s response to those.

I recently read some earnest young chowderhead’s response to a comedian’s laments about how college campuses have become toxic to comedy. He asserted that comedy, or at least “good comedy,” requires social responsibility or some such folderol. Thus, not only are certain topics taboo, good jokes must advance particular narratives and target only certain categories, individuals, and identity groups. This makes comedy, already an incredibly difficult medium in which to succeed, even more difficult for the many who aspire to build a career making others laugh. It’s also horse shit. Some of the best comedy in the world is merely funny, without social message.

Furthermore, this mandate saps the funny, forces comics to censor themselves, and undermines one of the eternal societal benefits of comedy: the skewering of the powerful. Comedy can be a powerful illuminator of issues… but it absolutely does not have to be, and neither you nor I have the right to tell others what’s funny or what’s required. Some George Carlin routines are loaded with social commentary, but some of are simply stuff that made us laugh, and that’s true for countless other comics, legendary and obscure. Their job is be funny.

It is true and good that a free society evolves its comedic tastes, and that market forces reward things that reflect that evolution and punish things that don’t. We don’t have much taste for minstrel shows any more, for good reason, and without instruction from those who purportedly know better. And, when somebody does something truly offensive, we’ll hear about it and judge, as individuals, whether and how to react. We neither need nor want someone else deciding for us, nor should we tolerate someone assuming the arbiter’s role, making demands, setting parameters, marking off no-go areas, and mandating social responsibility.

Alas, that’s what’s going on. The loud voices, the ones that drown out everyone who simply wants to be left alone to enjoy what he wants, have taken it upon themselves to dictate the rules under which public discourse must operate. Consider this didactic diatribe, which informs us that some of the most classic gags from Seinfeld are “super-offensive”… with one caveat: “now.” The article praises the societal changes that have established the now-offensiveness of these old gags, and lectures us on why PC is important, while falsely delimiting it to “social politeness and courtesy,” rather than the more accurate dictatorial censorship under threat of life-ruin. Sure, they offer “opinions” couched in the form of suggestion rather than coercion, but take note of what happens when someone crosses their (ever-moving) line.

These folks are analogues of the people who step up to oppose a new building or development or pipeline or other act of capitalism that will create wealth in society: the NIMBY crowd. NIMBY, or “Not In My Back Yard,” is the phenomenon whereby someone decides he doesn’t like what others are doing with their money and time, and uses whatever power he can leverage: cowardly politicians, timid corporate honchos, too-much-free-time earnest activists, impressionable college kids, and anyone who can be riled up by a partial and tendentious presentation of whatever, to tell others what to do and not to (See: the Kennedys getting offshore wind farms near their New England digs killed).

The NIMBY folks, who are most typically content with “out of sight, out of mind” localism, are overshadowed by their more aggressive, more Luddite brethren, the BANANA crowd (as in, Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anybody). And, our social scolds are indeed following the BANANA playbook. The local becomes global, and it’s no longer enough that they themselves not have to hear stuff that they might choose to be triggered by. NO ONE should be allowed to. They want no jokes told about anyone that fits into one of their “oppressed” identity groups. They want no jokes about any act, issue, or topic that might have happened to someone. George Carlin had this to say:

Ohh, some people don’t like you to talk like that. Ohh, some people like to shut you up for saying those things. You know that. Lots of people. Lots of groups in this country want to tell you how to talk. Tell you what you can’t talk about. Well, sometimes they’ll say, well you can talk about something but you can’t joke about it. Say you can’t joke about something because it’s not funny. Comedians run into that shit all the time.

Like rape. They’ll say, “You can’t joke about rape. Rape’s not funny.” I say, “Fuck you, I think it’s hilarious. How do you like that?” I can prove to you that rape is funny. Picture Porky Pig raping Elmer Fudd. See?

Perhaps you’re among those who believes that jokes about X can never be funny. You’ve the right to think so. Here’s how you should behave:

First – don’t go to comedy clubs where comic who might tell such jokes perform. Try, instead, to identify comics you like, who perform within the boundaries you desire, and patronize them. If enough others do as you do, the market will respond, and more comics who tell your type of jokes will come onto the scene.

Second – if you’re at such a show, and a joke isn’t funny to you or offends you, simply don’t laugh. Don’t groan or grunt or boo or make some other editorializing noises. Merely sit quietly, and wait for the next joke. Or, if it offends you too deeply, just get up and leave. Don’t make a show of it, just leave. The performer will probably notice. Heck, if you want to, send the performer a note after the show, explaining what and why. But, don’t disrupt the show. No one there has paid to see you perform. Know your place.

Third – go ahead and editorialize. Explain to the world why you don’t like those sorts of jokes, in as much detail as you wish, to whomever you wish. But, don’t tell me that I mustn’t like them. Keep it about your own opinion, rather than asserting that opinion as universal fact. You can even tell me that if I do, you won’t want to be my friend any more, that’s well within your rights. And, perhaps, if everyone I know ostracizes me regarding a particular matter, I might adjust my behavior. But, you need to stop there. You don’t get to decide what I should find funny, and you don’t get to tell everyone else that they should bully me into toeing your line. There is a line between convincing and coercing, and too many of you cross it while pretending you haven’t.

And, honestly, if you’re not even a patron of a particular club or in attendance at a show where something you dislike happened, I have no interest in hearing from you. I don’t tell you why the musical concerts you go to suck, do I?

If you go to a comedy club, especially one like New York’s Comedy Cellar, you should expect to hear some dirty language, some “adult” themes, and some jokes you might deem controversial. The same is true of going to the opera: you’re going to hear bel canto singing over a live orchestra, not Taylor Swift crooning the latest pop hits or some lip-synched high-energy choreography. You know what you’re in for, and you’ve paid money and devoted time to getting that product. You may not be satisfied with what you get, but that’s the risk of live entertainment.

Unfortunately, there are loud, drown-out-others critics who have decided that whatever doesn’t fit their square peg hole is socially degrading, and therefore must be scolded into nonexistence. Comedy, to paraphrase Colin Quinn in a recent appearance on Kennedy’s show, is now to be judged by how few people get offended. Or, more accurately, if only the appropriate people get offended and the proper targets get mocked.

My gut response to these dictatorial scolds parallels that of Snotty’s retort to Booger in Revenge of the Nerds II. It’s NSFW, it’s not polite, it’s not courteous. But, it’s often what these mirthless, humor-impaired, overly-sensitive killjoys deserve.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.

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