Louis CK’s comedy appeals to diverse groups of people precisely because it’s complex. Everyone in the room is laughing, but they’re laughing for profoundly different reasons. I realized this for the first time after watching Live at the Beacon Theater (2011) with a room full of friends. Some were laughing at him, and some were laughing with him. Still others believed that they were in the presence of a modern-day Diogenes, a radically honest man who tells the unvarnished truth, come what will. It’s this last group that worries me—not, I hasten to add, because there’s anything wrong with telling the truth, but because there’s something wrong with thinking that your truth is The Truth.
We all have a tendency to believe that our experience is somehow universal. This is a human, all-too-human tendency. That said, people with a great deal of privilege—people like me (i.e., white men of a certain class)—seem to get a double-portion of this tendency. Louis CK’s comedy is a case in point. Part of what makes it so effective is a complicated cocktail of awareness to privilege and blindness to privilege. He sees his own privilege with astounding accuracy, and yet, at one and the same time, he speaks about his inner life with a naïve presumptuousness which is, in and of itself, a hallmark of privilege.
The assumption behind much of Louis CK’s comedy—sometimes stated, sometimes implied—is that his own experience is normative. His message to men is more or less as follows: Come on guys, we’re among friends now, quit the bullshit. The chicks aren’t listening now, so stop trying to be politically correct. You know, and I know, that you’re feeling and thinking and doing exactly the same things I’m thinking and feeling and doing.
Eddie Murphy’s stand-up comedy has always relied heavily upon this technique. For instance, in Raw (1987), he asks all of the men in the audience “that are loyal to their women” to clap. Though it seems like a perfectly innocent question, we soon realize that it was posed in bad faith. A moment or two after the crowd bursts into applause, Murphy interrupts them loudly, shouting: “Stop! You lying motherfuckers, stop. Stop, stop, stop. Kiss my ass. Fuck, there ain’t no such thing as a loyal man, you lying motherfuckers. Stop it. Yeah, the only reason you’re clapping is because your woman’s sitting next to you right now when I asked you. . . . Get the fuck out. . . . All men fuck other women. We are low by nature and have to do it. . . . All men do it. We have to do it. . . . It is a man thing. . . . It is a dick thing. Do not try to understand it. You have to have a dick to understand this.”
Were some of the men in Eddie Murphy’s audience lying? Sure. Were all of them lying? I highly doubt it. Be that as it may, what’s key to note here is that Murphy categorically refuses to entertain some entirely plausible possibilities, such as the existence of loyal men, and the existence of women who truly get men (“You have to have a dick to understand this.”). It’s also interesting to note that Murphy is making some pretty categorical claims about what it means to be a man (“All men do it. We have to do it. . . . It is a man thing.”). Regardless, I call bullshit.
I know plenty of guys who don’t fit into Murphy’s straitjacket, just as I know plenty of guys who don’t fit into Louis CK’s straitjacket. I know plenty of guys who love fatherhood and find married life delightful. Sure, they have bad days, even bad weeks—but, on balance, they really enjoy the life of the householder. What’s more, I know plenty of grown men who aren’t tormented—as Louis CK and Eddie Murphy seem to be—by a never-ending torrent of pornographic thoughts. I know plenty of grown men who really don’t picture every woman they know naked, who really don’t fantasize about fucking every woman they know.
Are these guys an unrepresentative sample of Dude Nation? Perhaps. But I doubt it. Because I’ve got male friends from all walks of life: from the ultra-conservative to the ultra-liberal. Are these guys lying to me? Perhaps. But I doubt it. Because I’m always sure to bring up these sorts of questions in the wee hours of the morning, at the end of a long night, when we’re all fairly drunk (or high), speaking in confidence among friends, and inclined towards the kind of brutal honesty that makes these conversations so memorable. These guys aren’t laughing with Louis CK; they’re laughing at him. The great genius of Louis CK is that he shows us how much of a living hell it must be to be a teenage boy stuck in a grown man’s life.
—John Faithful Hamer, The Myth of the Fuckbuddy (2017)