News & Politics

This Clip of Louis C.K. on the Daily Show Is Particularly Chilling in Light of the Accusations Against Him

The comedian says he thinks women who complain about rape jokes should “shut up.”

Photo Credit: Screenshot/The Daily Show

The accusations against Louis C.K. surprised many, maybe because the comedian doesn’t seem like “that kind of guy.” Roy Moore and Harvey Weinstein—sure, they seem like woman-dominating bullies. The performer of “Louie” fame, on the other hand, has always projected himself as sympathetic to the female worldview, on his show and in his standup performances. But one telling clip from a 2012 appearance on The Daily Show suggests that maybe we never really knew Louis C.K.

In the segment, a clueless Louis C.K. recounts a story about the time he fell into hot water with some whiny feminists. He was on vacation without internet when he saw a particularly amusing episode of Comedy Central’s Tosh.0, and sent comedian Daniel Tosh a complimentary tweet about enjoying his show. When he returned, he learned that Tosh was under fire for making jokes about rape in a standup performance and then suggesting it would be amusing if a female audience member who heckled him “got raped by, like, five guys right now.” Louis C.K. was seen as his defender. C.K.’s hand-wringing response? “Comedians and feminists...are natural enemies, because stereotypically speaking, feminists can’t take a joke.”

First off, Louis C.K.’s gall, his willingness to joke about sexual abuse, or even more frankly, masturbation, in front of an audience of millions is chilling—like the criminal who returns to the scene of the crime, hiding in plain sight.

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This particular line harks back to a time (just a few years ago) when female comedians had to prove they were funny, that they could be as successful as their male counterparts, that women understood humor at all. But sure, I’ll give this one to him: when the comedian in discussion insists on masturbating in front of feminists, making them feel violated and powerless, then, yes, at that moment, they’re enemies.

This is just Louis C.K. trying to co-opt the rape joke discussion here, spinning it into a feeble protest of “you can’t take a joke!” in the same way his defenders claimed for years that masturbating in front of women wasn't a serious violation.

Then, Louis C.K. talked through some of the criticism he received after he was accused of defending Daniel Tosh.

“This woman said how rape is something that polices women’s lives. That they have a narrow corridor, they can’t go out late, they can’t go to certain neighborhoods, they can’t dress a certain way, ‘cause they might get … now, I never… that’s part of me now that it wasn’t before, and I can still enjoy a good rape joke, so I have both now.”

He admits that through dialogue with women, he became aware of how fear of sexual abuse silences them... yet he continues to make light of it. Sounds like halfway empathy to me. We could also see this as a confessional moment for Louis C.K.: is he revealing that the Tosh controversy was the moment he first understood how much pain men (like himself) cause the women they prey on? Nope. Because then, the segment gets worse:

“Women are saying, ‘here’s how I feel about this,’ but they’re also saying, ‘my feelings should be everyone’s primary concern.’ The men are making this mistake, they’re saying, ‘your feelings don’t matter, your feelings are wrong, and your feelings are stupid’….So, to the men I say, listen, listen to what the women are saying about this. To the women, I say, now that we’ve heard you, you know, shut the fuck up for a minute.”

I have no doubt someone as self-aware as Louis C.K. is cringing right now about this particular interview. One of the most compelling aspects of his comedy is that he always seemed to want to hear what women have to say. But to suggest that men's and women’s concerns about rape jokes are equally valid completely undermines what he said earlier about how he now understands how jokes about sexual assault upset and trigger many women. It’s reminiscent of Donald Trump’s suggestion that the Charlottesville white supremacists and protesters were to blame for the violence “on both sides.” There are not two valid points of view here: just one group (rape joke-making comedians) with power, and one that is oppressed (women).

After the New York Times published the allegations against him, Louis C.K. wrote an apology letter in which he said:

“Now I’m aware of the extent of the impact of my actions. I learned yesterday the extent to which I left these women who admired me feeling badly about themselves and cautious around other men who would never have put them in that position.”

This play-dumb act isn’t fooling anyone. It took a front-page news story published years after the first accusations against him for the comedian to understand the pain he’d caused. Just as, on the Daily Show, he claimed cluelessness when he defended Daniel Tosh. He’s putting on the same character he uses in his comedy: the hapless guy who doesn’t realize what’s going on around him. Bad things happen to him, and we laugh while we watch him squirm out of the uncomfortable aftermath. But it’s not working anymore. He should know better, and he should have known better much earlier than last week. 

Liz Posner is a managing editor at AlterNet. Her work has appeared on Forbes.com, Bust, Bustle, Refinery29, and elsewhere. Follow her on Twitter at @elizpos.