If You HATE Comedy, Then You’ll LOVE The New Comedy

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“Canadian Film Centre from Toronto, Canada”

I don’t write things like this, okay? I’m a comedian, so I tend to think about what I would say. The article hasn’t started yet—hold on. I’ll open it the comedian way and hope for the best.

So…. What’s up with Judd Apatow?

And, we’re off. All due respect to the Hollywood writer, producer, whatever, but Apatow has not only joined the attack on stand-up comedy, he’s practically spearheading it—and I’m not just talking about his horrible HBO sitcom, Crashing. For the past six months, Apatow has led a war, trying to censor disgraced comedian Louis CK.

CK’s masturbation habits—whatever those words mean to you—has been a topic of national discussion for well over a year. Since the New York Times revealed CK had masturbated in front of multiple female colleagues from the late nineties until 2005, the image of a naked CK has involuntarily flashed into all of our consciousness. Many times. And one time is too many for most of us.

That image traveled from multiple women’s memories to a writer who composed a story, which was amplified on social media and experienced by hundreds of millions of people worldwide. Louis CK, who likes to be watched while he masturbates, won the exhibitionist lotto. All that play, he didn’t even have to show up. For CK, this is going to keep paying for a long, long time. His masturbatory errors lay at the center of a multilayered debate among comedians, critics and writers, and, of course Judd Apatow.

On the day of the Times article, Apatow tweeted, “When you disrespect and sexually harass young, vulnerable people you become a dream killer.” If you’re a Hollywood producer, and you publicly boast about your power to demand to see the dicks of young actors in your employ, would that qualify you as a dream killer?

CK issued an apologetic statement and disappeared for nine months. After the comic made a surprise appearance at The Comedy Cellar in the fall, performing a 15-minute set which began with CK receiving a standing ovation, Kathy Griffin tweeted something predictably asinine: “You know how many talented women and POC comics are knocking on doors trying to get some time in front of audiences or powerful people in this business? And Louis just gets to glide back in on his own terms? Gosh, does it payoff to be in the boys club..the white boys club.” In Griffin’s mind, clubs must choose between CK or all of the female and non-white comedians. It was a 15-minute set, no one even got bumped. What is she talking about?

“Louis CK masturbating” began to be offered as a plausible reason why CK should be banned from comedy clubs. Veteran comic Ted Alexandro said, “But there’s people, right (who say), “Oh..he’s lost everything. It’s not fair that men should lose everything in a flash. And by ‘everything’ I mean ‘hardly anything,’ and by ‘in a flash’ I mean ‘a decade later.'”

Solid joke construction, but I can’t agree that Louis CK lost “hardly anything.” In terms of career, he seemingly lost pretty much everything. FX cancelled his television series, and CK lost his executive producer job on four other shows. (Few people will ever lose one job, let alone five jobs, for a nut they busted fifteen years ago.) His management company, 3 Arts Entertainment, dropped him as a client. His publicist quit with a tweet, saying simply, “As of today, I no longer represent Louis CK.” And finally, HBO announced his removal from the lineup of the comedy benefit, “Night of Too Many Stars,” adding that his other works were pulled from its on-demand service. All of this happened in a day. Unless he has an honorary doctorate from Temple University he’s been hiding somewhere, I don’t know what else CK could have lost.

Nobody has wanted him to lose more than Apatow, who seems like he’s auditioning in public for “America’s Got Comedy Police.” After Louie CK took to the stage at Governor’s in Long Island, where an audience member recorded and uploaded his set to YouTube, Apatow finger-pounced at the new material on Twitter with the kind of feigned ignorance usually reserved for politicians and radical feminists.

“This hacky, unfunny, shallow routine is just a symptom of how people are afraid to feel empathy,” he tweeted. “It’s much easier to laugh at our most vulnerable than to look at their pain directly & show them love and concern. Louis CK is all fear and bitterness now. He can’t look inward.”

If only CK would take Apatow’s advice and call his next stand-up special, “Louis CK Looks Directly at the Pain of Our ‘Most Vulnerable’ and Shows Them Love and Concern.” Nothing says “gut-buster” like looking directly at “our most vulnerable” and showing them “love and concern.” As titles go though, “Louis CK: All Fear and Bitterness” might just work.

Shortly after that anti-comedy Twitter manifesto, Apatow and comic and Crashing star Pete Holmes, came in for an interview on Sirius Satellite Radio’s “Jim and Sam.”

Throughout the interview, Apatow fired away at CK while repeatedly invoking the Parkland kids, essentially using them as a human shield, clutching them to his chest while shooting over their shoulder at the bad man and his mean, mean comedy bits.

“Maybe tomorrow the bit will get better,” Apatow said. “That’s fine. But those kids are reading all about this guy they probably looked up to shitting on them and so someone should go, ‘Look, I got your back on this. I want you guys to get better’ … Somewhere out there, there are kids whose friends are dead. And they’re trying to get over it. And this guy they probably used to really look up to is shitting on them saying, ‘You’re not interesting.’ And it’s helpful to them for someone to go ‘fuck that, I don’t agree with what he’s saying.'”

Look, I’m not without compassion. I sincerely hope that these kids stopped looking up before CK started shitting on them. There’s a theme, and another great title. “Louis CK: Shitting on children.”

“It’s not abstract,” Apatow lectured Jim Norton and Sam Roberts as Pete Holmes nodded like a comedy scold wingman. “You’re talking comedy theory. There are people…this isn’t like, you know, like a vague joke. He’s talking about people people whose names we know. We know Cameron and David and Emma. We know who they are, so give ’em a fucking break.”

I have to agree with Apatow on this one. It’s high time we started calling comedians out for talking about people with names we know. True, in the bit, CK didn’t actually name their names, but he knows that we know their names. Fuck this! GIVE ‘EM A FUCKING BREAK!

To be clear, it’s fine if a comic wants to talk about people whose names we don’t know. Victims of the Holocaust, for example. Fair game. Talk about The Challenger. Probably most people don’t know their names. Workshop it. I also agree with Apatow about the difference in comedy theory vs. reality. In theory Apatow’s opinions on comedy are worthy of attention and respect because of his long track record of creating monster hit movies and tv shows. In reality, his opinions are stupid and he looks like a swinger with fetal alcohol syndrome.

If there’s any consensus in all the difference of opinion, it’s built around the idea that, if Louis CK is going to “come back,” he needs to humble himself further and either address his problems in the past onstage or make some grand show of listening and, as FX prescribed, “honestly addressing” something, blah, blah, blah.

Apatow said:

“So he’s not saying that at all. He’s just punching down at, you know, kids who got shot at or whose friends died.”

Maybe it’s just me, but when a successful Hollywood producer at the top of his game goes on the radio to promote his HBO series and attack the trashed reputation of a disgraced comedian who lost everything and shred his material as he shakes off the cobwebs after a 9-month break from the stage…That, my friend, is called punching down.

Apatow seems to want to align himself with the right people and causes so he’ll be placed beyond reproach while he pisses down hard on whoever passes directly under him. This is his social justice smoke shield. But the people he is aligning himself with are the very enemies of comedy.

The enemies of comedy comprise the humorless mob, who all feel the same wrong way at the same time, all the time. It’s people who white knight for people who don’t need defending, against people who don’t mean them harm; bullies who claim to stand up to bullies because everyone that doesn’t cosign their bullshit is a bully.

Haters of comedy most quickly spot tragedy, and hold onto it forever because it is their heroin. They can’t let it go because, like all junkies, their dope has become their identity. To abandon their self-righteousness would be to abandon everything they are. Perpetual proxies for victims of every injustice, they are sick.

People used to say “too soon” about jokes that preempted the gentle dovetail of hurt feelings about a tragedy, but that’s never really been the case. Every groaning audience member would privately smile or laugh at the same joke. Groaning at a joke isn’t an authentic reaction. It’s a social cue from anonymous self-appointed influencers, empowered in darkness, letting the room know the correct response.

Multiply that concept by 300 million, add celebrities, and you’ve got Twitter, where social justice cultists love tireless spotters of tragedy like Apatow. At his core, Apatow is not a funny guy, and Louie’s return seems to have heightened his awareness of that fact. Why else would he try to lead a chorus of groans loud enough to drown out the laughter on that recording of Louie telling jokes?

Very funny guys like Louis CK can say what people are thinking, and articulate it in a way no one else can. He can talk about the Parkland survivors in a way that releases the tension. Not only can Apatow not do that, he doesn’t even want such a thing to be possible. He knows tragedy plus time equals comedy, so he thinks he can kill Louie’s laughs by replacing “too soon” with “not ever.”

Anyone who says Louis CK should never return to comedy; or that he shouldn’t have returned so soon; or that he may return, but needs to prostrate himself first, then maybe. An enemy of comedy is anyone who thinks that it’s a big goddamn deal to publicly admit that David Hogg isn’t particularly interesting and is certainly no more interesting than the hundreds of other non-media-superstar kids from Parkland who just stayed in Florida and did their homework.

It is a mob-driven movement of misery. Filled with resentful, petty trolls, the mob loses all memory of what it even means to let out a hugely cathartic laugh that comes from making a fucked-up joke. Instead, they draw from a deep well of fear and self-hatred to fuel their competitive outrage contests.

Indeed, since the Hollywood Purge began, Apatow has done press appearance after appearance, bleating out condemnation of other comedians (all while never mentioning any of his close pals and collaborators who have been accused like James Franco and Lena Dunham), seemingly terrified of meeting the same fate.

“It’s concerning because I was like, ‘What photos have I taken in my life?'” Apatow told Seth Meyers in 2017 after he was asked to confront the recently doomed fate of Al Franken. “You ever think that? Do you do the Rolodex, just go like, ‘What have I done?’ So, I went through all my photos. I went through 35,000 photos, honestly, and scrolled to see, like, what do I have on the cloud that will someone will find one day and end me.”

Not every enemy of comedy is as buffoonish-ly evil as Judd Apatow. There are plenty of comedians, even some very good ones, who seem to be fighting for the wrong side when it comes to CK, in favor of being “on the right side of history.” A lot of comics are noncommittal, especially on the recorded set. When it comes up, they punt and say “Louis was just working stuff out, so it doesn’t count.”

Maybe. But in my mind, if a comic is performing it on a stage for an audience who paid, it counts. I thought the stuff he was doing was great. And so did the audience. Tell them it didn’t count.

That’s brings up a potentially defining difference in perspective. On hearing the recording of his set, to me it just sounded like Louie was killing. Apatow heard the same thing, and claimed the audience was “kissing his ass so hard!”

When the sound of hard laughs follows even gentle mockery of one of Apatow’s pet sacred cows, there’s no way that can be real, especially when the comic delivering the jokes “hurt people.” Because that would mean that the shit Louie said was funny. And that would mean that Apatow was wrong.

That is a defining characteristic of the enemy. When a fact seems to prove their emotional truth to be false, then it’s the fact that’s wrong.

The critics and haters and traitors more-or-less own Twitter and the media, but the clubs will always belong to comedy.

The Daily Beast reported on Louis CK’s January 16th sold-out show on a Wednesday night at a San Jose comedy club. Louie walked onstage to a standing ovation before picking up the mic and addressing the topic that Judd Apatow and others have insisted he must address:

“I like to jerk off, and I don’t like being alone.”

“Simple and without a trace of apology; it got a good laugh,” this according to The Daily Beast.

He talked about it in an “inward-searching way.” Looks like the time for apologies is over.

Pat Dixon

About Pat Dixon

Pat Dixon is an American comedian, podcaster, and journalist who lives and works in New York City. Dixon is best known as creator and host of The NYC Crime Report with Pat Dixon on Compound Media.
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Pat Dixon
Pat Dixon is an American comedian, podcaster, and journalist who lives and works in New York City. Dixon is best known as creator and host of The NYC Crime Report with Pat Dixon on Compound Media.