Opinion: Comedians should be able to test bad jokes…even Louis C.K.

The most recent Louis C.K. controversy brings up the conversation about whether or not a stand-up stage is a sacred place. Comedy clubs have policies barring recordings of their comics and bigger names like Dave Chappelle have utilized special services to ensure their material is not leaked ahead of a big Netflix release. Laughspin has asked two stand-up comics to examine each side of the privacy of the comedy club. Vicky Kuperman is a 12-year comedy veteran with three stand-up albums, recently Three’s Comedy, frequently heard on SiriusXM.

America woke up this morning to yet another outraged social media firestorm targeting a comedian’s jokes, a happening that’s become almost as ubiquitous as a white woman bringing her dog into Starbucks. But don’t worry, because the media is being super fair about it. The headlines weren’t at all biased….NOT!

USA Today: Twitter furious as Louis C.K. reportedly heard mocking Parkland survivors, non-binary youth

NBC News: Louis C.K. appears to mock Parkland survivors in stand-up routine

TMZ: Louis C.K. Goes After Parkland Victims in Leaked Audio of New Stand-Up

Last week it was Chris Rock A few weeks before that, it was Kevin Hart. Today, it’s Louis C.K. And I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’m on his side here. Well, maybe not his side, but on the side of comedians trying out new material. Like many people in the comedy world, I knew about his harassment of women for years. When a civilian (what we call non-comics) would rave about him to me, I didn’t have the heart to ruin their comedy idol for them. The few times I did spill the beans, I was met with resistance and questions like, “I don’t believe it. Where’s your proof?”

C.K. did a long set on Long Island at Governor’s Comedy Club a couple of weeks ago which was secretly recorded by an audience member and uploaded to YouTube. The audio recording has since been ripped and re-uploaded multiple times. In the recording, he made jokes about the school shooting victims from Parkland, Florida. He did not “go after” the Parkland victims as the media headlines suggest. That’s just inflammatory clickbait.

To say he went after them implies he did something. He didn’t do anything. He made jokes. Were they funny? No. Jokes are not usually funny when you’re working it out. That’s why comedians practice their routines at open mics for months or years before they even think about recording it. C.K. is famous, therefore he gets to test his material at comedy clubs, a privilege most comedians would die for.

Though I am appalled by what he did to multiple female comedians, this is bigger than the once-beloved stand-up. It’s really fucked up to leak that audio and it’s ridiculous to hold it to politically correct and high artistic standards. Leaking videos like this has become a pattern that is threatening creative expression.

In one of his last specials, the Louie star joked we should round up all the kids with peanut allergies and kill them. It was hilarious. It probably didn’t sound funny when he was working it out. It also probably offended some people who watched the special. Those people have every right to be offended and say something. They have freedom of speech, too, just like he does. My problem is not with audiences hating his jokes. Audiences are a comedian’s barometer to what’s working and what’s not working. We don’t have the luxury of practicing at home or in a studio like musicians or actors. The audience is our instrument. We have to fail in public every night. The audience decides for us what stays and what goes; the live audience, in the room.

This Court of Public Opinion is very scary, very powerful, and at times, it’s unreasonable. Throwing audio of unfinished jokes onto the stand is a disservice to the artist and the art. Comedy is meant to be an experience, a connection and a place to push boundaries. Some people might agree here, except in this particular case, as they don’t think C.K. deserves to be on stage at all. Okay. We all have exceptions to our rules. I don’t really care about him either. In fact, I care about his career as much as he cares about mine, and that puts us at around 0%. However, I think it sets a dangerous precedent to pick and choose who has the freedom to test material and who doesn’t based on whether we like the comedian or not.  

And for goodness sake, at least wait to judge the comedy until the special comes out. Or leave the house, pay admission, and judge the comic in person. Comedy, after all, is a dish best served live.

See what the other side thinks in this counterpoint.

Vicky Kuperman

Her comedy albums When I Could Feel, All Good!, and Three's Comedy are in regular rotation on SiriusXM, and her book How to Spy on Your Neighbor: Your Survival Guide for the United States of Russia was top 10 in political-humor on Amazon. Vicky is a regular panelist on John Fugelsang's "Tell Me Everything" and has appeared on Nickmom TV and the Maxim Comedy Showcase. In 2018, she did a three-week military comedy tour for Armed Forces Entertainment

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