Louis CK has been my favorite working comedian since maybe 2008. But, the way he came to my favorite wasn’t organic or accidental. It wasn’t even completely voluntary. I basically discovered him by force.
I was aware he existed. But between the underwhelming bits of Lucky Louie I’d seen and, to be honest, the way he looks, I didn’t think to pay any attention to him.
But, whenever I’d hear an interview or read a story or see a segment featuring a comedian I respected and they were asked to name their favorite working comic, Louis CK’s name always seemed to come up. He was your favorite comedian’s favorite comedian.
So, I gave him another chance. I caught one of his specials on Comedy Central or HBO, and I enjoyed it so much that I actually got mad at myself for almost overlooking him. It was like trying some weird dish at a buffet for the first time and thinking “F*ck! This is great! Why didn’t I try this before?”
Again, Louis CK’s Whiteness alone (And yes, random internet person, I know he’s Mexican) isn’t what caused that initial attention neglect. There were other White comedians (Richard Jeni, Bill Burr, etc) that were among my favorites, and my favorite comedy (Seinfeld) was Whiter than Taylor Swift. And nothing about what I saw up to that point warranted a second look. But, despite the fact that I knew he was at least popular/talented enough to get his own show, it wasn’t until I learned that my favorite Black comedian (Chris Rock) loved his work that I gave him another chance. I needed a trusted Black cosigner. Race didn’t matter. At least I thought it didn’t. But it kind of did.
Anyway, I’m writing this a couple hours after seeing Amy Schumer perform at Carnegie Music Hall. For those not familiar with her, she has a show on Comedy Central, she’s in her early 30s, she’s very blond, and she’s very, almost stereotypically, White. Like, you can totally see her saying “Girls Gone Wild! WOOOOOO!” completely unironically White. Prius and hummus White. Whiter than the White girl in your office you call “White Jen” even though there are two other White women named Jennifer who work there.
While watching her perform and scanning the mostly White audience, I thought about all the people who’d be too turned off by her uber-Whitegirlness to give her comedy a chance. And then I thought about how, whenever a profile of Kevin Hart appears on Slate or Salon or some other mainstream publication, a sizable number of the comments are from people so turned off by both his “Blackness” and the idea of Black comedy that they haven’t even bothered to give him a legitimate chance.
Which is their prerogative, of course. But, it’s also wrong. Because there is no such thing as “White” or “Black” comedy. There’s just comedy. You either like it or you don’t. The elements you like and/or dislike aren’t racial. They’re stylistic. But because of our tendency to assign racial labels to certain types of comedy, “I’m not a fan of the type of frantic and physically demonstrative humor Kevin Hart incorporates into his acts” turns into “I’m not a fan of Black humor.”
That said, it is natural to be more drawn to comedians you share commonalities with. And often those commonalities are racial. Chris Rock and Patton Oswalt can tell the exact same joke, but if Rock references Prince in the punchline and Oswalt references Sting, those more familiar with Prince will laugh harder at Rock’s joke. Not because the Prince reference makes the joke better or even any different. But because they’re more familiar with Prince.
And, as I said earlier, it’s your prerogative to like whomever you want for whichever reason you want. Just know that the next time you immediately dismiss something/someone because their humor seems too “White” or too “Black,” you might miss your Louis CK the same way I almost did.
—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)
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