Louis C.K., aka Captain Trigger Warning, Takes Full Advantage of First Amendment

Man, that Louis C.K. is one big walking trigger warning, isn’t he?! The rough-edged comedian did his best to distract everyone from the “Mad Men” finale by closing out “Saturday Night Live’s” 40th season with a monologue that instantly became a case study of what happens when you take a perfectly valid concept a step (or half-marathon) too far.

Needless to say, the monolog has been embedded on Web pages and blogs around the world. If you haven’t seen it yet, you can do so on Hulu.

Putting aside the content for a second, there’s one great thing about this clip: the rare opportunity to see the precise moment when a comedian realizes that his train of thought is about to jump the rails. He knows it’s going to be bad, but there’s nothing he can do about it because he’s already started the sentence and he can’t, he just can’t get his tongue to stop. And Louis C.K. seems like a pretty smart guy, so he knows that it’s not going to simply be a joke that bombs in some obscure club in the Village during a 6-minute set that’s competing with the noise of tourists My_Spacing their visit to a Comedy Club in NYC, don’chaknow. No, this is a joke in horrendously bad taste that is going to go viral worldwide. He will now always be known as the comedian who closed out “SNL’s” 40th season with a seemingly-pro child molestation joke, and there is that amazing second when you can see it in his eyes, and you share his realization that some high-wire acts are cleaned up with a hose and a sponge.

As for the substance of what he said, I say it three times: First Amendment, First Amendment, First Amendment. We are a nation built around the concept that people have an unalienable right to say things that we don’t like, of which we disapprove, or which we outright loathe. It is our obligation as adults and parents to make good choices about the content we consume, but the simple truth of the matter is that we cannot enjoy the benefits of the First Amendment without running the risk of being offended, and the vast majority of the time, the positives derived from freedom of speech outweigh the negatives.

Ol’ Captain Trigger Warning certainly gave the Righteously Indignant plenty of fodder the other night. The general theme of his bit was how different things were in the 1970s (SNL premiered in 1975). He talked about how he has “mild racism” as a result of growing up in the 70s, how the Middle East hasn’t changed in 40 years, and the way in which people in his community were aware that the creepy guy down the street was interested in teenage boys. There are insightful observations in much of his humor, and I don’t think the fiasco of his child molester segment negates his gift for social commentary.

Here’s where I think he screwed up the child molester bit. There is no humor in actual assaults. I’ve worked as a computer forensics expert for 16 years, and have amended my position on the death penalty as a result.

But there is humor or at least ruefully funny social observation in how oblivious or wilfully ignorant we were forty years ago. Part of the point of comedy, particularly comedy grounded in social commentary, is to force us to look at the darker corners of the world we prefer to ignore. We were pretty clueless in the 70s about these types of issues. Ignorance is bliss, which is one reason why people are more pessimistic these days.

If our general cluelessness in the 70s had been the sole focus of Louis C.K.’s riff, then things would probably have been ok. But when he suggested that people are willing to risk horrible consequences when they assault the young and the vulnerable because “it must be amazing for them,” it wasn’t a failure of humor, it was a failure to understand what drives people to commit sexual abuse. Sadly, it’s about so much more than sexual gratification; it’s about abuse of power, serious mental illness, and outright evil.

The comedian tried to save the bit (after admitting it would probably be “his last show” — no kidding) by saying that he couldn’t understand child molesters because, hey, he loves Mounds Bars so much that when he’s eating one, he can’t do anything else; his entire attention is taken up with the devouring of the Mars Bar. But he doesn’t love them so much that he’d be willing to risk jail and social hatred just to have another.

You’re right, Louis: You just don’t get what drives people to commit sexual assault, so stop trying to compare it to your love of candy. I enthusiastically support your right under the First Amendment to challenge us to think about difficult issues, but you have a responsibility to better understand the things about which you joke.

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