My funny Valentine
Louis C.K. is a forty-something year old divorced dude comedian with two kids. He lives in New York City, he hates a lot of stuff, he’s perennially grumpy, and he’s quickly become one of my favorite comedians. . . like, of all time ever in the universe. Serious business.
I thought it might be nice, this Valentine’s week, to discuss what I love about Louis. I used my analytical super powers for this one, so don’t expect a sonnet to his freckles or his sadly tonsured crown, but an elevation of his craft. Said elevation follows thusly:
Though his stand-up persona carries himself with a fairly typical brand of New York male bravado and “this world is fucking stupid” existentialism, C.K.’s performative work is perforated with extensive self-hatred — hatred that he links both to his biological maleness along with the hegemonic infrastructure of a society that creates men like him.
In form, he suggests that he’s the same old ornery comedian; paunchy in his black t-shirt he’s comfortably average. Unsurprisingly, he talks about typical dude stuff, subject matter ranging from having balls and obsessing about sex and women to smoking joints and obsessing about sex and women. In content, however, his rantings fill in this typical masculine outline with an atypical questioning of male and white privilege. And funnily enough, it’s his portrayal of himself as abject that most caught my loving eye.
On stage and on screen (in his F/X show Louie), C.K. depicts himself as disgusted by his body — its girth, his baldness, its (in)ability to have sex. He despises his desires — to eat, to masturbate, to acquire friendships, girlfriends. The unique strength of his self-loathing is that, in his delivery, C.K. sounds like any unquestionably average masculine man. The gruffness, the register of his voice, his posture, diction, and dress all suggest that as an American male he is typical. But within the Trojan horse of normativity, bursts forth a troop of more realistic, but rarely discussed failures and sick expectations of masculinity.
Louis will lift his shirt and expose his lily white belly to the crowd, or build an entire episode of his TV show around his stupefying depression — the loneliest orgy between a man and multiple pints of Häagen-Dazs that you’ll ever see. Our everyday dude emasculates himself through confession and this is not, as we’ve been taught, a bad thing. Through his intensely detailed self-deprecation, C.K. creates a safety net for his audience. Targeting himself with the heft of his ire, the viewer feels safe to laugh. Rather than appearing too academic or authoritarian in his beliefs about institutions and hegemonic power, he disarmingly deconstructs our privileged models of masculinity by sloughing them off of himself through his performances.
He says, “look at this shitty body, this shitty brain that reduces women to pussy. Look at me, this fuck-up, this racist, this homophobe, this fat American failure.” And he lets us look really closely. Getting naked before us as Louis C.K. the super specific individual person, but narrated by the voice of Louis C.K. Every(dumfuck)man, he builds a powerfully uncomfortable and thus hilarious tension, one capable of complicating our notions of gender and shaking us a little freer from our socially constructed roles.
Our Everyman sounds powerful, stands-up before us like a God, but he worries about his figure like me and every woman I know, his children hurt his feelings, he wants to know how to make friends. On Louie, he kisses women (when he gets the chance) with an ardor and desire for connection so unbelievably and pathetically palpable you just want to slap the guy — for we all know there is no joy in Louieland, but the poor sap just keeps hoping/trying.
So, yes, in all of this he is un-manned; he emerges ugly, flaccid, fat, emotional, soft, and this is human, this is real — more real than the gendered lies we cling to out of cowardice — this is Louis, my funny Valentine.
Ana Holguin writes PopHeart for The Idler.