thinking big: feminism, media, and pop culture

Posts Tagged ‘louie c.k.’

Sit Down, Devil’s Advocates: SNL Tries On a New Look

In misogyny, TV on April 4, 2014 at 11:04 am

Sarah T.

Comedians who employ racial stereotypes, homophobic slurs and misogynistic language in service of their jokes often try to deflect criticism by arguing that comedy is about pushing boundaries. But it hardly seems edgy to insist on targeting people who already occupy marginalized positions in American culture—particularly when the person telling the jokes is a straight white guy, as they so often tend to be. I mean, Daniel Tosh can insist that his rape jokes are about breaking cultural taboos all he wants, but it seems obvious that all the man is doing is reinforcing the status quo.

There are, however, plenty of ways to be funny and fresh about race, class, gender and sexuality without making the jokes come at the expense of people that American culture seeks to disempower. This season, several sketches on Saturday Night Live—a show that has plenty of diversity problems of its own—have explored topics like privilege, white guilt and the problems that arise when people outside specific cultural groups try to appropriate insider language.

One recent example is “Dyke and Fats,” a sketch penned by the two Saturday Night Live cast members who star in it: Kate McKinnon, the show’s first openly gay female comedian, and Aidy Bryant, the series’ first plus-size female hire.

The sketch, which unfolds as a promotion for a vintage buddy-cop TV series, incorporates multiple cultural stereotypes about fat people and ladies who like ladies. McKinnon’s character, Les Dykawitz, is an arm-wrestling cop who keeps a scroll of dog photos tucked behind her police badge. Bryant’s character, Chubbina Fatzarelli, has a string of bratwurst under her badge and slips a particularly juicy-looking hamburger her phone number. (A very smooth move, and one that I will certainly emulate when I come across perfectly crisped French fries in the future.) The show-within-the-sketch has obvious affection for the characters as they bust down doors and use each other’s bodies to roundhouse-kick a semi-circle of bad guys. At the same time, it seems straight out of the 1970s exploitation boom.

But the last moments of the sketch reveal that it has no interest in exploiting the characters’–or cast members’–identities. And any viewers who were watching and laughing because the sketch affirmed their prejudiced beliefs have a knock-out punch coming. Read the rest of this entry »

Privileged Comedy: Blackface in F/X’s “Louie”

In race on September 18, 2011 at 12:06 pm

Sarah Todd

Louis C.K.’s dark-humored sitcom Louie, which depicts the life of a single-dad comedian raising two daughters in New York City, has earned accolades from critics and devoted fans alike. In general, I think the show deserves its positive recognition–it’s funny and edgy and honest with considerable heart. (Watch “Duckling” and try not to tear up.) It’s also not afraid to take on controversial and uncomfortable issues, usually in a way that’s meant to engage in real–but not humorless–discussion. Which is why I was surprised by the way a recent episode,  “Halloween/Ellie”, handled a character dressed in blackface.

In the first segment of the episode, Louie takes his daughters Lily and Jane trick-or-treating around the city. Lily, the youngest, is costumed as a fairy in wings, a wand, and a puffy vest (fall in New York is cold!). Jane, by contrast, is dressed in a tiny suit, a curly grey wig and beard–and blackface. “Who are you?” asks one storekeeper in a sweet but faltering voice. “Frederick Douglass,” Louie explains. She read about him in school.

As I watched the episode, I kept waiting for Jane’s costume to become an issue. Would another storekeeper, passerby, or fellow trick-or-treater challenge Louie to explain his daughter’s costume? Would the show find some other way of addressing the painful, racist history of blackface? The stand-up routine that precedes the segment helped set my expectations that the show would start a conversation about the costume. Louie explains, “I’ve got two little white girls in my house. When they complain, it kind of drives me crazy, because I know what the world is like around them. They have no idea.” As an illustration, he describes how his daughter complained about the bubble gum-flavored medicine she took to bring down her fever, and compares her situation with that of most kids in the world, who don’t have medicine at all. His point is that his daughters–by virtue of their race, age, gender, nationality, and class–have an enormous amount of privilege of which they’re unaware. Read the rest of this entry »