Comedian Louis CK has been in the business for decades. For a long time, he was on the fringe of stardom, almost famous. An accomplished writer, he wrote for such shows as Late Show with David Letterman, Late Night with Conan O’Brien, The Dana Carvey Show, and The Chris Rock Show. A talented film director, he tried his hand at directing a number of movies including the seminal Pootie Tang, which he also wrote, but it wasn’t until the last decade that he has moved center stage writing, directing, and producing shows like the critically acclaimed Louie or the entirely self-financed dark comedy Horace and Pete.
Now famous for his sketches about being a fat, grumpy old man, Louis has been grinding it out for years in the intense, misogynistic show business world. Probably influenced by having two daughters, one of which he calls “an intersectional radical feminist,” through his shows and comedy bits he’s pushed a message with a surprisingly feminist slant, bringing up controversial subjects that are at the forefront of issues impacting women.
10. Men are Dangerous
Harris O’Malley (AKA Dr. NerdLove), an internationally recognized blogger and dating coach, says women face real danger when looking for love. The modern single woman might have it a little easier with things like Tinder, where they can filter the crazy (to a degree), but that still doesn’t totally negate the threat men pose to women. Take the cringe worthy “Nice Guy,” the male who thinks he is entitled to a little action from women if he holds the door, buys her dinner, or simply says hello. The horror stories told by women in a 2016 askreddit thread, “what has been your worst ‘nice guy’ experience?” show the common harassment women feel.
In his 2013 comedy special, “Oh My God”, Louis CK has a short bit where he compares how the risk of a man asking a girl on a date is “insane and ill-advised” because, as he states, “How do women still go out with guys, when you consider that there is no greater threat to women than men? We’re the number one threat to women! Globally and historically, we’re the number one cause of injury and mayhem to women… You know what [men’s] number one threat is? Heart disease.”
9. Girls and Cuddling
Women often claim they get screwed when it comes to intimacy, and science seems to back them up. Therapist Vanessa Marin says that while most men can finish in five minutes or less (heavy on the less), women typically need 20 minutes or more. To make matters worse, this is only true if your bed repertoire includes lots of foreplay and not just missionary. Michael Castleman M.A. of Psychology Today writes that only 25 percent of women are able to finish during normal lovemaking. There is a myth woman don’t like to get busy; rather they don’t like the wrong kind of fun under the sheets.
In his 2011 comedy special “Live at the Beacon Theater” Louis took aim at this myth and how men joke about cuddling with girls, saying men always comment that women are touchy feely and needy because they want to cuddle. “She’s not needy, you idiot, she’s [wants more], because you did nothing for her.”
8. Daniel Tosh
In the summer of 2012, Daniel Tosh slammed a woman who was heckling from the crowd. Infamous as a “notorious misogynist”, Tosh not only verbally crushed the heckler, but he doubled down saying that a bunch of men should do horrible things to her. The exchange started a Twitter tornado of offense.
Enter Louis CK, a self-professed technophobe. He was watching Daniel Tosh’s TV show and totally in the dark about the outrage and backlash against Tosh, when he tweeted, “@danieltosh your show makes me laugh every time I watch it. And you have pretty eyes.” Louis was talking about Tosh’s TV show but the timing of the tweet made it seem like he was supporting Tosh’s remarks. The twitter rage storm focused in on this and quickly redirected their rage to Louis CK.
Louis could have doubled down on his first amendment rights as he and many other comedians have done in the past, but instead he chose engagement even though he had nothing to do with what Tosh said. He did the night show circuit and explained what had happened but more importantly, he acknowledged the other side’s argument. On The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, he said that “I’ve read some blogs during this whole thing that have made me enlightened to things I didn’t know.” He continued talking about how violence against women “is something that polices women’s lives. They have a narrow corridor. They can’t go out late, they can’t go to certain neighborhoods, they can’t get a certain way, because they might get… that’s part of me now that wasn’t before.”
Part of Louis CK’s analysis into the dynamics of women and relationships is the issue of consent. In the season four episode of Louie, “Pamela Part 1”, Louie meets his love interest Pamela (played by Pamela Adlon) and finally makes his move. The “move” being chasing her around the apartment trying to kiss her. The scene is cute at first, but quickly turns awkward as Louie becomes more and more aggressive. Finally, Pamela gives in but it raises all kind of questions.
Reviewers of the episode were asking, was Louie trying to force Pamela to do something she didn’t want to? This is classic Louis CK who brings complicated feminist issues, like consent, to the water cooler discussions through humorous and surreal drama. As for the episode itself, co-star Pamela Adlon says in an interview that when she first read the script, “I was dying laughing, because in the script he said, ‘Louie approaches her closing off the ring’ — which is like a boxing terminology — and then he said, ‘and she’s holding on to the walls and furniture like a cartoon cat.’” As for the kiss itself, Adlon says that yes, her character did give consent in the end.
6. Support of Female Comedians
Being a female comedian is tough. First, the deck is stacked against you as comedy club promoters acknowledge that women can be funny… as long as there’s not “too many of them.” If they do get booked they might face hecklers. Now all comedians get heckled, but as English comedian Ava Vidal points out, with women comedians “there does seem to be a special dynamic between comedian and heckler when the comedian happens to be female.” Or as one comedian infamously found out, things can suddenly turn dangerous. Then when female comedians do make it through all the obstacles in their way, legendary pillars of comedy like Jerry Lewis refuse to find them funny or offer support of any kind.
In this ultimate boy’s club, Louis CK has gone out of his way to support female talent. In August 2012, female deadpan comedian Tig Notaro did a 30-minute bit on her recent diagnosis with breast cancer, a women’s issue if there ever was one. Louis was attending the show and tweeted, “In 27 years doing this, I’ve seen a handful of truly great, masterful standup sets. One was Tig Notaro last night.” When asked about any comedians he respects he recently praised the comedic genius of Samantha Bee, saying she’s “inevitable, the next thing,” and comparing her to comedy legend Chris Rock.
5. Transgender on Horace and Pete
The plight of the transgender population in America recently came to the forefront when President Trump banned them from the military. Discrimination and violence against them are still a real problem in America and around the world. Researchers at the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) said that just in America there were at least 22 transgender people killed in 2016, “the most ever recorded.” This does not include the constant violence and discrimination they also face, or the staggeringly high percentage of suicide attempts among the transgender population.
With all the problems that transgender people face it is no surprise that Louis CK would try to start a dialogue.
Horace and Pete is a dark comedy created, written, and directed by Louis CK. In the seventh episode of the first season, CK’s character Horace has a one night stand with a girl who jokes that she might be post-op transgender. AVClub.com’s Vikram Murthi slammed the show, saying Louis CK overstepped his role, writing that only trans people should write about trans issues. However, Louis should be applauded for bringing up the issue, avoiding trans tropes and stereotypes and starting a discussion on the rights of trans people.
4. Fat Guy and Hot Girl in a Sitcom
The website TV Tropes calls it “Ugly Guy, Hot Wife.” American television is notorious for pairing funny, immature, or in Tony Soprano’s case, good earners with skinny women with cheerleader-type looks and personalities. Slate calls it “beauty and the beast” and lists several examples, like The King of Queens, where smoldering, working-class babe Carrie (Leah Remini) is paired with beer-gutted Doug (Kevin James). On Grounded for Life, the lovely, voluptuous Claudia (Megyn Price) is paired with the dumpy and scraggly-bearded Sean (Donal Logue). Basically, you can’t turn on a “family” sitcom without seeing this kind of pairing.
Louis CK directed and wrote most of the episodes of his critically acclaimed show Louie. At one point, he focuses on the fat guy/skinny wife stereotype in the season two episode “Oh, Louie/Tickets.” The show is very meta. Not just because he plays the fat TV husband, but because it is also based on his real life experience doing a pilot for CBS called Lucky Louie. In the episode, Louie has a flashback to a fictional pilot being filmed with CK as the star of a show called Oh, Louie. In the flashback, he rails against the show casting him as the “fat guy with a hot wife” stereotype and in a fit of fury quits the show after telling the studio audience off.
3. Hollywood is Ageist Toward Women
Hollywood is notoriously ageist with the roles offered to women. Amy Schumer does a hilarious skit with Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Tina Fey, and Patricia Arquette where they’ve gathered to toast Louis-Dreyfus’ last day as a desirable woman. This trend is nothing new and very real. Clemson economists Robert Fleck and Andrew Hanssen scoured IMDb data and found that men get most of Hollywood’s leading roles, and that it does indeed get worse for women as they age. “Among 20-year-old actors, women got 80 percent of the leading roles. By age 30, women only got 40 percent of the leading roles. And past age 40, men claim 80 percent of the leading roles, while women only get 20 percent.”
In the same Louie episode we mentioned above, “Oh, Louie/Tickets,” Louis CK’s character has a flashback and in the flashback, the actress (Heidi Armbruster) playing Louie’s wife goes on a rant against Louie for ruining the pilot. She talks about Hollywood agism and how the fictional sitcom is her last chance. In an interview with the AV Club, CK remembers why he wrote the scene: “I had this empathy for the woman playing my wife… I learned something about these actresses who get—they have to be very careful where they hitch their horse every year because every year adds 10 years to their screen age.”
2. Louie was Attacked by a Woman
Violence against women has always been an issue. This is confirmed by some horrible statistics from the CDC.
In the second episode of the third season of Louie, he’s set up on a blind date where he meets Laurie, played by Melissa Leo. At first, they hate each other but eventually end up in her truck parked in a dark alley, where Laurie offers to pleasure Louie. He agrees to receive but when she wants him to reciprocate he says no. Angered, she first tries to pressure him into doing the deed. When that fails she verbally abuses him, but further angered by his refusal she says, “Where are the gentlemen? What is wrong with this country? OBAMA,” just before she slams his head into the window. Faced with further violence Louie agrees to do what she wants.
The episode is played in a surreal fashion and with humor, but there is no way around it: Louie was assaulted by Melissa Leo’s character. It’s a point made obvious if the roles are reversed. When the episode was released, guest star Melissa Leo said, “I have worked for 30 years and won an Academy Award. I have never had a response like that to anything.” Once again, CK brings women’s issues to the forefront, or as Claire Lobenfeld from AlterNet says, it “got people talking about a topic people are insistent to avoid.”
1. Fat Girl Rant
As overweight people already know, there is a culture of fat shaming in our society. Recently, CNN talked about how “Fat people still have to endure systemic prejudice – bias from doctors, employers, and educators, as well as hurtful daily interactions, snickers and demeaning comments.” Anna Holmes is one of the founding editors of the feminist blog Jezebel. In an interview, she said that one of the principles of the blog was to not say “misogynist things about women’s weight.” So their opinion on women’s issues carries weight (no pun intended). When they published an article stating “Louis CK’s Rant on Fat Girls Is Absolutely Magnificent,” it only seems to confirm how Louis is viewed.
In season four, episode three Sarah Baker plays Vanessa, a plump female who uses humor to get ahead in life. A female version of Louis CK, who thinks of himself as a funny fat guy, the two seem like a good match but Louis’ character refuses to give up on skinny girls and shoots down every one of Vanessa’s advances. Finally, the Vanessa character breaks down and goes on a rant against the plight of plus size girls. The rant was so on point that many thought it was written by Sarah Baker. However, as related in an interview with Slate, the actress revealed that she had nothing to do with the script. It was all written by Louis CK, as perhaps an apology on behalf of all men for the double standard voluptuous women have to deal with.