Louis C.K.’s take on Daniel Tosh’s heckler incident, and what it all means

When Louis CK wrote a Tweet last week expressing his joy over Comedy Central’s Tosh.0, he had no idea about the Internet commotion going on right then about a comment Daniel Tosh had directed to a female heckler in the audience at The Laugh Factory. So Louis CK explained how he really felt about the whole matter on Monday night’s episode of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

“This is a fight between comedians and bloggers. Which is, we’re all just hyperbole and garbage comes out of those two places,” CK said.

“We’re also very similar groups,” Stewart said.

CK added that it’s also a battle between comedians and feminists. “Feminists can’t take a joke, sterotypically speaking, and comedians…can’t take criticism. Comedians are big pussies.” CK called both sides out. “All dialogue is positive,” he said. And also, of course, he loves to make a great joke about an offensive topic. Whether it’s rape, The Holocaust, or as he joked, the New York Mets.

Roll the clip.

Quick background in case you haven’t been following along.

A couple of Fridays ago, two women decided to go to the Laugh Factory in Hollywood because they saw that Dane Cook was going to be there. After Cook’s set, Daniel Tosh went up and in the course of his set, told the audience that anything could be a topic for a joke — when the topic of rape came up, one of the women decided to yell out that rape is never funny. I’m paraphrasing because the audience member who wrote about her experience and Tosh disagree on the context and wording of some of the quotes in her friend’s Tumblr post. After she yelled at Tosh, he responded to her with a heckler putdown. Quite often, a stand-up comedian’s response to a heckler is to be as quickly harsh and direct as possible to both shut up the heckler and keep the rest of the audience on the stand-up’s side. A classically cliche heckler comeback is to say: “How would you like it if I came to your place of work and slapped the dicks out of your face?” Haha. Get it? If the heckler is a guy, the comedian is suggesting he’s a homosexual (ahem); if the heckler is female, a prostitute (ahem). But since the heckler yelled: “Rape jokes are never funny!” Tosh responded by suggesting it’d be funny if she were to immediately get raped. Not the best choice. But still better than how a previous Laugh Factory comedian — Michael Richards — responded several years ago. Since we’re living in a new age in which intimate live performances of any kind can be surreptitiously video-recorded or critiqued afterward, nothing ever stays in the room any longer. The Cookies for Breakfast Tumblr post did, as she had requested, get reblogged and spread and covered by the new media landscape.

Tosh apologized on Twitter last week, and followed it up next by writing: “the point i was making before i was heckled is there are awful things in the world but you can still make jokes about them.#deadbabies

Tosh is correct on this point, as is Louis CK above, but the women have a point, too.

Some of life’s most tragic events and crimes are not, in and of themselves, funny. Murder is not funny. Rape is not funny. The Holocaust certainly wasn’t funny. 9/11 wasn’t funny. 9/11 was so unfunny that, at that time, many mainstream media outlets conjectured that comedy — or at least sarcasm — had died along with those in the 2001 terrorist attacks.

That thankfully didn’t happen.

But as many comedians, from Lenny Bruce through George Carlin through Sarah Silverman through Robert Schimmel through Louis CK have proven, time and time again, you can make jokes within the context of offensive humor. On one of his specials, Louis CK makes a 9/11 joke. It’s not about the tragedy itself, it’s about how little time it took him after the attacks began for him to return to his masturbation habit.

Rape isn’t funny. But prison rape is funny to just about any comedy club audience. Why? Because the audience presumes that the prisoner deserved the additional punishment. When a male comedian brings up the Catholic priest pedophile scandals, he often does so at his own expense — he was an altar boy, so why wasn’t he good enough to be victimized? When Sarah Silverman jokes about being raped by a doctor, the laugh isn’t about the crime, it’s about her juxtaposition of it with her family’s Jewish expectations. A lot of comedians — at least the most effective ones — will take an offensive subject matter and turn it onto themselves, turn it onto the offenders, or misdirect the audience into another subject matter entirely.

All humor is (or should be) about empowering victims and less fortunate and/or taking down life’s criminals, hypocrites and most powerful.

Comedy clubs will try to weed out potential problems by billing a stand-up as “offensive” and “for mature audiences only” if they know the comedian’s material will likely offend some ears. In this case, the woman angry at Tosh told her friend that “she does plan on returning to comedy shows in the future, but to see comedians that she’s seen before or to at least look up artists before going to their shows.”

That’s not ever going to stop future audience members at future comedy shows from getting upset about what they’ve heard.

But hopefully what they heard was funny.

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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