Louis C.K. and Kat Timpf Take On the Cancellation of Comedy - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Louis C.K. and Kat Timpf Take On the Cancellation of Comedy
Fox News host Kat Timpf (Fox News/YouTube)

Louis C.K. is one of the few targets of the #MeToo movement who are big enough and talented enough to have risen from the ashes. After a 2017 New York Times “exposé” of behavior by the comedian that certainly qualified as distasteful but hardly approached Harvey Weinstein levels of vileness, the premiere of the film I Love You, Daddy — C.K.’s directorial debut — was canceled, and the movie disappeared from the face of the earth.

There were those who hoped that C.K. would do the same. Instead, after issuing the usual apologies, C.K. laid low for a while. By 2020, he was back, releasing new stand-up specials through his own website and, last summer, putting out a terrific new film, Fourth of July, which I reviewed here

Now he’s released yet another stand-up special, Louis C.K. at the Dolby, which is at once genuinely funny (although it takes a while to really get rolling) and a stinging rebuke of cancel culture. It’s as if C.K. made a list of every too-hot-to-touch topic imaginable — everything about which it’s said “you can’t joke about that” — and got down to business writing gags. Among the topics: slavery, the Holocaust, homelessness, the Crucifixion, Christ’s miracles, abortion, child murder, hospices, mortality, suicide, even “old man porn.” 

And more. On the Führer in hell: “Poor Hitler. He’s been down there for 75 years. He’s probably nice now.” On homosexuality and the Church: “God doesn’t hate you ’cause you’re gay. He made you gay ’cause he hates you.” On explaining to your child why you and your wife are splitting up: “We’re getting a divorce because you don’t listen.” On overturning Roe v. Wade: “Roe was a woman who wanted an abortion — and Wade was the baby, I guess.” On his appearance: “I have body dysmorphia. I think I look good.”  

All with the usual doses of exceedingly foul language, of course. 

No, it’s not for everyone. And the shock factor arguably outweighed the guffaw factor, notwithstanding the fact that the live audience — in L.A., no less — ate it up. (Much of the time, indeed, the laughter seemed excessive.) But hey, whatever. In an era when splendidly gifted but insufficiently woke comedians are being turned away from American comedy clubs — or banned from streaming services — even as bland PC no-talents are becoming superstars, it’s gratifying to know that C.K., for all his faults and quirks, is out there, brandishing a middle finger at the culture police at $10 a pop. 

He’s not alone. Fighting the good fight in her own modest way is Kat Timpf, cohost of the late-night program Gutfeld! on Fox News and author of a new book entitled (what else?) You Can’t Joke About That: Why Everything Is Funny, Nothing Is Sacred, and We’re All in This Together. Now, I hadn’t planned on looking into Timpf’s opus. Could the title and subtitle be hackier? Plus, I’m tired of these TV folks getting contracts for unnecessary books that, in many cases, they don’t even write themselves.

Not that that’s the case with Timpf: a hardcore libertarian, she’s an occasional contributor to the fiercely anti-MAGA National Review. But then again, that’s quite a turnoff in itself. Let’s just say I’ve never really been clear as to what her claim to fame is.

Which, I guess, is the main reason why I ended up ordering You Can’t Joke about That.      

Main takeaway: like C.K., Timpf is no fan of cancel culture. But this is no jeremiad. If only. Her approach to the topic is reasonable, low-key, and at times downright plodding. Like Rodney King, she wants everybody to get along. But she also wants all of us to be free to make wisecracks about absolutely anything because — although she may not look it — she’s had (she contends) her share of tough times and might not have made it through the rain if she hadn’t been able to jest about it all. 

Details? After college, while pursuing an internship at Fox News in L.A., Timpf lived alone in a crummy apartment in a lousy neighborhood, subsisting on Cup a’ Noodles, sleeping on a blow-up mattress, and waiting tables in a diner. On the side, she went to comedy clubs on open mic nights and did stand-up. Being able to turn her depressing, lonely life into one-liners — and get laughs from a crowd — made that life bearable. 

“A lot of the things I joked about,” she muses, “would probably be on the list of things you ‘Can’t Joke About’ now.” Later, she lost two close family members in quick succession. And recently — this is the book’s big disclosure — she had a terrible medical emergency, which she describes in considerable (and, yes, amusing) detail. 

Laughter, she maintains, got her through it all. 

It used to be a commonplace that laughter is the best medicine. A few years ago, it wouldn’t have seemed audacious to say that you should be able to kid about bad stuff. But that was then; this is now. In an era of microaggressions and trigger warnings and safe spaces — when 81 percent of a polling sample agrees that “words can be a form of violence,” when Muslim terrorists have murdered hundreds of people in cold blood because of cartoons, and when untimely recent deaths have deprived us of funny, fearless masters of stand-up like Gilbert Gottfried and Norm Macdonald — you have to explain to some people why policing comedy is not a great move.  

To that end, Timpf tells the story of comic Matt Billon, who in 2019 told a joke that a colleague denounced as “transphobic.” That one incident was enough to make his friends scatter and his career crash and burn; he committed suicide in 2021. Timpf also quotes the contract that entertainers — including then-comic Konstantin Kisin, now a popular podcaster — were forced to sign in 2018 before performing at the University of London, in which they agreed not to touch on such matters as “racism, sexism, classism, ageism, ableism,” etc. 

And what about suicide? “My husband killed himself. And it was my fault. We were making love, and I took off the bag over my head.” That’s a Joan Rivers line, cited by Timpf and inspired by Edgar Rosenberg’s very real act of self-slaughter. Joan often said that only dark humor had helped her to survive that terrible loss. Studies, notes Timpf, confirm the value of drollery in times of trauma. And she neatly contrasts Joan — whose policy was never to apologize, even for her edgiest material — with Tina Fey, who (I learned from Timpf) pulled four episodes of her NBC sitcom 30 Rock from circulation because they featured characters in blackface. 

When Fey did that, she issued a typical statement apologizing for the “pain” the episodes had caused and promising to try to “do better in regards to race in America.” But for one thing, the episodes hadn’t caused any pain; for another, Fey’s obligation as a producer, writer, and actress isn’t to fight racial battles — it’s to be funny, period. And issuing one of those pathetic apologies isn’t an act of nobility or a sign of moral evolution; it’s an example of sheer cowardice in the face of shifting trends in the art of virtue signaling. 

Bottom line? While altogether too sober for a work by someone who appears to fancy herself a humorist, Timpf’s book has its risible moments — for example, when she quotes some of the insults she’s written for Gutfeld to use when introducing her at the top of his show. (“She’s like a syringe: sharp, skinny, and full of medication.”) At its best, it’s a fine, almost painfully earnest little critique of cancel culture and defense of free-speech absolutism.

But even Timpf, it turns out, quakes in fear at the thought of commenting on at least one subject — namely, transgender ideology. 

It’s a sign of her dyed-in-the-wool libertarianism, alas, that Timpf’s “live and let live” attitude extends to going along with the delusion that a man can become a woman and vice versa. Thinking that she’s being a good trans ally, she uses the pronoun “they” for individuals and employs the despicable term “LGBTQ,” coined by “Ts” and “Qs” to rope “Ls” and “Gs” into a club they never asked to join. Timpf actually admits to having been “terrified” when asked to talk about the transgender issue on Gutfeld! because she was scared “that I would say something that I wasn’t supposed to say.” 

In the event, she finally coughed up a rather diplomatic piece of fence-sitting, balancing misguided empathy with a nod in the direction of objective fact. Why so frightened to call out the likes of Lia Thomas, Kat? I know you’re smart enough to see what’s going on there, and I know you know what you think about it, deep down. And believe me: you can say it.

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