His #MeToo moment torpedoed his career, but he apparently is still challenging the norms of what’s considered acceptable comedy fodder.
Louis C.K.’s career revival continues with a tour that on Friday brings him to the Met Philadelphia for a sold-out gig (2nd show added). Advance reports indicate that he is using the scandal—in which he admitted to masturbating in front of various women—as subject matter in his act. That alone should be enough to stir up the populace—especially that segment which lives in the “cancel culture” universe. But he apparently doesn’t stop there. According to a USA Today review of a recent performance, C.K. also mined for laughs, among other generally verboten topics, the Holocaust.
What he said about it in Phoenix isn’t known to anyone outside of the ticketholders as cell phones were confiscated for the duration of the show. But during a performance last fall (in Tel Aviv, of all places!), he did a bit about how he is persona non grata in New York City, saying, “I’d rather be in Auschwitz than New York…I mean now, not when it was open.” Interestingly, news reports had the crowd applauding enthusiastically, although I’m not particularly impressed with the line.
Nonetheless, the prevailing opinion has always been that the Holocaust is one of the subjects that should never be a punchline. After all, is it even possible for the most evil act ever committed by humans against humans to be a source of laughs? In a word: Yes.
Before we go any further, I fully understand and respect that to countless people around the world, the enslavement and annihilation of millions of innocent men, women and children can never, under any circumstances, be grist for the comedy mill. But there are others to whom no subject is off-limits as long as the joke is smart and genuinely funny. In the PBS documentary, The Last Laugh, which examined edgy and taboo comedy, standup veteran Judy Gold noted that a Holocaust joke is “is all about the funny. It’s got to be funny. You can’t tell a crappy joke about the biggest tragedy in the world.”
As such, I have scanned my mental hard drive and conjured three examples of Holocaust-rooted comedy that, despite their ostensible poor taste, are genuinely funny. Yes, it’s an infinitesimal sampling, but that’s the point: It’s incredibly difficult, but not impossible, to get a laugh from what is arguably the most horrific act ever perpetrated by man upon man. Again, I know some will find nothing funny in the following. I get it, and I hope it is accepted it in the intellectual spirit in which it is offered. I likewise hope it’s understood that it is not my intention to offend anyone. Instead I’m just trying to make a point:
‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’
Larry David, who is no stranger to Holocaust humor (remember his cringeworthy "Saturday Night Live" monologue about finding women to date in a concentration camp?) was responsible for a brilliant Holocaust punchline, although it’s not from the highly cited (and overrated) episode wherein his character introduces a Holocaust survivor to a "Survivor" cast member. Instead, it’s a 2002 installment in which Larry champions the hiring of a chef—afflicted with Tourette Syndrome, no less--for the new restaurant he’s invested in because he thinks the numbers on the immigrant cook’s arm are remnants of his time in a concentration camp. That they are not leads to a ridiculous—make that near-insane (and insanely funny) ending.
'Family Guy' special
On Thanksgiving Sunday 2009, Fox aired a "Family Guy" episode which had series creator Seth McFarlane hosting a mostly live-action program. In the most memorable segment, McFarlane enlists co-star Alex Borstein (who voices Lois Griffin) in a rendition of “Edelweiss” from The Sound of Music.
The tune begins with McFarlane crooning the lyrics, but instead of coming in on cue, Borstein protests, insisting she can’t sing a song that glorifies the German Fatherland (of which Austria was a part under the Nazis) because of the Holocaust—from which her mother and grandmother escaped.
McFarlane’s reply—in which he finds a “silver lining” for her is comic gold that propels the bit to its hilarious conclusion.
Anthony Jeselnik ‘Holocaust Denier’
Jeselnik is the brilliant comic whose stock-in-trade is joking about everything—and I do mean everything, including rape, dead children and 9/11—society insists is not funny under any circumstances.
In this routine, which targets the irrational, hateful dogma of anti-Semites, Jeselnik admits that his mother never believed the Holocaust happened and then explains how he and his family held an intervention to make her see the error of her ways. He adds that it worked, and now, not only does she acknowledge the Holocaust as historical fact, she can’t believe “it only happened once.”