Comedy, Identity, And Credibility

Adam Serwer and Conor Friedersdorf talk about why Louis C.K. can get away with the kind of humor he often does:

I think Adam is right that C.K. can get away with things that, as Conor puts it, Rush Limbaugh would be pilloried for because people trust him and feel like they have a clear sense of his worldview. And that, of course, because of all the work C.K. put in before he had a critically raved-about television show to build up his credibility as a white guy who is sensitive and intelligent about race in a way that lets him say somewhat raw things. He wrote for Chris Rock’s show and wrote the scripts for Down to Earth and I Think I Love My Wife (the latter of which I think might have been a better-acted movie if C.K. had the lead role, but wouldn’t have been as significant without the reverse race-bending), and later wrote and directed Pootie Tang. The point, though, is that it takes years of work to build up the kind of trust and leeway that C.K. has, and it’s not something you can simply assert or claim.

I also hadn’t realized this until recently, but apparently C.K.’s father is Mexican, Spanish is his first language, and he retains his Mexican citizenship. I’d be curious to know what, if any, role that’s played in his interactions with non-white comedians. Obviously being African-American and having Mexican ancestry aren’t the same thing. But I find it intriguing that C.K. presents himself as a fairly straightforward white American when, in a substantive procedural way, he’s held on to some things that reaffirm a more complicated ethnic background and one that he could presumably try to lean on as an indicator of credibility but doesn’t.