“In America, people would say this word…”
In HBO’s Talking Funny, Chris Rock, who is black, calls Louis C.K., who is white, “the blackest white guy that I know.” Ricky Gervais and Jerry Seinfeld, who are two of the whitest white guys I know, also appear in the special and admit that they could never use the word “nigger” on stage, but C.K. can because, according to Seinfeld, he’s “found the humor of it.” (C.K. responds that Seinfeld all of a sudden having a great “nigger bit” would be amazing. Which it would be.)
But why is that? Why is Louis allowed to say it, and write it into his show, when other white comedians, guys like Michael Richards, can’t? The obvious reason, and the one that applies to the aforementioned Kramer, is because he’s not using it as an insult — the world “nigger” coming out of Louie’s mouth sounds as natural as Ed Sullivan saying “really big shew,” simply because he’s taken all of the meaning out of the word. There’s no loaded message of hatred behind it. In his stand-up bits, including the one at the end of “Country Drive,” he repeats the word so often that — you know when you say a word enough times that it begins to sound odd? Say “elastic” seven times in a row and you’ll understand; t doesn’t feel like a word anymore. Louis does the same thing with the N-word, except we won’t call it that because, to quote one of Louis’ bits, “that’s just white people getting away with saying nigger.” He later says, “When you say ‘the N-word,’ you put the word ‘nigger’ in the listener’s head…why don’t you fucking say this?”
Basically, if you’re going to say the word, say the word. But don’t mean it in the way Aunt Ellen (played by Eunice Anderson, who previously portrayed an older version of the All the Way Mae in A League of Their Own) does, because that’s bad. Louie and his two little moppets are visiting their great (x65) aunt, who lives in the middle of Pennsylvania, which is to say the middle of nowhere (although not the South, where the slur would have been more common). She doesn’t own a phone or know how to use a computer, presumably hasn’t seen an episode of TV since In the Kelvinator Kitchen went off the air in 1948, and most awkwardly of all, doesn’t know that racial slurs, like saying “niggertoe” instead of Brazilian nut, aren’t PC in front of small, impressionable, easily bored girls, who simply can’t grasp the fact that simply being alive is amazing and they should never, ever be bored. (Can Hadley Delany and Ursula Parker also receive Emmy nominations? Please?)
(Coincidentally, the reason I was away last week — and thank you to the always wonderful Megh Wright for taking over — was because I went on a road trip with two friends and my girlfriend to Chicago, leaving from New York. Like Louie, we jammed out to the oldies, and lots of Silver Jews, on the way there; unlike Louie, we didn’t look we were having a seizure and putting small children at risk with our questionable Keith Moon-like skills. Seeing Louis lose his shit to “Who Are You” [I figured C.K. to be more of a Quadrophenia guy] made me realize that there are very few differences between kids and animals. A five-year-old isn’t a real person yet, and beyond that, adults aren’t afraid to look like an idiot in front of kids because they’re like, “Oh well, they won’t remember this” and most young ones are non-judgmental — just like a dog. A 40-year-old probably wouldn’t try to emulate Pete Townshend in a car with another 40-year-old, but they have no problem doing so in front of a four-year-old or a poodle.)
When Aunt Ellen slips away to find some stale old people food in the kitchen, Louie’s daughters ask their father about the bad word she’s saying and why, when the point of the trip was to learn about the way things you used to be, they can’t ask her about said word? After initially trying to EARMUFF his kids, he admits that they’re right and they can ask their aunt anything they want, including about a certain word that used to be so common it was used in the second line of the “Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Moe” rhyme.
And then Aunt Ellen dies. It felt like a little bit of a cop-out, a way of wrapping up a plot without actually wrapping it up, but there was no other way for the skit to end — the racist aunt had to go and she had to go in the noblest way possible: collapsing on the kitchen floor, with a slight smirk on her face.
“Country Drive” ends with Louie back at Caroline’s, telling a joke about reading Tom Sawyer and Huckeleberry Finn to his daughters, particularly how Tom’s a good, honest citizen and Huck’s a cat-skinning, slur-spewing hooligan. (This reminded me of the Simpsons episode where Principal Skinner mentions he’s painstakingly crossed out all the “sass-back” in Huck Finn.) “How do you cope with shit from your past?” he asks the crowd, before launching in to a story about showing his penis to a girl with Down syndrome when he was eight. It may sound trite, but the answer to the question is: confront it. Don’t say the “N-word” instead of “nigger” (assuming you have to say the word at all, which you never should) because it’s the same exact word with the same exact definition — and you look worse off hiding behind the “N” and leaving the rest off. Louie knows this, and instead of bullshitting to his daughters in the same way that parents won’t explain where babies come from (wait, it’s not from a stork?), he lets them be curious and ask questions, in order to lessen the word’s loaded meaning. That’s the sign of a good parent — and a great way to end another great episode of Louie.
Josh Kurp has no idea who the hell those two kids at the gas station were, but they looked like they belonged in a Wes Anderson movie.