Louie CK continues his defense of Tracy Morgan, insofar as people demanding that he lose his livelihood and beg for mercy from every single person in America -- and I'm not patting myself on the back or anything, but is there an echo in here?
"Well I've said a lot of things that were worse than what he said. I have my things that make it OK for people when I say them. I have my irony and different levels that I'm working at, so that makes it OK for people around me, for people that come to my shows. And people heard this Tracy shit mostly third-hand. He didn't stand on a public stage and say this stuff. He didn't make these announcements: 'Here, America, are my views.'
Where you say something makes a huge difference about what you say and what it means and what you let yourself say. There's a lot of times when I let myself channel bad ideas as a way to do comedy. I think it's something that's a healthy thing to do, honestly. And I think the person who really fucked people up and hurt people with Tracy's words was whoever took it out of that Nashville club and put it on the national stage--whoever called Huffington Post or whoever started this shit, and said, 'Guess what Tracy Morgan said,' and announced it to the rest of the world. He wasn't trying to say it to the rest of the world.
So when I read stuff like, How are gay people going to feel when they read this? Well they didn't have to read it! They weren't part of that show. Maybe there were gay people there who were laughing. You don't fucking know. Nobody gets to say that they represent anybody and they're offended on behalf of the whole world. You can see this shit really bothers me. I didn't carefully inspect what he said.
I heard some of it, and it made me laugh. I didn't get the context, but I have to defend it, because if I was in his role, if I was in his situation, which I might be someday--which I already am for having said something on his behalf--I would want someone to step forward and say something. This is a freedom that I live off of. I think, whatever, if Tracy made a mistake, he certainly didn't deserve all of this.
And I don't know him well, but he's a good guy. So I'm using that judgment, of just, hey, I met him and he's a good guy. And I get a sense of him as a father, and there's no way he would stab his kid. It's a dumb thing to take at face value. You'd have to be a moron. And if you do, you are not allowed to laugh at any more jokes. You are not allowed to laugh at any jokes that have any violence or negative feelings attached to them, ironically or otherwise.
I think there's a lot of hypocrisy in that. If anybody thinks that what he said is true and there's no comedy in it, don't come to my shows. I've said to many audiences that I think you shouldn't rape someone unless you have a good reason, like you want to fuck them and they won't let you. That's worse than what he said! And I didn't wink and say, just kidding. I just said it."
Louie's comments are responded to over at the Atlantic right now by writer and editor Ta-Nehisi Coates, by any measure a very bright guy. He makes some good points, certainly: the fact that Tennessee, where Morgan was performing when he went on his rant, is currently advancing a bill that many say is virulently homophobic and that the state has a history of antagonism toward gays and lesbians definitely adds a different dimension and context to Morgan's comment. That's worth considering. Did Morgan believe his crack would somehow find a friendly audience in Tennessee? For the record, I don't think that thought process entered into his decision to make the joke, but I doubt anyone will ever know with certainty one way or the other.
Also, I've thought quite a bit about Coates's hypothetical regarding Larry the Cable Guy; I've wondered what I would think if a comic like him had made the same crack -- would I have suddenly found it much more offensive? I can honestly say that while I'd of course immediately imagine the context of Larry the Cable Guy telling that kind of joke in Tennessee, I'd still want to see and hear it for myself before I knew for sure just what happened -- and more than that, I'd still defend his right to say it because it would be grossly dishonest for me to give a pass to one comic without allowing for the possibility that another comic might be trying for the same kind of irony, shock, or general statement, even a Larry the Cable Guy (who may, in fact, be the most brilliantly subversive comic working today given that he's been cynically exploiting a substantial portion of his audience through full-time performance art for years now). Demanding that some topics or statements be completely off-limits for comedy is still a demand and it's still wrong, regardless of who you're issuing it to.
All of that said, I still think that Coates, while admirably thoughtful, still kind of misses the main point that Tracy Morgan made a joke, and one that may very well have lost subtlety -- and gained malevolence -- through translation by an indignant intermediary.
And as for Morgan himself apologizing and not challenging the negative characterization of what he said -- that's a statement that begs the question.
An angry mob is calling for his head -- what the hell do you expect him to say?