A minor kerfuffle erupted last week when our friends at The Lost Ogle unearthed a recording of Louis C.K., arguably the best living comedian, talking about how much he hates the crazy rednecks of OKC and finishing with a bombing joke for good measure.
The response predictably fell into two camps: those offended by the joke and those who think no one should ever get offended by jokes, because comedians have to be able to piss people off to do their job. The idea that comedians should never be questioned about the things they say and do has always struck me as inane. All artists should expect people to examine and critique their output. What’s more, most comics recognize that there are lines that they can’t cross without courting risk. Hardly anyone thinks that Michael Richards didn’t get what was due after his career-destroying racist rant, and when Tracy Morgan talked about how he would stab his son if he came out as gay, people were rightly pissed.
The reason these issues are so tricky is that they exist at the intersection between the responsibility of comedians to puncture and lampoon etiquette and the power of words to do real harm to people. People find different things offensive just like they find different things funny, but there is a point at which words can become so personal and so wounding that the recipient feels assaulted. This is why you shouldn’t expect to be able to shout racial epithets in a crowd without getting punched in the face.
To me, the thing that’s offensive about the Louis C.K. bit in question is that it isn’t funny. There is probably a funny OKC bombing joke out there*, but this wasn’t it. It’s a cheap shot at redneck stereotypes capped with a crass “edgy” reference to the bombing. He probably knows it isn’t a good joke, which is why it didn’t make it into his set and is just now being dredged up.
I’m sure Louis C.K, had a perfectly awful time in OKC sometime in the mid-1980s. I had a terrible time in OKC in the mid-1980s, and I was just a little kid. None of that speaks to what the city has become since then, and it sucks that we still have to answer for the shitty, ignorant redneck assholes of decades past. What’s galling to me about this is that the only people here who will hear this, and the only people likely to be offended by it, are the people who are working hard to make OKC a better place. The shitty, ignorant rednecks of today are too busy bow hunting and muddin’ to give two shits about what some lib’rul comedian has to say. For once, we should take a cue from them.
The OKC inferiority complex has gotten stale. It’s no longer necessary to jump down the throat of everyone who says bad shit about us, or alternately, to roll out the red carpet for them, introduce them to the governor, and give them custom cowboy boots. Every city- EVERY CITY- has people who don’t care for it. We aren’t experiencing anything that the people of Charlotte, Indianapolis, San Antonio, and every other mid-sized “emerging city” in a red state hasn’t gone through. You don’t have to apologize for living here.
OKC is about as cool as any other mid-sized, Midwestern city, (which is to say “kinda”.) It’s a livable city with some nice parks, a few cool urban neighborhoods, a nice downtown, a couple good record stores, a good half-time independent radio station, a bunch of Indian casinos, and some nice restaurants and bars. It’s where most of the people I love and care about live, and there are a lot of good people here. A bunch of them were murdered in that building in 1995, and it’s pretty shitty to say they had it coming.
*My friend, local comic Sam Scovill, went on at an open mic after someone made a joke about how the Thunder should have been called the Oklahoma City Bombers.
“Listen, man, my dad worked at the bombing site. He saw the dead bodies pulled from the wreckage, and he has PTSD now. When you tell that joke, you’re disrespecting my father.”
“Because he made that exact same joke.”
That’s how you tell a funny Oklahoma City bombing joke.