I’ve been watching Louis CK’s show on Netflix, because I don’t want to get sucked into something and my limit on Louie is about two episodes. I can’t binge on it for exactly the same reason can’t binge on Tequila: I usually know it’s too much before I actually start to get sick.
If you’re a woman, engaging willfully with the world of stand up comedy is like choosing to pick up a series of poisonous snakes. The most you can hope for is that it won’t bite you this time. Oh, this one isn’t so bad, OH GOD FUCK NO! One time I dozed off while listening to a Mike Bribiglia station on Pandora and woke up to Daniel Tosh. I can never unhear that shit, and I don’t mean that idiomatically, I mean that I will carry with me the information that I gleaned in the 15 seconds that it took me to stumble to the computer and shut it off for the rest of my life.
There is a George Carlin bit that goes like this:
“Let me ask one question of the men. Are you ever able to watch a woman eating a banana and NOT think about a blowjob? I can’t do it…So ladies, be careful when you’re standing out in front of that Häagen-Dazs. ‘Cause God damn it, we’re watching. And God damn it, we’re thinking!”
The other night I wanted to go get ice cream, and I realized that I would have to choose between walking home up a little side street where probably no one would see me, but which might not be so safe, or walking down the main street where, like, 20+ men would see me eat ice cream. So I just didn’t get ice cream. I only heard that Carlin bit once, and it was when I was in high school. I still remember it at least monthly, because I am often in the position of having to eat food.
Why do people like George Carlin? Depending on whom you ask, because he told the truth or because he told the fucking truth, man. There’s been such an outpouring lately of frustration in men, particularly male comedians that people are asking them not to say this kind of stuff. Carlin is their patron saint, because he said what he wanted and didn’t care who got hurt.
I can’t really hold it against Carlin for doing that bit, though. Sure, the information saturates my being and immobilizes me, but the problem isn’t that he SAID it. When I was in 5th grade a guy came to school to tell us why we should never put our wet hands on an electrified fence. I will never, ever forget the description he gave of what happened to the kid who put his wet hands on an electrified fence, and as a result, I will never, ever put my wet hands on any kind of fence, just in case. I wish that the danger of being electrocuted didn’t exist in this world, but it does, and it’s probably good that the guy came and warned us.
I don’t want, say, management to tape a photo of a person being electrocuted over my desk at work. I wouldn’t like it if, as I walked down the street people splashed me with water and then enjoined me to touch live wires all the time. But I’m glad I know.
Carlin ends the ice cream bit with an injunction to “be careful,” and I am. In fact, I am sitting alone in my room where no one can see me, and as I think about his joke I am involuntarily covering my mouth with one hand. There’s a reason he phrases what he’s saying as a warning. It’s because it’s threatening. If women choose to stand outside eating ice cream, we are putting ourselves in a position that we probably don’t want to be in. My brain is a freaky funhouse of information like this that I have picked up over the years.
So I know I can watch two episodes of Louie, tops, before I get too steeped in how men think and start to spiral into a kind of anxious depression. You might be wondering why, if there is a danger of this happening, I have continued to watch the show. And to you I say, what the fuck am I supposed to watch? Louie is a good show. He’s compelling and funny and has a lot of artistic integrity. But that’s part of why it’s so dangerous. It’s one thing if, say, The Big Bang Theory Carlins you because you can be like “it’s horrible to be reminded of this information, but this is not an entirely reliable source!” But when Louis CK Carlins you, you really have no choice but to remember what you are in the world, because he’s trustworthy on so many other subjects.
Today I watched an episode from the first season where Louis CK goes to the pound to get a dog. The happy, young female worker introduces him to a dog named Bear, and she crouches next to the dog and pets it. Her line is something like “oh, you’re a good boy, you like that, don’t you?” The camera closes in on her hand petting the dog, then her lips then her eyes and then the video slows down and the image gets a little unfocused, then it cuts back to Louis, who, under a spell, says “I”ll take him.”
I opened up my file marked ‘shit I can’t do without worrying that men are making it sexual’ and dropped in “petting a dog” in. Ladies, be careful! The file was already on top from this morning when I was listening to Marc Maron’s podcast and he told a guest about a meeting he had just had with a producer about a movie he wants to make and the guest’s response was “was she cute?” and I needed to add a tick mark to “meetings.”
What happens to CK and Carlin never happens to me. This might be because women’s sexuality is generally less visual than men’s, or because men eating food and petting dogs isn’t sexy or just isn’t sexy to me personally or because after a long day of filing these little pieces of information the whole idea of sex mainly makes me feel threatened or at best, tired. But even though my personal camera has never gone unfocused on a guy because he was doing some normal human activity that reminded me of sex, I know exactly what the joke is. That is the fantastic twoness of being the object. You also have to get things from the subject’s perspective, and you have to take his word for it that it’s funny. It doesn’t point to any kind of truth that I’m familiar with, but I get the joke. Because I have to. If I didn’t, I might go around naively petting dogs and eating ice cream without being careful and I am completely sincere when I say that that thought terrifies me.
Every once in a while, I will see something on a screen that I don’t have to bifurcate myself to laugh at. Usually Amy Poehler has been involved somewhere. I have another (albeit thin) file where I keep that stuff and that file is really, really important. When I get to the limit and begin to wonder what the point of being alive as an object is, I can open it up and take a deep breath.
In that interview, Maron told the guest about the work meeting, and the guy said “is she cute?” and I was filing it and Maron goes “I don’t really care about shit like that.” And my whole being is electric, like, what’s he going to say? And the guest teases him like “yeah, right.” And Maron sounds tired and he’s like “I don’t know, man,” and he changes the subject back to the content of the meeting, and like the desperate magpie I am I’m like “that counts! I’m filing that!”
How excited I got about Maron’s inscrutable fatigue is a pretty good indication of how hard it is to find stuff for the ‘maybe it’s ok sometimes’ file. And also an indication of how easy it is to give a lady ammunition against wanting to disappear. But today, I didn’t have enough. And I know that dog thing is going to be working on me for a while. And I’m probably done watching the show. Because you got to be careful.
Cara Blouin runs the Art Church of West Philadelphia, a gathering space for art and community, and is a freelance director and new-play dramaturg. She is best known in Philadelphia for producing Dan Rottenberg is Thinking about Raping You and The Republican Theater Festival. Other Philadelphia credits include Josh Hitchens’ The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (Curio Theater,) and the world premiere of Joy Cutler’s Pardon My Invasion. Cara is the facilitator of “The Souls of Black Folk” series for new plays at the Painted Bride Art Center and has served as a teaching artist at Drexel University and the Community College of Philadelphia. She was also the founder of the New York-based Stone Soup Theater Arts, and the Universal Culture School in Hunan, China, which teaches English to Chinese teenagers using an arts curriculum.