***WARNING*** This post discusses important plot points from the second episode of FX’s new comedy series Louie.
"What’s that feel like anyway? A dick in the ass?" blurts out a straight man during the second episode of FX’s new comedy series Louie, based on the life of stand-up comie Louis C.K.
And thus kicks off one of the most extraordinary discussions of gay male sexuality and the use of the word "faggot" ever seen on television (at least outside of pay cable programming).
While the premise of the series isn’t exactly ground-breaking — a stand-up comic plays a character pretty closely based on his real life — the first ten minutes of the second episode of Louie (titled "Poker/Divorce") are something truly ground-breaking.
The episode opens as Louie and his group of comic friends are sitting around playing poker and BSing each other in the sexually graphic way many straight men tend to do (especially comedians). But then the conversation abruptly turns to gay sex.
Rick Crom as Rick
Turns out Rick (played by out comedian Rick Crom) one of Louie’s friends and fellow comics, is gay and his straight poker buddies are awfully curious about gay sex. After Nick asks his question about "what it feels like," another guy wants to know if there is really a sex club called "Jerks."
Reaction to Rick’s very frank explanation of what goes on in such clubs ranges from Nick’s disgust to what appears to be genuine curiosity on the part of Louie to mostly indifference for the other two men. But the discussion goes beyond the mere mechanics of sexuality as Rick explains how the clubs came into existence during the AIDS crisis when gay men were trying to find ways to have safe sex.
In the very freewheeling conversation that follows, Nick doesn’t hesitate to hold back on his less enlightened views saying, "it’s a free country" and "I don’t care what you guys do, but it
really makes me sick. And not on a political, Bible level either. Just
picturing you touching another guy’s dick. That’s gross."
Politically correct it isn’t. But it also isn’t just about what straight men think of gay sex.
When asked how he feels about straight sex, a very calm Rick says, "I don’t think about p*ssy. I don’t care what you guys do. You’re the one’s who asked me. You ask me this sh*t every time I’m here. I talk about gay sex more with you guys than I do any of my gay friends. You guys are obsessed."
That exchange alone would’ve made the episode noteworthy, but the discussion then moves on to Louie’s use of the word "faggot" as part of his stand-up routine. Louie asks Rick if his frequent use of the word as part of his routine offends him. Nick pipes in asking, "Yeah, does it bother you when he says the word faggot."
Rick pointedly responds to Nick, "No, it bothers me when you say it because you mean it."
Rick, a comedian himself, goes on to tell Louie that on stage he should use whatever word he wants, but when Louie says he’d be interested in knowing what it means to gay men to hear the word, Nick explains the etymology of the word "faggot" and how most gay men have had it hurled at them, often accompanied by physical abuse.
After he’s done, the straight men sit in silence for a moment, seemingly absorbing what Rick has told them. One of them cracks a joke and they move on to a different topic, but clearly they’ve heard at least some of what Rick was saying.
The ten minute arc almost feels like a small play and it is remarkable how it shifts from lighthearted (if homophobic and crude) banter of strraight men to something actually meaningful and touching about the lives of gay men that somehow avoids being preachy.
Let’s just say when it comes to gay topics, television would be a much more gay-friendly place if all writing was this smart and sophisticated about gay subject matter.
So how did that particular scene come to be? Louis C.K. talked with AfterElton.com about it, explaining it actually comes from real life. Back in the very early 90s, Louis was doing the comedy circuit when he met Rick Crom, the first openly gay comedian he knew.
Like his character on the show, the actual Louis used the word "faggot" a great deal in his act, although Louis says he never intended it as an anti-gay slur. Over time, however, he started to wonder "What does it do to a gay man when I say the word ’faggot’?"
That prompted Louis to ask Crom and their conversation was the basis for the poker table discussion viewers saw in the episode. "I kept [what he told me] inside," says Louie. "And what I learned from it. … It didn’t tell me not to use that word or any other word, but it did tell me take responsibility for the words you use, to know their impact."
As for the episode’s discussion of gay male sexuality, Louis says that also comes from Crom. "Rick is very open about his stories of New York, you know, extreme gay culture. He’s out there. He tells us these stories of places … I think the real one is called ’New York Jacks.’
"So he told us once about ’New York Jacks’ at the Comedy Cellar … all these nervous heterosexuals, and we just shriek like little girls. It’s always been funny to me that when it comes to that subject matter, Rick is the elder statesman. … So the idea of having him tell these stories [in the episode] was very compelling."
Why did Louis want to show that particular conversation in his new show? "I don’t think it’s my place to educate people or put any particular opinion in their mind. I’m not trying to tell people to not say ’faggot.’ I’m not trying to tell people to be open-minded. I just think when you present a point of view to people really clearly, and comedy has a way of getting people there, I think people will find themselves laughing at the scene and then suddenly go ’Wow! I’m listening to something I didn’t expect to.’ And that gives them something to think about."
As for heterosexuals preoccupation with gay sex or the bigotry that often accompanies it, Louis isn’t sure where that comes from. "I don’t know. I’ve never seen a difference in a human being according to how they f*ck. It doesn’t make any sense to me. Sex is the most private part of your life, so why would anybody outside of you and your partner care what you do?"
Asked about the idea that words like "faggot" should never be used because it’s too offensive, Louis says, "I want to point out that there may be gay people who hear me use that word and talk abut this stuff, that might be offended by other things that I do, but point to this as an example of getting these words out there, getting the worst of your thoughts out there in a safe place like comedy can lead you to moments like this where ’Hey, we all just learned something. That’s interesting!’
"I think people should think twice before getting too upset about comedians using certain words. I think some people do it to hurt, but talking is always good. But please give Rick a lot of credit. I’m proud of him and this did come from him."
Louie airs on FX Tuesday nights at 11 PM.