Whether you found it brilliant or offensive, Louis C.K.’s Saturday Night Live monologue from May’s season finale made it abundantly clear that things were very different in the 1970s. Racism was as pervasive as polyester, and the average suburban neighborhood was only mildly ruffled by the presence of a child molester on the block. C.K.’s town predator never took a particular shine to the comedian, he recalled, but did try and lure a number of his boyhood friends with the promise of McDonalds. “This is a true story,” C.K. said, hardly suppressing his own chuckles.
By the end of the bit, the audience’s uncomfortable groans had overpowered their laughter. “How do you think I feel? This is my last show probably,” C.K. quipped. The bit earned mixed responses on social media, with many claiming he’d crossed a line by comparing child molestation to eating candy bars. Closing out the show’s 40th season, the material was certainly edgier than anything audiences had seen on SNL in a while, but that’s not necessarily saying much.
In June, the film critic A.O. Scott suggested in a piece for The New York Times that America is in a “humor crisis.” “The world is full of jokes and also of people who can’t take them,” he wrote. “We demand fresh material, and then we demand apologies.” Fittingly, just a few days after the article’s publication, Jerry Seinfeld appeared on ESPN and declared political correctness to be comedy’s mortal enemy. This prompted polarized responses, from a Daily Caller piece titled “The Left’s Outrage at Jerry Seinfeld Proves His Point” to a critique by Salon’s Arthur Chu. “Yes, a stand-up comedian is crying political oppression because people didn’t laugh at his joke,” Chu wrote, “and because his infallible comic intuition tells him the joke, in a world undistorted by politically correct brainwashing, would be objectively hilarious.”