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Louis CK’s “Louie” Signifies A Shift in Comedy About Dads as Caregivers

Louis CK by Juliane Hiam

Louis CK by Juliane Hiam

Last week, everyone was talking about the fact that Louis CK denounced smart phones on Late Night With Conan O’Brien, saying they distance us from our emotions, separate us from our own individual humanity and therefore shouldn’t be allowed into the lives of our children.

For this and so many more reasons, Louis CK is someone we should be continuing to talk about. His humor: it’s crude, sometimes gross, and always seriously inappropriate for the whole family. But his schtick is also an important symbol that we’ve reached a new age in our collective attitudes about fatherhood. Single dads in mass-consumed comedy were once men who blundered, couldn’t cook, couldn’t diaper a baby, and weren’t quite sure what real parents DID with these short creatures known as kids. CK’s popularity (the 3rd season of his Emmy-winning FX show Louie was just made available last week to stream on Netflix) is a sure sign we’ve all gotten to the point where those jokes seem dated, irrelevant, offensive even. In this day and age, dads are doing the job of raising kids out there in the world, alongside mothers, apart from mothers, and without mothers — and they’re doing it well. Dads do know how to cook food! Dads do know how to run a household! So if there’s gonna be a punchline relating to dads, it had better move past the idea that when men get around children, they’re morons. And Louis CK’s humor, refreshingly so, has done just that.

The Louie 3rd season is a profound look at a man in middle-life crisis. It delves deep into his attempt to sort through and grasp hold of what matters to him as a man, as compared to what used to matter to him, and what should matter going forward. He may not be a role model in the areas of personal hygiene, or self confidence, in financial planning, or in love, but as a divorced dad he’s solid. He and his ex-wife are the very definition of effective co-parents — not without some moments of upset along the way, Louie and his ex-wife Janet negotiate the rocky path of long-standing divorce with an underlying sense of honor, decency and clear boundaries with one another. Also, since Louie has his children half the week, he is not just a “fun dad” but is as much of an anchor of stability in his daughters’ lives as mom. He has real authority with them, protects them, runs an orderly home, cleans up, prepares amazing meals, sits and talks with them, guides them emotionally, and schedules the rest of his life with his time with them in mind.

It’s about time we, as a culture, accept that men can be just as successful primary caregivers as women, and Louie is a sign this is happening. Sure women and men are different, in great and inconsequential ways alike, but nobody is more qualified than anyone else to do the domestic business of parenting — even in ideal situations where moms and dads can stay together and be happy and successful as married people. It’s inspiring to see “divorced dad” comedy giving the dad his due first, and delivering the punchline second.

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