Comics Who Kill Have Noticed Something About Abortion
Bill Burr put together a Netflix comedy special last year called Friends Who Kill. I haven’t seen it. Based on reviews, I probably won’t. But the name still got my attention. Friends who kill. I don’t think Burr is claiming to be intimate with murderers or hit men. No, these are friends who kill in the comedic sense. They slay audiences by making them laugh—which, in general, is a good thing. Here’s another good thing. A growing number of comedians who kill are recognizing that abortion does the same. Kills, that is—and not in the metaphorical sense. Abortion is a straight-up slayer. Literally and objectively.
As topics of conversation go, few things are less funny than abortion. If you’ve been exposed at any real length to pictures of abortion victims or heard testimony from the countless mothers who’ve had their souls crushed by regret, there isn’t much to laugh at. But perhaps there’s even more danger in not laughing at abortion. Abortion, after all, is a sacred cow of the left. It’s universally revered but almost never subjected to scrutiny. Most of the arguments propping it up are nothing short of ridiculous—and ridiculous arguments should be ridiculed. “Against the assault of laughter,” Mark Twain famously observed, “nothing can stand.”
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I’ve already referenced Burr’s own abortion bit in an earlier post—from his 2022 Live at Red Rocks show. After identifying himself as “100% pro-choice”—and eliciting wild cheers from the audience—Burr concedes that he still thinks “you’re killing a baby.” To those who disagree, under the guise that “it’s not a baby yet,” Burr offers this helpful scenario. Imagine you’re making a birthday cake. But while it’s baking, someone opens the oven door and flings the still fluent batter all over the floor. When you berate the assailant for destroying your cake, he smugly remarks, “That wasn’t a cake yet.” As if that somehow makes it better or lessens the severity of his transgression. Is the loss of cake mitigated by the fact that it wasn’t finished baking? Of course not. It’s a meaningless distinction. There is no intrinsic difference between destroying a cake before it comes out of the oven and destroying a cake after it comes out of the oven—and the same goes for human beings.
In his own Netflix comedy special, 2017, Louis C.K. finds it strange that people get so angry at abortion protestors. What are they supposed to do? he asks. They think babies are being murdered. Are they supposed to be cool about it? Nonchalant? Not ruin anyone’s day as abortion clinics are “murder[ing] several babies all the time?” But, “I don’t think it’s killing a baby,” C.K. assures his audience. “I mean, it’s a little bit killing a baby,” he continues, “a little bit… (OK) it’s 100% killing a baby,” he ultimately admits. “It’s totally killing a whole baby.” C.K. then declares to a disturbing amount of applause that “women should be allowed to kill babies” before dropping into a sort of valley-girl dialect to mimic a vacuous young woman doing shots and killing babies. “It has to be one or the other,” C.K. finally concludes—though I’m going to sanitize his language and imagery a bit. If abortion should be legal, then who cares if it’s rare?! But if abortion should be rare, that’s because it murders babies!
The most recent killer comic to take on abortion is Chris Rock—in his 2023 Netflix special Selective Outrage. Responding to those who say he shouldn’t be talking about abortion, since “it’s a woman’s issue,” Rock boasts of having “paid for more abortions than any woman in this room.” He’s at the abortion clinic so often, he maintains, he just orders “the usual.” And with just two more abortions on his punch card, he’ll get a free smoothie. Awful, right? But Rock doesn’t stop there. “I want my daughters to live in a world where they have complete control of their bodies,” he says. Not surprisingly, his Baltimore audience bursts into applause. “And because of that, I am pro-choice,” he continues. “I am absolutely pro-choice.” The cheers ratchet up even more, but then he channels his inner C.K. and pivots. “I believe women should have the right to kill babies.” The cheering suddenly abates. “That’s right, I’m on your side,” Rock announces with a mischievous grin. “I believe you should have the right to kill as many babies as you want—kill ‘em all, I don’t [care], but let’s not get it twisted; it is killing a baby.” He finally proposes that we abandon the trimester model altogether for the semester model. Mothers should be free to kill their babies all the way up to their first report card. That’s right, Rock reminds the audience, “I’m on your side!”
Then there’s Dave Chappelle. Four years ago—and once again on Netflix—his Sticks & Stonesspecial entered the contentious waters of abortion. “I’m not for [abortion],” he tells his audience, “but I’m not against it either. It all depends on who I get pregnant.” We can laugh at this admission of naked self-interest, but it's also true and tragic. Abortion is abhorrent, but lots of people are willing to overlook that for the practical benefit it affords them. Moral principles are sacrificed on the alter of convenience. “I don’t care what your religious beliefs are or anything,” Chappelle goes on to say. “If you have a… [let’s say ‘male appendage’], you need to shut the f-ck up on this one.” The crowd predictably erupts—because remember, this was 2019, before anyone knew that women could have penises too. “Seriously,” Chappelle admonishes, “this is theirs; the right to choose is their unequivocal right.” More cheers. “Not only do I believe they have the right to choose, I believe that they shouldn’t have to consult anybody, except for a physician about how they exercise that right.” The crowd is almost on its feet now. “Gentlemen, that is fair,” Chappelle declares—as if it’s “gentlemen” who are the ones not wanting an abortion. “And ladies, to be fair to us, I also believe if you decide to have the baby, a man should not have to pay.” The cheering suddenly turns to nervous laughter. “That’s fair. If you can kill this [baby], I can at least abandon him. It’s my money, my choice. And if I’m wrong, then perhaps we’re wrong.” Boom, mic drop.
Four Netflix specials, four comedic takes on abortion—by four legendary and notoriously non-woke comedians, and all four perform a similar sleight of hand. Did you see it? Bill Burr actually gives the game away. “I’m 100% pro-choice, always have been,” he tells the crowd, but when they break into cheers in response, he quickly calls them back. “Wait… for the love of God, stop getting into the trunk of the car! Wait til the end. You’re supposed to vet me first.” He knows where he’s going; the audience doesn’t. And Burr knows they’re not going to be nearly as boisterous once the rug is pulled out from under them and they’re exposed for being on the side of baby killing. All four comics begin by touting their pro-choice bona fides, and the audience quickly rallies behind them. This, after all, is the woke, politically-correct position to take. But then all four pivot into a thoroughly untenable position. If you believe abortion kills a baby, you cannot in good faith support it—and that’s the whole point. The joke isn’t that abortion kills a baby. The joke is that this is somehow acceptable. You want to support baby killing? each comic ostensibly asks his audience. Fine, I’ll go there with you. I’m on your side, remember!
If people simply applied their own moral standards consistently, abortion would cease to exist. It only survives because we’ve carved out for it an entirely separate set of rules. Jerry Seinfeld subtly hits upon this glaring hypocrisy in his first season of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. When Ricky Gervais—who has mocked those opposing abortion—tells Seinfeld that the death penalty is “too depressing to even think about” because the state has no right to exert that kind of violence, Seinfeld slyly asks, “What about abortion? Do you agree with that?” Gervais quickly insists that “that’s different, isn’t it?” And, of course, it is. Babies killed by abortion have not committed a capital offense, they lose far more of their future lives, and their deaths outnumber executions by about 300,000 to one. Seinfeld’s deadpan response to Gervais: “I guess you can just arrange things the way you like them, when you’re rich (and) famous, like you.” And then he bursts into laughter, which is the comic’s great defense. Comedians can say things that most other people can’t—or won’t—because they can pass it off as a joke. But every joke, as they say, has a grain of truth. That's why it works.
Olga Khazan, writing for The Atlantic, says that according to research, “the best humor is both a little bit wrong and a little bit right.” I think that’s true. Dad jokes can be mildly amusing, but corny puns won’t double anyone over in laughter. That which is funniest invariably involves something that’s amiss—something that makes you at least mildly uncomfortable or embarrassed. It’s not joy that prompts or necessitates humor; it’s sorrow, leading Mark Twain to the conclusion that “there is no humor in heaven.” I have no idea whether or not that’s true. No one does, but if it is, perhaps it’s only because humor is no longer needed in heaven. That which humor helps us overcome will no longer threaten us in the great hereafter. Either way, the best comedians have a knack for finding humor where others don’t see it and leaving us to wonder how we never noticed the absurdity before.
Peter McGraw—author of The Humor Code—argues that “comedy is equal parts darkness and light.” The best jokes “take something awful and make it silly,” which is certainly what we see in play in the bits above. Louis C.K, in a more recent Netflix special, argues that people should have lots of abortions because it creates jobs. “More jobs for the doctors, and the nurses, and the dumpster guy… how are they gonna feed their kids if you don’t kill yours?” C.K. then changes direction and suggests that if we really want to reduce the number of abortions, we should implement one simple law: “You can get an abortion any time, any where, but if you get an abortion, you have to eat it.” This is grotesque, almost beyond measure, but it begs the question, “Why?” Why is this suggestion so abhorrent? It’s not unheard of, after all, for women to eat the placenta. What makes C.K.’s suggestion immeasurably worse? That's not hard, actually. It’s because that which is killed by abortion is not merely human tissue; it’s a human being.
Like the court jesters who preceded them, comedians occupy something of a privileged position in society—and serve an important function. Ostensibly, their job is to make us laugh, but if they’re clever enough, they can communicate profound truths and even expose profound wrongs. “Jesters do oft prove prophets,” so said William Shakespeare. And according to Joe Randazzo, former editor of The Onion, the jester was “the one soul allowed to tell the truth through laughter.” They can reach people when their guards are down, when the normal walls are not in place. It’s no coincidence then that one of the things Big Brother wanted so desperately to abolish in George Orwell’s 1984 was laughter. “There will be no laughter,” Winston is told after being arrested by the Thought Police, “except the laugh of triumph over a defeated enemy.”
The problem with many of today’s “jesters”—particularly of the late-night variety—is that irreverent mockery has given way to pious left-wing lecturing—which isn’t funny at all. Virtue signaling is not comedy, and a comedian must be funny first. That’s the job, after all. That’s how they got their platform in the first place. In a BBC article titled “How Comedy Makes Us Better People,” comedian John Fugelsang is quoted as saying, “Political comedy, when done right, is a delivery system for truth.” That’s all well and good, but what happens when political comedy excises the comedy? Fugelsang’s own post-Roe tweet provides the answer. He writes, “If you oppose abortion rights, which Jesus never mentioned, because you are so deeply Christian; but support the death penalty, which Jesus directly opposed, the rest of us are no longer obliged to take your Christianity seriously.” In case you didn’t notice, that’s not comedy. That’s pious left-wing lecturing. He got the political; he just forgot the comedy. And any comedian who fancies himself to be the social conscious of a nation should at the very least be funny.
Thankfully, more and more of the comedians who matter—which is the comedians who are funny—have placed abortion firmly in their crosshairs. But why should we listen to comedians in the first place? Why should we care what a comic thinks? Aren’t they all a bit unhinged? According to the data, yes. The aforementioned Atlantic article reveals that “comedians are more likely than regular people to exhibit psychotic traits, or the characteristics associated with people who have schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.” But it turns out that funnier people are also smarter people. Those who score higher on intelligence measures tend also to have a higher-than-average sense of humor. This is not surprising, Olga Khazan writes, because an incredible amount of wit is required to “[put] discordant ideas together quickly, all while being perceptive enough to offend your audience a little, but not too much.”
For those of us who oppose abortion, there well might be a lesson here. Give someone enough rope, and they will hang themselves. The comedian doesn’t say, “You shouldn’t kill babies.” The comedian says, “I celebrate your right to kill babies.” Thet’s called losing the battle to win the war. We can never have an honest abortion debate until we all admit that abortion kills a baby. That’s what Bill Ottman recently told Joe Rogan—in reference to these same abortion bits by Chris Rock and Louis C.K. And though Rogan’s support for abortion frustrates me to no end, his response to Ottman was remarkably transparent: “It’s just very uncomfortable for people,” Rogan admits, “especially people who support a woman’s right to choose. They don’t want to think of it [as killing a baby]. But, it’s undeniable.” No one should be comfortable with abortion jokes. I certainly am not, but so long as abortion exists in the main, I pray that more and more comics who kill will have the courage to thoroughly rake it through the coals.
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