“So you know, I think abortion…” begins Louis C.K.’s new stand-up special, 2017. It’s an uncomfortable start to a resoundingly uncomfortable bit, and one that tellingly earns more laughs for sheer audacity than actual content. “I think you should not get an abortion,” he continues, after pausing to let the audience squirm for a few moments, “Unless you need one. In which case, you better get one.”
The bit drones on mercilessly for about five minutes, in which the 49 year-old alternately trivializes the subject matter and — more effectively — mocks the debate surrounding it. Of anti-abortion activists, he insists, “They think babies are being murdered!” Normally, C.K. thrives in these moments, jumping squarely over the line before convincing his audience to question why it was there in the first place. It’s an extraordinary talent, which the comedian has used in the past to generate empathy in unexpected places (a 2015 SNL monologue on pedophiles comes to mind) or to upend the parameters of social discourse.