A video from 2011 of four A-list comedians talking about the ethics of using the racial slur known as the n-word suddenly resurfaced and went viral on Saturday, with the names of several of the participants trending on the social network on the same day.
The 78-second clip features top comedians Chris Rock, Louis C.K., Jerry Seinfeld, and Ricky Gervais, and comes from a 2011 HBO special called Talking Funny. It was posted to Twitter on Saturday afternoon by a user with the name ABM Franco, and the video had been viewed more than 1.7 million times as of Saturday night, while other accounts also posted the video.
The clip begins with Rock referring to C.K. as “the blackest white guy I f’n know- and all the negative things you think about black people, this [f-word]…”
C.K. then interjects to say, “You’re saying I’m a [n-word]?”
Rock responds “yes, you are the [n-word]est [f-word] white man, I have ever…”, as both C.K. and Gervais collapse into uproarious laughter. Seinfeld, however, looks visibly uncomfortable with the discussion.
“I don’t think he can do that,” Seinfeld says. “I don’t think he has those qualities.” Rock then disputes Seinfeld’s assertions, pointing out that he had long worked with C.K. (the latter comic wrote for the old Chris Rock Show in the 1990s, and the two also collaborated on the cult movie Pootie Tang.)
C.K. then points out that he and Rock use the n-word on stage, while Seinfeld and Gervais do not. Gervais then uses the word himself in pointing out that he doesn’t say it in his comedy. C.K. then says that he and Gervais use the word “in private,” leading to a loud laugh from Gervais. They all then agree that Seinfeld has probably never said the word in his life in any context. Seinfeld ends the clip by noting to C.K., that “you find the humor in it, while I don’t- nor do I seek it.”
See the clip below; a warning that it includes both curse words and racially inflammatory language, including the n-word.
The video is notable for a few reasons. Even though it’s an old clip, it represents a resurfacing of Louis C.K., who aside from a few comedy club appearances has been largely out of the public eye since he admitted last year to several instances of sexual misconduct. Terrible as he may come off in the clip, it’s not like it’s going to knock C.K.’s career any longer than it already is.
Reactions have mostly been tough on C.K. and Gervais, with some criticism coming in for Rock for approving C.K.’s use the word, along with praise for Seinfeld in not going along with it.
“Note how proud Ricky Gervais was of the fact he used the n-word,” journalist Jemele Hill wrote on Twitter.
“And Louis CK basically said he’s one because black folks ain’t s**t. Chris Rock is getting crucified, but those other two deserve massive smoke.”
“Ricky Gervais could not look any happier to say the N-word once Louis CK said it in front of Chris Rock and that is troubling,” Hanna Flint tweeted.
It also shows just how much has changed in seven years in terms of what offends people in comedy, as well as the tolerance for use of racial slurs, especially from white people. Seinfeld and Gervais, in particular, have often spoken about the effect political correctness has had on comedy.
It does not appear that the clip was the source of any real controversy at the time that it aired in April of 2011, although a few blogs mentioned the exchange. TV critic Alan Sepinwall’s review of the special does not mention the exchange at all.
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