An old video of Chris Rock, Louis C.K. and Ricky Gervais dropping the N-word while discussing the notion of making jokes with it, in front of an uncomfortable-looking Jerry Seinfeld, has resurfaced, gone viral and stirred controversy.
The comedians have not commented on the footage, taken from the 2011 HBO special Talking Funny. Many people voiced outrage about it on Twitter over the weekend.
“When white people are rich, they’re just rich, forever and ever. Even their kids are rich,” Louis tells Gervais, Rock and Seinfeld. “But when a black guy gets rich, it’s countdown to when he’s poor again.”
“He’s the blackest white guy I f–king know,” Rock says. “And then all the negative things we think about black people, this f–ker-“
“You’re saying I’m a n—-r,” Louis says, cutting off the comedian, a longtime friend and colleague—Louis was a writer on his series The Chris Rock Show in the late ’90s.
“Yes, you are the n—-rest f–king white man I have ever-” Rock says, spurring Gervais to burst out laughing and exclaim, “Amazing!”
Seinfeld, the most successful comedian in the world who is known not only for Seinfeld but also for his overall clean, observational standup comedy, did not look amused.
“I don’t think he could do that,” he said, dryly. “I don’t think he has those qualities.”
“I wouldn’t use [that word] anywhere,” he adds.
“We say ‘n—-r’ on stage,” Louis says, referring to himself and Rock. “You guys don’t.”
“That’s the difference between…we compare them in different ways but that’s definitely a pairing,” Gervais says. “Who says ‘n—-r’ on stage? We don’t.”
“Well you just did,” Seinfeld replies.
Rock adds, “I’ve given it up, just ’cause it’s played.”
“I don’t think you’ve ever said it, probably, in your life,” Louis tells Seinfeld.
“No, never,” he replies. “You’ve found the humor of it. I haven’t found it, nor do I seek it.”
The HBO footage resurfaced six years before Louis’ career largely derailed after he admitted to engaging in sexual misconduct, when he was among the most popular comedians. He and the other three comics are among the most famous of all time.
Over the last few years, amid a changing political climate and growing popularity of social media, people have increasingly called out others, including celebs, publicly over offensive comments, especially those targeting minorities.
Others have rushed to defend what they say is free speech, condemning what they call “social justice warriors.” Several people expressed confusion over the renewed controversy over Rock, Louis and Gervais’ comments.
While audiences have tended to be more lenient towards standup comedians, the line gets blurred more as they cement their popularity onscreen. Recently, comedian Kevin Hart, one of the most successful comics and actors, stepped down as host of the 2019 Oscars following backlash over his past anti-gay tweets.
Seinfeld’s Seinfeld co-star Michael Richards‘ career never rebounded after he famously called a heckler the N-word onstage at the Laugh Factory in Hollywood in 2007. He later apologized. Months later, Seinfeld signaled on Larry King Live that Richards was not a racist, saying, “I think it was just a temper thing.”
While Seinfeld’s comedy is notoriously family-friendly, he has spoken out against political correctness and has declared that he won’t perform at colleges, popular venues for comics, because he hears students are too “PC.”
“They just want to use these words: ‘That’s racist;’ ‘That’s sexist;’ ‘That’s prejudice,'” Seinfeld said on ESPN in 2015. “They don’t even know what the f–k they’re talking about.”