5 years ago, Louis C.K. went on 'Conan' and told a story that explains why we love him.
That time a woman said something racist about Louis C.K. without even realizing it.
Louis C.K. is the kind of beloved comedian that comes along maybe once in a generation.
He's the producer, star, and writer of the hit semi-autobiographical FX show "Louie," which started its fifth season on April 9, 2015.
In his show and stand-up comedy, he hilariously deconstructs some of the most absurd aspects of American culture.
(From now on, can we all agree to just call them tank tops?)
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Part of why he's able to do this is, to most audiences, C.K. comes off as a fairly typical, All-American, middle-aged white guy.
But here's the thing: Louis C.K. is actually Mexican-American.
Unbeknownst to most people, C.K. grew up in Mexico and immigrated to the U.S. when he was 7 years old. His father is Mexican-Hungarian. He speaks Spanish and holds a Mexican passport.
In 2011, C.K. told a very revealing story on "Conan" about a conversation he had with a woman in Arizona who most likely assumed there was no possible way he could be Latino.
The funny thing? Even after he says it, the woman doesn't stop going on about "Mexicans." Most likely because she still can't quite process that C.K. is telling the truth when he says he is Mexican. Most likely because he looks white. And in her mind, white people can't be Mexican.
(You wan watch the full video here. The important part starts at 2:47).
In a weird way, that disconnect kind of explains what makes Louis C.K. so great.
Because of the color of his skin, C.K. seems like the consummate all-American everyman. An insider. But C.K. actually experienced America as an outsider. Just like many other immigrants, he had to learn English and adjust to a culture very different from his own — including what's great about it, what's not so great about it, and what's not so great about what seems great about it.
He sees prejudice against people who come from the exact same place he comes from. But because his skin is a few shades lighter, he rarely experiences it himself. And not only does he fully recognize what an enormous privilege that is, he uses it to translate the experience of marginalized people to a broad audience who experience him as "one of them."
Those of us who grew up in the U.S. accept so much of our culture — our sensibilities, our mannerisms, and our prejudices — as normal. He experiences the harmful stuff as harmful, the weird stuff as weird, and — maybe most importantly — the hilarious stuff as hilarious.