It’s been six months since the NY Times revealed that A-list stand-up Louis C.K. had been abusing his popularity and power within the comedy community to masturbate in front of female colleagues. And some are wondering if it’s time for his second chance, specifically The Hollywood Reporter is pondering if C.K.’s path to redemption is through comedy clubs.
It’s a doozy of an article. First off, Stuart Miller sums up the scandal as:
“A New York Times story forced C.K., 50, to confess to longstanding rumors that he had brought female comics back to his hotel room and masturbated in front of them.”
This wrongfully suggests it was just one incident. It wasn’t. There were five women who came forward, sharing four occasions where C.K. abused his position of power in attempts to gratify himself sexually while objectifying them. And Miller’s statement above blithely overlooks the issue of consent, thereby downplaying C.K.’s action as more inappropriate or embarrassing than abusive or criminal.
Miller goes on to suggest that a comeback for C.K. is almost inevitable and asks talent producers, comedy club owners, comics and Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s PR rep about how he might manage it. The popular recommendation was through doing more stand-up. “The only way he comes back is if he heals,” comic Sean Patton told THR, “He should do an hour special that breaks down why it was wrong and how he’s made amends.”
This is a big leap and a bizarre one. Aside from Miller’s reference to the NYT piece, there’s no mention of C.K.’s victims (Dana Min Goodman, Julia Wolov, Rebecca Corry, Abby Schachner and a woman who chose to remain anonymous.) Yet C.K. is the one who needs to heal to move forward? And Patton’s comment sounds like C.K.’s amends have already happened. Does he mean that piss-poor apology where the comedian managed to stroke his own ego, stating how the women he’d victimized so “admired” him? That statement showed exactly how C.K. didn’t get the gravity of what he’d done. Beyond that, how will comedy redeem C.K. when he’s been using his comedy to hide in plain sight for years?
I suspect C.K. used his stand-up to justify his behavior to himself. He made jokes about what terrible, degenerate perverts men are, and when people laughed, he saw it as validation that he wasn’t alone. And what’s more insidious, because he made people laugh and relate, when these accusations came out, many felt the need to defend him.
I think a lot of that was self-defensive, like, ‘Because if I laughed at his jokes, then I agreed with him, right? And if I agreed then am I bad too? No. People are overreacting. I’m not bad, so neither is what C.K. did.’ And so begins the rationalizations from C.K. apologists that essentially boiled down to “It’s not like he raped anybody.” Even the THR piece offers, “The consensus is that while his behavior was clearly wrong it was not at the level of a Harvey Weinstein, James Toback or Bill Cosby.”
Harvey Weinstein has been accused of various forms of sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape by 85 women. James Toback has been accused of sexual misconduct by more than 300 women. And Bill Cosby has been accused of drugging and raping 60 women.
Yes. What Louis C.K. did is not as bad as this. But no one is making the argument that it is, and beyond that, the bar should not be so low that a pattern of abuse like his is so eagerly overlooked. And sure, C.K. has suffered. His movie was canceled, as was his Netflix comedy special. His management dumped him. He was fired from The Secret Life of Pets 2. But these are not punishments. These are the consequences of his actions. He made this bed and has lain in it for only 6 months. Why are we so ready to pull him out of it with no signs he’s changed?
There’s a lot to consider as the Me Too movement moves forward. It’s tempting to imagine we can treat abusers like we treat faux pas-making celebrities on social media: they’re dead to us forever! UNFOLLOW! But these men are not disappearing just because we’re outraged. They will continue to exist and work. Some might face legal consequences. Some might actually face up to what they did and the harm it caused, like Dan Harmon did, once confronted by his former co-worker Megan Ganz. Others will stay quiet and hope to get a second chance once enough time has passed. But not enough time has passed for this instance, and allowing C.K. back into comedy clubs opens up the women who frequent them to the threat of him once more. These abusers should not be welcomed back into spaces they used to abuse.
Here’s what I predict will happen. C.K. will disappear for a while. Eventually, he will return to comedy clubs, those where the owners feel like this thing is all overblown. Women will be pressured to take sides by choosing to work those same clubs or not. And there, C.K. will have a further negative influence on the careers of female comics (whether he means to or not). At some point, I suspect he’ll do an in-depth interview, likely with Marc Maron’s WTF Podcast or on Howard Stern’s radio show. It’ll be somewhere comfortable for C.K., but with a host known for pushing the guest to answer tough questions. And whatever he says, a rush of fanboys will be ready with forgiveness that isn’t theirs to give.
C.K. will rise, probably never as high as he was. But he’ll be fine, touring again and making people laugh. And I’m sure he’ll make more jokes that suggest he’s not some big scary rapist, just a pathetic schlub who is a slave to his penis. But too many women know this ruse is nothing new to C.K. As Courtney put it back when he issued his “apology,” C.K. wants you to think he’s the victim here. And it seems like that shtick is still working.