Louis C.K. is a stand-up comic who built his name on self-deprecating humor about what trash men can be. Louis C.K. is a trash man who used his popularity and power within the comedy community to sexually harass female colleagues, pressuring several into sexual scenarios where he masturbated in front of them. Louis C.K. has decided after several months out of the spotlight, he’s ready to return to the Comedy Cellar like nothing has happened. And hey, Jimmy Kimmel’s cool with that.
In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Kimmel seems to defend the decision of the Comedy Cellar to allow disgraced comedians like C.K. to do surprise performances. Here’s the exchange, with the interviewer’s questions in bold:
The Comedy Cellar has been in the news a lot lately for playing host to Louis C.K.’s surprise appearances, for which it incurred some backlash. At your club, how are you going to approach who comes through and how they’re vetted, if they need to be vetted, and revealed to audiences?
If we get into the business of sanitizing every comedian and doing a thorough background check before they walk through the door, it’s going to be a very empty stage. (Laughs.) I think people tend to focus on the one or two people who walk out of a situation like that. Ultimately, the audience decides whether someone is welcomed back.
Sure, but you talk about curating your lineup — will you give thought to that curation with regard to having more female comics, for instance?
Comedy is very democratic. The people who are great, rise to the top; the people who are good, rise to the middle; and the people who aren’t good, don’t make it. We want to get a lot of very funny people, and we want to give new comics an opportunity to work. I don’t focus on their gender or their skin color. I’d never want a woman to think that the reason she’s booked to be onstage at a club is because she’s a woman. The reason she’ll be booked to be onstage is because she’s funny.
Kimmel’s been openly progressive when it comes to things like universal health care. But apparently, when it comes to Me Too, he’s still in Man Show mode. The idea that comedy is a meritocracy must be very comforting to a straight white man who’s snagged one of only several late night talk shows headlined by straight white men. But it ignores the sexism within the industry that C.K.’s scandal brought to light. His behavior was long an open secret in the industry but wasn’t taken seriously until the New York Times wrote their expose. And the women C.K. harassed and assaulted feared coming forward and worried it would negatively impact their careers, a concern that C.K.’s manager, Dave Becky, allegedly encouraged. But the key takeaway here is the Jimmy Kimmel Comedy Club will gladly host the likes of Louis C.K.! And hey, after Bill Cosby serves his prison sentence, he’ll know who to call for his comeback show!
Thankfully, not all straight white male comics are dedicated to maintaining a status quo where women’s safety and comfort is considered a PC luxury. Paul F. Tompkins took to Twitter to respond to Kimmel’s statement.
What about frontground check where the guy says “Yeah I did that stuff that people said” and what if the comedians made even some tiny attempt to sanitize themselves instead of pretending nothing happened https://t.co/KOcrkpCo5A— Paul F. Tompkins (@PFTompkins) October 4, 2018
Imagine the bit Louis would’ve done about a guy who did the things that Louis did & admitted to & just tried to re-enter his career like nothing ever happened— Paul F. Tompkins (@PFTompkins) October 4, 2018
Drop-in sets don’t make everyone “complicit” and it unfair to put the burden on audiences to walk out if someone they don’t like shows up unannounced.— Paul F. Tompkins (@PFTompkins) October 4, 2018
Because of basic human decency, I guess, but I don’t know what to tell you about that if it’s not already on your radar.— Paul F. Tompkins (@PFTompkins) October 4, 2018
In an age where Dave Chapelle can just show up somewhere and do 4-hour sets off the top of his head, Louis could book a theatre and do an hour, promoting it as an experimental workout, and have plenty of willing people show up.— Paul F. Tompkins (@PFTompkins) October 4, 2018
What Louis did that got us talking was a bad thing. He’s shown no remorse, his apology was terrible, and he’s trying to act like it all never happened. If you’re okay with that, just say so. But don’t blame the “shitty audience.”— Paul F. Tompkins (@PFTompkins) October 4, 2018
Listen man I have to tell you “it ut was so bad why didn’t you leave” is not a valid argument ESPECIALLY IN THE CASE OF THIS GUY— Paul F. Tompkins (@PFTompkins) October 4, 2018
Because he’s an admitted sex offender who ruined people’s careers and has yet to show any kind of remorse or contrition or understanding of his offenses?— Paul F. Tompkins (@PFTompkins) October 4, 2018
Personally, I agree that the onus should be on the comedy clubs to vet who appears on their stages, as giving a comedian a platform is a tacit endorsement of that comedian. Which means when Comedy Cellar owner Noam Dworman lets C.K. swan onstage, he’s sending a message that he thinks what C.K. did—using his workplace as a hunting ground—is okay. However, I do think the audience holds some responsibility too. Especially now that we know C.K. might drop in on his old stomping ground. If you cheer or clap or express that you’re happy with his return, you send a message right to him that the abuses he committed for years against his colleagues is okay. It’s like laughing at the sexist joke of a friend or co-worker, you’re normalizing that behavior. And that doesn’t make you a monster, but it does make you complicit.
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