After admitting to sexual misconduct almost ten months ago, Louis CK has made his return to comedy.
He surprised a sold-out audience at New York’s illustrious Comedy Cellar on Sunday, receiving an ovation incongruous with the man we currently perceive him as. Another comic performing that evening said it was “a wow moment” for the audience, who also, worryingly, gave him a standing ovation for his set.
His warm reception almost suggests that he never behaved inappropriately with five different female colleagues – but he did, and by his own admission, was irresponsible with the power attached to his success. Meanwhile, he built a career on allyship that was apparently mere performance.
In his statement confirming his sexual misconduct, CK stated, “what I learned later in life, too late, is that when you have power over another person, asking them to look at your dick isn’t a question. It’s a predicament for them”.
The women at the receiving end of his sexual deviance spoke of their conflict between the admiration they'd had for him and the horror and confusion at his behaviour. After coming forward to the press, they received death threats and ridicule from his fanbase.
Still, CK’s success rose, in spite of his inappropriate behaviour, in an entertainment industry that was well aware of the whispers of sexual misconduct. He was able to camouflage himself in the feminist rhetoric that made his comedy so unique.
One of his victims was working on a television pilot with him at the time, but she didn't have the luxury of abandoning a project that was vital for her career. She continued to work with CK and a production team that was largely aware of what he had done. And his success seemingly insulated him from any serious consequences.
Another two of his victims attempted to voice their outrage, but were silenced by the overwhelming backlash they experienced. In speaking out, they created enemies – like CK’s manager, David Becky, who was also representing comedy acts like Amy Poehler and Aziz Ansari at the time. They ended up removing themselves from projects that were adjacent to CK and Becky, knowing that their material would never be well received in the aftermath.
These are the people I consider as I watch CK embark now on his redemption tour. Reports say he seemed “relaxed” as he workshopped his new material on Sunday, which was received warmly, to put it mildly, by the audience. And while he lost production deals with HBO and FX, I think his victims lost so much more. Within the context of a #MeToo movement that is allegedly ruining the careers of prominent men in Hollywood, how accurate is that if CK can return so quickly?
Noam Dworman, owner of the Comedy Cellar, noted that some people took issue with him for letting CK perform. He received a complaint from one member of Sunday’s audience, who at the very least felt that they’d deserved a heads-up prior.
However, Dworman seems ready for the return of CK, remarking that, “there can’t be a permanent life sentence on someone who does something wrong”. The problem with this framing is that CK wasn’t even sentenced. He avoided consequences for most of his career and the best we can do is offer him a nine-month sabbatical.
CK’s victims deserve better than for us to let him slip quietly into the space he once occupied. We need to see something more tangible than his public apology nine months ago, something that actually works to undo the damage he created. And we need to hold prominent men accountable in actuality, not just in media headlines and viral tweets.
#MeToo may be a hashtag but it has to be much greater than that, too. Otherwise, we are consuming the trauma of women who speak out without providing them with justice.
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