Many of us in the comedy community knew it was bound to happen, but we didn’t think it would happen so soon: Louis C.K. is already attempting his comeback, and in the most obnoxiously blase way possible. The comedian-slash-confirmed-sexual-assaulter made a surprise drop-in at New York’s famed Comedy Cellar last week, and reportedly avoided even referencing the controversy surrounding him. As club owner Noam Dworman described it to the New York Times, “It sounded just like he was trying to work out some new material, almost like any time of the last ten years he would come in at the beginning of a new act.”
Even more wretched is the fact that C.K. is purported to have been received rather warmly, and got an ovation before starting his set. To me, that’s proof that C.K. truly doesn’t give a shit about what he’s done wrong, and neither does an alarming portion of the public. That’s a huge problem. The man abused his power, and ruined the careers of several young comedians in the process. Just because forcing people to watch you masturbate isn't penetrative rape doesn’t mean it isn't assault. The man put no effort into righting his wrongs, and still expects to be given a second chance.
Before he admitted that the women who told stories about him masturbating in front of them without their consent were true, C.K. was one of the most respected comedians working, but that hardly justifies his return. There are plenty of other funny and talented people in the world who are just as good or better than him. I say give them a shot instead of clinging onto one guy. It’s not the man’s god-given right to regain the power he once had, especially if he just pretends like he can come back after taking a time out without apparently grappling with what he done.
Frankly, the comedy community should be taking this as a wake-up call, which is why I asked some of my peers to share their thoughts on the matter. The more we can openly speak up about this, the easier it will be for future generations of comedians to hone their craft in an environment that isn’t oppressive and manipulative. The more we bring to light the ways some more successful comics abuse power, the easier it will be to eradicate this kind of behavior once and for all. For many comedians, this is still something we don’t feel comfortable talking about, but that’s exactly why we should.
Here’s what they had to say:
As a sexual assault survivor, #MetToo has been exhausting. But feeling like a raw exposed nerve, while near daily allegations of rape, sexual harassment, and abuse of power were reported on was supposed to be worth it because the decision-makers and gatekeepers finally believed women. And now, ten months later, a man who has admitted to sexual misconduct, whose team threatened and silenced his victims, is welcomed back on stage like nothing has happened, and it breaks my fucking heart. Believe women, cool. But actually care about women?
Comedy doesn’t have an HR department, but bookers, producers, and audiences are made up of people, so we as a society need to decide if we care about women. Are women’s art, livelihood, and safety worth loosing your favorite over? Because when we allow someone like this on stage, we’re saying that women don’t matter. We’re saying that even if women name names or go to the police, even if a predator admits to what they did, we don’t care. And that’s really fucking sad.
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What should have been the beginning of an apology tour was just an ill-considered attempt at the beginning of a "business as usual" tour. But business cannot proceed as usual until you address, y'know, the negative Yelp reviews that made you close up shop in the first place.
Louis not addressing the elephant jerking off in the corner of the room is wholly perplexing, given the fact that he's a man who built an entire career out of brutal honesty. If you pride yourself on brutal honesty, be brutally honest. He did material about tipping at restaurants? Is he out of his goddamn mind? What has he been doing during his sabbatical? Sitting alone in front of the fire, drinking cognac while wistfully looking at photos of the "legendary" Comedy Cellar "Comics' Table" on his iPad?
Sadly, he doesn't have to address shit. Because people are going to give him an ovation before he opens his mouth regardless.
It's very telling that the Comedy Cellar, without question or hesitation, reopened their doors to him when he was ready to return. Last month, the CEO of FX said he "missed" Louis. Clubs are booking T.J. Miller and he physically ASSAULTED—sorry, allegedly physically assaulted a woman. Aziz is also back on the club circuit, and also ignoring the story that made him retreat with his tail between his legs in the first place. So long as these men are still commercially viable, they will still work.
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Nobody cares when I think Louis should come back, and they're right not to care, I'm just some shmuck who happens to also do standup. I think everyone is so concerned with the punitive nature of all this, punishing Louis, when I don't really think it should be about that. I wish people would think more about the reality of this and not some hypothetical justice structure. This is dude did some creepy shit, and when he waltzes back into our community after eight months, it just sends a terrible message. It tells other creepy dudes, even if just on a subconscious level, that the repercussions for violating someone aren't that severe, and it tells women—loud and clear—that their safety isn't important to the comedy community. People think this is just me doing some "white knight" bullshit, but nah, I'm already set. I don't need to do any more climbing and I don't need any pats on the fucking head. It's just fucking embarrassing that I'm part of the industry where the guy who jacked off in front of coworkers doesn't even have to sit out a single Christmas. Fuck that. People wonder why there are more men doing standup than women, well here's your fucking answer.
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I'm not surprised that any of these abusers are trying to be back onstage without any attempt at rehabilitation or making things OK with their victims and communities. Of course they are—they're not used to real consequences, and so of course they're going to test the waters of getting their lives back to normal without having to make any significant change in themselves. What I hoped was changing was the public's willingness to put up with that shit. The fact that Noam Dworman has made no change on his stance on allowing predators onstage in spite of the past year and the fact that Louis can get a fucking standing ovation because a whole audience of people is either too quick to dismiss the real trauma of victims or too chickenshit not to go along with everyone else is what's truly horrifying. Of course he was going to try to get away without growing as a person if we let him. And in this case, everyone let him.
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This article originally appeared on VICE US.