Louis CK stepped on stage for the first time since he admitted to sexually harassing multiple women in the comedy industry — and female comedians are having none of it
Just nine months after Louis CK admitted that he had committed disgusting acts of sexual misconduct against multiple women in the comedy industry, the comedian appeared on stage for the first time on Sunday night, delivering a 15-minute stand-up set at the Comedy Cellar in New York City.
The New York Times reported that he dropped in unannounced, as famed comedians often do at that venue, at around 11 p.m. He didn’t mention his blacklisting, apologize, or otherwise bring up his past behavior, but instead returned to material similar to his old routines, such as joking about waitress tips, racism, and parades.
Noam Dworman, the owner of the famous Greenwich Village club, said CK “was very relaxed.” She also said, “It sounded just like he was trying to work out some new material, almost like any time of the last 10 years he would come in at the beginning of a new act.”
The sold-out audience of 115, who was unaware the embattled comedian would be performing, welcomed him with a standing ovation. Another comedian on the show, Mo Amer, said, “it was like a wow moment.”
Of course, the fact that CK appeared without warning the audience that he would be there, and the fact that he didn’t bother to address his wrongdoings both seem to suggest that he hasn’t learned anything about his actions, consent, or exactly how he affected both his victims and his audiences.
In November 2017, near the beginning of the #MeToo Movement, at least five women accused CK of sexual misconduct, including masturbating in front of them without obtaining consent. Many of these women stated that their careers in the comedy world were irreparably damaged due to his actions. CK responded with an apology, though it was criticized by many as being tone-deaf and self-centered.
In the wake of his admission to so many cases of extensive and long-term sexual harassment, CK disappeared from the spotlight. His production agreement with Fox was cancelled, as well as his troubling upcoming movie, I Love You, Daddy.
Despite the shocking standing ovation he received at the club, the venue did say that they received a complaint about CK’s appearance without warning.
Dworman said, “There can’t be a permanent life sentence on someone who does something wrong.”
Some comedians, most notably Michael Ian Black, also stood by CK on Twitter — though he was immediately met with the understandably angry responses of thousands of people, including noted female comedians like Rhea Butcher, Emily Heller, and Jen Kirkman.
Will take heat for this, but people have to be allowed to serve their time and move on with their lives. I don't know if it's been long enough, or his career will recover, or if people will have him back, but I'm happy to see him try. https://t.co/QmqdGJnIjy
— Michael Ian Black (@michaelianblack) August 28, 2018
Others had much harsher things to say, to Louis CK, to the comedy club, and to the audience.
Louis CK being "banished" from stand-up comedy wasn't some kind of petty punishment, it was a fucking workplace safety issue.
— Bris Farley (@IanKarmel) August 28, 2018
I’m still on the same shampoo bottle as when louis ck’s time out started
— Sarah Lazarus (@sarahclazarus) August 28, 2018
I have a PERFECT joke:— Leah McElrath (@leahmcelrath) August 28, 2018
WOMEN: Knock, knock.
MEN: Who’s there?
WOMEN: The road to success for Lewis C.K. and men like him is literally paved with the derailed careers and now-disempowered spirits of the women they target.
MEN: But WHEN CAN HE TRAVEL ON THE ROAD AGAIN though?!
Yesterday I saw that Aziz Ansari has "quietly" returned to performing & today I see that Louis CK has returned to performing, greeted by a standing ovation. The argument that sexual assault allegations ruin men's lives is absolute bullshit.
Making them often ruins women's, tho.
— Melissa McEwan (@Shakestweetz) August 28, 2018
A few well-known males in the entertainment industry also spoke out, thank god.
Counteropinion: Louis CK, once one of my favorite comedians, joked about his privilege and white dudeness on stage while, behind the curtain, using that privilege and white dudeness to sexually harass and harm women and their own careers in comedy. So he can stay in the shed.
— Chuck Wendig (@ChuckWendig) August 28, 2018
If Louis CK had stolen jokes, he’d be a fucking pariah. But instead he stole careers and passion and trust from possibly brilliant comedians – women that we’ll never get to hear from – and that is worse. Or it should be.
— Jason Filiatrault (@jfiliatrault) August 28, 2018
But perhaps the best response came from comedian Jenny Yang, who offered a list of concrete, actionable items that comedians who have admitted to sexual abuse should take before returning to the stage. They range from personally apologizing for their actions to repaying victims for damages, to helping the industry as a whole improve its culture. As far as we know, Louis CK hasn’t done any of them yet.
So you've admitted to sexually assaulting comedians in a work culture where fellow people of power took actions to keep the victims not working and quiet about the offenses so that you could make millions and keep working. HOW DO YOU ATONE FOR YOUR SINS? A THREAD OF SOLUTIONS.
— Jenny Yang (at TED conference) (@jennyyangtv) August 28, 2018
Already, women in and out of the comedy industry are wondering if this is a sign that the #MeToo movement won’t succeed in keeping harmful individuals from women’s workspaces, or that men won’t suffer serious career consequences for ruining multiple women’s lives. It seems clear that we can’t keep these men from the stage — and that the answer might lie in both promoters and audiences rejecting their comebacks, at least until they’ve sincerely said that they are sorry, paid their damages, and demonstrably changed their ways.