Louis C.K. is apparently done listening.
When the superstar comedian could no longer deny the long-rumored allegations about him–that he had forced at least four women comedians to watch or listen to him masturbate over the years–he vowed in a statement last November to “step back and take a long time to listen.” On Sunday night, however, Louis C.K. signaled to the world that it’s his turn to talk again.
According to the New York Times, the comedian took the stage at downtown Manhattan’s Comedy Cellar for 15 unannounced minutes. The owner of the venue, Noam Dworman, described the new material as “typical Louis C.K. stuff–racism, waitresses’ tips, parades,” which means there were likely no revealing bits about coming to terms with his personal demons or what life has been like since confirming the rumors. (Considering how confessional and self-deprecating his comedy has typically been, these hypothetical bits would be in line with “typical Louis C.K. stuff.”) If the comic knew enough to calculate that the audience might not be ready to grapple with #MeToo-based comedy yet, though, how did he conclude it was an appropriate time to appear at all?
Dworman reasonably maintains in the NYT piece that “there can’t be a permanent life sentence on someone who does something wrong.” However, there is an enormous gulf of time between forever and the less-than-10 months since Louis C.K.’s abusive past finally caught up with him. By floating a trial balloon so quickly, the comic seems to think his #MeToo moment can be reduced to a blip in an otherwise sterling legacy. The women he assaulted, meanwhile, had to suffer the consequences of his actions for many years, and continue to suffer in new ways after helping bring to light confirmation of his assault.
Popular comedian, author, and #resister Michael Ian Black was among the first male voices in the comedy community to welcome back Louis C.K. with open arms, in the below tweet.
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
Other voices will surely follow, including some female ones. The elasticity of public opinion regarding well-liked abusers was clear when Mel Gibson starred in Daddy’s Home 2 around the same time Harvey Weinstein was being drummed out of polite society. It’s not just Louis C.K. testing out a comeback, though. Many of the men who lost their good standing and millions of dollars due to their own predatory behavior are hungry to take back what they feel they deserve. As the NYT story about Louis C.K. broke on Monday night, the New York Post published a story about Matt Lauer’s certainty that he’ll be back on TV. Chris Hardwick barely missed a day of work before AMC had him pontificating about the Walking Dead onscreen again. James Franco returns in both of his roles on HBO’s The Deuce next month. Before the public has a chance to weigh in, the gatekeepers appear to have decided that the penalty for speaking out is harsher than the penalty for being spoken about.
Our inflection point on sexual assault has reached an inflection point.