• Monday, September 24, 2018
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New York Times| Top News

Is it too soon for the return of Louis C.K.?

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS / 2017

    Louis C.K. participates in the “Better Things” panel during the FX Television Critics Association Summer Press Tour.

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Nine months ago, after five women and fellow comedians accused him of sexual misconduct, it was impossible to know how Louis C.K. might plot his re-emergence. FX Networks had canceled his production deal; a film he wrote, directed and starred in, in which his character engages in behavior similar to that which he admitted, had been quickly called off; and Louis C.K. himself had announced that he would “step back and take a long time to listen,” echoing similar comments made by other powerful men capsized in the wake of the #MeToo movement.

Now, with the news that he made a surprise appearance at the Comedy Cellar in New York on Sunday night, it appears that listening period is over. Comedy fans and other entertainment figures reacted to the unexpected turn of events on Monday and Tuesday morning with a range of emotions, from outrage that it had come too soon to forbearance for a long-revered performer who admitted to misconduct.

“I understand that some people will be upset with me,” said Noam Dworman, owner of the Comedy Cellar, who described Louis C.K.’s 15-minute standup set as “typical Louis C.K. stuff” including riffs on race and tipping at restaurants. But, he added, “there can’t be a permanent life sentence on someone who does something wrong.”

The most commonly expressed sentiment online was that the consequences for Louis C.K.’s behavior — a nine-month absence and canceled TV and film deals after he admitted to masturbating in front of colleagues — have not yet matched up to the transgressions.

The prominent comedian Aparna Nancherla wrote on Twitter that the audience’s reportedly warm reception to his set so soon “tells you all you need to know about how society applauds powerful men for doing less than the minimum of decency.” (Nancherla’s tweet refers to a “standing ovation” but the audience was not on its feet.)

On Facebook, Katie McClure pointed out that although Louis C.K. had lost business opportunities, he is not known to have made an effort to address the problem of harassment. “All he did was release one poorly written apology and have one movie cancelled,” she wrote. “He hasn’t done any work, made any donations, supported any women’s rights, or done anything to make me think he’s changed. He lied about these accusations for years and needs more consequences.

And comedian Sarah Lazarus underscored the brevity of Louis C.K.’s exile with a novel unit of measurement, noting she was “still on the same shampoo bottle.”

Some said the surprise show reflected a lack of consideration for the club’s patrons — at least one unhappy audience member called the Comedy Cellar the next day to say he should have been told in advance and allowed to decide whether to attend — and drew a parallel between that obliviousness and the comedian’s original offense.

“Informed consent still appears to be a remarkably fuzzy concept for him,” tweeted Charlotte Clymer.

Many argued that any sympathy extended to Louis C.K. was misdirected in light of the enduring backlash against the women he victimized.

“Talk to me about ‘redemption’ when women who are harassed by their colleagues get more than a headline and five seconds of sympathy if they’re lucky,” tweeted culture writer Sady Doyle.

But some came to the comedian’s defense, arguing that he deserves a second chance.

On Facebook, Brendan O’Connell suggested that Louis C.K.’s acknowledged misconduct should not make him a pariah on the scale of other #MeToo era offenders like Harvey Weinstein, who faces sexual assault charges, and Bill Cosby, who was found guilty of sexual assault.

“Welcome back, Louis!” O’Connell wrote. “Yea, you did some shameful things but you shouldn’t be treated the same as Weinstein or Cosby. You fessed up immediately and took ownership.”

The prominent comedian and filmmaker Michael Ian Black tweeted a widely discussed call for charity, saying that people “have to be allowed to serve their time and move on with their lives.”

That tweet prompted writer Kara Brown to respond, in one of many such rebuttals from others, that the notion of time served was, in this case, not strictly warranted.

“It seems I missed the part when Louis CK ‘served time,’” she wrote. “I just remember him living quietly as a millionaire for a less than a year.”

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