December 10, 2019

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A funny thing happened on the way to contrition...

Sold-out 'starting over' club tour not exactly community service for powerful, privileged, predatory, perverted comedian Louis C.K.

Opinion

Less than two years ago, acclaimed American comedian Louis C.K. was accused of sexual misconduct by five women.

Next week, he’ll perform at six sold-out shows at Rumor’s Comedy Club in Winnipeg.

Seems... about right.

That C.K. is playing at comedy clubs and not, say, arenas is telling and, perhaps, strategic. This is a comedian who has sold out Madison Square Garden eight times. Now he’s playing a run of club shows at Rumor’s. Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

Embattled comic Louis C.K. is coming to Toronto for a string of standup dates, and he's imposing some pretty strict conditions on the audience. Louis C.K. participates in the "Better Things" panel during the FX Television Critics Association Summer Press Tour in Beverly Hills, Calif., Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Invision, Chris Pizzell, *MANDATORY CREDIT*</p>

Embattled comic Louis C.K. is coming to Toronto for a string of standup dates, and he's imposing some pretty strict conditions on the audience. Louis C.K. participates in the "Better Things" panel during the FX Television Critics Association Summer Press Tour in Beverly Hills, Calif., Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Invision, Chris Pizzell, *MANDATORY CREDIT*

At least, that’s the impression I suspect C.K. wants to give, that he’s repaying his dues.

"It’s good to start over at 52," he told the crowd at Yuk Yuk’s in Toronto, where he’s currently doing an eight-night stand. Now, I don’t know what the tone was because I wasn’t there (even if I was, I would’ve been forbidden to take notes), but either way, I nearly detached a retina from the eye rolling. It’s less "starting over" and more, "picking up roughly where I left off because I can."

There are no cellphones permitted at these shows, which is not necessarily unusual for a comedy show. The no note-taking, however, is a new one.

C.K.’s shows come at a time when the comedy world is embroiled in a broader debate about so-called "cancel culture," a kind of boogeyman in that it sounds scary but doesn’t actually exist. Cancel culture refers to the wholesale public dismissal, rejection and boycotting — usually on Twitter — of a once-beloved person or idea.

One can get "cancelled" for all kinds of infractions — which makes the term rather meaningless — but when someone is declared "cancelled," you can bet they did something ranging from questionable to criminal. Comedians, in particular, seem disproportionately fearful of being cancelled, as though you can cancel a person the way you cancel a TV show (Roseanne and Roseanne notwithstanding).

FILE - In this Feb. 28, 2016 file photo, Louis C.K. arrives at the Vanity Fair Oscar Party in Beverly Hills, Calif. The actor-comedian has pushed pause on his FX series and is launching a year-long stand-up comedy tour comprised of all-new material. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File)</p>

FILE - In this Feb. 28, 2016 file photo, Louis C.K. arrives at the Vanity Fair Oscar Party in Beverly Hills, Calif. The actor-comedian has pushed pause on his FX series and is launching a year-long stand-up comedy tour comprised of all-new material. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File)

But strip away the polarizing term and you’re left with a pretty basic concept: people should be held accountable for their words and actions.

As we’ve seen over and over again, people use their power, platform and/or privilege to cause harm in myriad ways. Sometimes it looks like a joke that turns rape into a punchline. Sometimes it looks like a string of homophobic tweets. Sometimes it looks like, say... appearing in black face (and then appearing in black face again two more times. That we know of). And sometimes, it looks like predation, harassment and abuse.

The #MeToo movement was a direct response to men in power who could act however they wanted, with impunity. We live in a different time now. One no longer gets to repeatedly expose their wang to unsuspecting women and then sleep soundly on bags of money and critical acclaim. That’s a good thing. That’s the point.

Part of what made the #MeToo movement so satisfying was its swiftness. Here, finally, men were being held accountable. The dam broke and the consequences were immediate. People were fired. Pedestals were toppled. Some people, including Harvey Weinstein, were even formally charged.

There were immediate consequences for C.K., too. He confirmed the allegations were true. Professional opportunities were rescinded; his film, I Love You, Daddy, was shelved. Colleagues distanced themselves. And many people, myself included, saw him in a new, harsh light. C.K. always seemed like one of the good ones: smart, progressive, funny.

Brad Barket / Invision / The Associated Press files</p><p>FILE - In this Nov. 5, 2014 file photo, Louis C.K. performs at the 8th Annual Stand Up For Heroes, presented by New York Comedy Festival and The Bob Woodruff Foundation, at the Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York. Louis C.K.’s comedy show in New York was canceled because of the weather. The comedian-actor sent an email to ticketholders expecting to see his Madison Square Garden show Tuesday, poking fun at the hysteria surrounding the snowstorm hitting the Northeast. (Photo by</p>

Brad Barket / Invision / The Associated Press files

FILE - In this Nov. 5, 2014 file photo, Louis C.K. performs at the 8th Annual Stand Up For Heroes, presented by New York Comedy Festival and The Bob Woodruff Foundation, at the Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York. Louis C.K.’s comedy show in New York was canceled because of the weather. The comedian-actor sent an email to ticketholders expecting to see his Madison Square Garden show Tuesday, poking fun at the hysteria surrounding the snowstorm hitting the Northeast. (Photo by

But then, roughly nine months after he swore in the New York Times that he’d "step back and take a long time to listen," after a "long and lucky" career, he was back onstage at New York City’s Comedy Cellar. And now he’s on a club tour. Won’t be long before he’s back at MSG.

Two years after #MeToo, we’re asking now what? What happens to these "fallen men"? Does the punishment fit the crime? What’s too soon for a comeback? Who gets a pass and who doesn’t? Should we forgive?

No one is guaranteed anything: not an audience, not a laugh and certainly not forgiveness. But C.K. is at a level where he can safely bank on getting all three. That’s the myth of cancel culture. For as many fans C.K. has lost and alienated with his behaviour, he has just as many that clamoured to buy tickets to his show. His biggest supporters will make excuses, justifications and apologies on his behalf.

That’s why we have to have so many exhausting conversations about "separating art from artist." People just want to enjoy their comedian without having to think about the women he’s harmed. That’s what we’re really talking about when we talk about things being "ruined." We don’t want to think about our artists doing bad things because what does that say about us?

Louis C.K. sold out six shows in Winnipeg. It’s easy to make a comeback when you know you’ll be welcome.

jen.zoratti@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @JenZoratti

Louis C.K. arrives at the 2016 Vanity Fair Oscar Party on February 28, 2016, in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Dennis Van Tine/UPPA/Zuma Press/TNS)</p>

Louis C.K. arrives at the 2016 Vanity Fair Oscar Party on February 28, 2016, in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Dennis Van Tine/UPPA/Zuma Press/TNS)

Jen Zoratti

Jen Zoratti
Columnist

Jen Zoratti is a Winnipeg Free Press columnist and co-host of the paper's local culture podcast, Bury the Lede.

Read full biography

History

Updated on Thursday, October 3, 2019 at 8:18 PM CDT: Adds bg image

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