Three days before Louis C.K. made his stand-up “comeback” at the Comedy Cellar in New York City, that same venue hosted a fundraiser for progressive New York Attorney General candidate Zephyr Teachout headlined by Amy Schumer. Veteran comedy writer Nell Scovell was there.
“Talk about going from the sublime to the ridiculous,” Scovell, author of Just the Funny Parts ...And a Few Hard Truths About Sneaking into the Hollywood Boys’ Club, tells me by phone Tuesday morning. “Forgiveness has to come hand in hand with restitution, with amends,” she adds. As for the timing of C.K.’s return to the stage, Scovell wonders, “Maybe his kids went back to school. Summer’s over, so it’s like ‘What am I going to do with myself now?’”
According to Comedy Cellar owner Noam Dworman, the comedian performed a 15-minute set that covered “typical Louis C.K. stuff” including racism, waitresses’ tips and parades. He reportedly got an “ovation” from the audience before he opened his mouth. “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,” Dworman told The New York Times.
He did not, it seems, address his admission nine months ago that he repeatedly masturbated in front of female comedians without their consent.
“The article about his set would have said if he’d addressed it, if he’d found the funny,” comedian Jackie Kashian writes in an email to The Daily Beast. “But it did not. Which means he’s not done processing it. He’s still doing it—and he hasn’t made peace with it enough to write the bit.” She says C.K. is “smart enough to know that writing a bit about how ‘it’s not that big a deal’ isn’t going to work with most of the crowd.”
“I wish he’d written the bit that made me realize he ‘got’ why what he did was creepy and horrible,” she adds. “But clearly that’s not going to be his journey.” Kashian was not surprised that C.K. was back on stage so soon. “If you can make a room full of people laugh, there will be work,” she explains, noting that even Bill Cosby was performing comedy during his rape trial.
Years before the New York Times published the accounts of five women who accused C.K. of sexual misconduct, rumors about the comedian’s behavior were discussed widely within the comedy community. In 2015, working on behalf of Gawker, comedian and writer Megan Koester traveled to Montreal to cover the Just for Laughs comedy festival.
In an article for Vice published before the Times report last fall, she wrote about how she was essentially kicked off the red carpet for asking comics about the allegations against C.K. “It was an attempt to intimidate me into silence, and it was successful,” she wrote at the time, explaining that the piece never made it onto Gawker.
Today, Koester tells The Daily Beast by email that she was “not surprised” by the news that C.K. had returned to the stage. “Honestly, I thought he'd have come back sooner,” she writes. “‘Time’ was never ‘up.’ It was temporarily suspended until women's victimhood ceased being a trending topic. The fact that he was given an ovation before even opening his mouth was both the least surprising and most depressing part of the entire story.”
The Comedy Cellar’s eagerness to welcome him back onto its stage, she adds, is “indicative of the club community's overall apathy when it comes to respecting the existence and protecting the safety of 51% of the population.”
Of course, it wasn’t just female comics who waded into the Louis C.K. quagmire on Twitter. On the one hand, there were male stand-ups like Ian Karmel, a writer on The Late Late Show with James Corden, who described the situation as above all, a “workplace safety” issue.
“Can you imagine the bank you're working at hiring back the guy who jacked off in front of women without their consent because it had been like, a year or something?” Karmel asked. “It seems so obvious that we shouldn't let these people back into our communities without them putting in a lot of work to get better.”
Then there was Michael Ian Black, who has been a loud voice on the issue of toxic masculinity over the past year, but faced a torrent of criticism Tuesday morning for saying he’s “happy” to see C.K. back on stage. “Will take heat for this,” he acknowledged, “but people have to be allowed to serve their time and move on with their lives.”
Comedians Rhea Butcher, Emily Heller, Erin Whitehead and others all pushed back hard against Black’s suggestion that C.K. has “served his time.” Comedian Aparna Nancherla summed it up fairly succinctly on Twitter, writing that C.K. “getting a standing ovation for dropping in to a comedy club less than a year after admitting to sexual misconduct tells you all you need to know about how society applauds powerful men for doing less than the minimum of decency.”
After imploring C.K. to donate his proceeds to RAINN and use his voice to “support and promote women,” Nell Scovell couldn’t help but make a joke about the whole thing as well.
“I think women AND men can agree that no one should forgive Louis CK for ‘I Love You, Daddy,’” she tweeted of the comedian’s 2017 film, which premiered at the Toronto Film Festival before it was dropped by distributors and more or less disappeared from the face of the Earth.
“I do wonder if that movie was a sign that he was burnt out creatively anyway,” Scovell, who caught the film on one of the awards screeners that went out before it was pulled from theaters, says. “They thought it was award-winning caliber!”
At the end of his tortured “apology” statement last fall, C.K. wrote, “I have spent my long and lucky career talking and saying anything I want. I will now step back and take a long time to listen.”
“I disagree,” Scovell says. “I think it’s a time to support and promote people who have been wronged, people who are vulnerable, people who don’t have the same high status as white men in comedy. I’d like to see him using his voice to help others.”
By all accounts, C.K. was neither listening nor promoting women on that stage Sunday night.