Louis C.K. showed up for a surprise gig at the at the Comedy Cellar in New York City on Sunday night. According to the New York Times, he received an ovation before he even began. According to Vulture, there were at least two women who were not having it. And they felt they weren’t the only dismayed members of the audience, but it sounds like they were the minority. One of them reported seeing only four other women in the front row sitting stone-faced throughout his 15-minute set.
It was classic Louis. Surprise visit and 15 minutes of working out new material. He’s one of the hardest working comedians in his industry–and well respected for it. That is, until his fall from grace last year. Following the release of a short statement in the New York Times copping to masturbating in front of at least five women and coercing them into silence, he was dropped by Netflix, Amazon, shut out from the box office and dropped by his manager and previously devoted agent. The very agent who had threatened to ruin the first two women to call C.K. out if they came forward. And he did. They received death threats, were blackballed from auditions and clubs and lost television opportunities that were all but a sure thing.
The two women in the Comedy Cellar audience reported feeling a similar kind of silencing as the men in the room boomed out their approval. “If someone had heckled him, I think they would’ve been heckled out,” one of them said.”It felt like there were a lot of aggressive men in the audience and very quiet women. It’s the kind of vibe that doesn’t allow for a dissenting voice. You’re just expected to be a good audience member.”
Yes, be a good girl and agree with the men. If you’ve ever been in a room throbbing with testosterone, you know better than to disagree.
The club’s owner, Noam Dworman, told the New York Times, “there can’t be a permanent life sentence on someone who does something wrong.” The social standards about how to respond to errant behavior are inconsistent, he said, and now shifting ever faster, and audiences should have the leeway to decide what to watch themselves. “I think we’ll be better off as a society if we stop looking to the bottlenecks of distribution — Twitter, Netflix, Facebook or comedy clubs — to filter the world for us.”
Dworman’s argument seems logical. Nevertheless, the audience’s response shows how little so many men understand about the MeToo movement, how dominant their voices are and how the needle on predatory sexual behavior hasn’t moved. Sure, men like Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey are gone forever, perhaps leading us to conclude that overtly criminal and predatory behavior has been curtailed. Please. Consider Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and our Predator In Chief. Nobody talks about Thomas’ well-documented sins against Anita Hill. Why even talk about C.K.? Really, when there are predatory men setting laws that will impact women for generations. Aren’t they the very ones who should be shamed out of office? If anyone?
But I digress.
But do I?
What does C.K.’s comeback mean?
Many of C.K.’s fans and supporters argue that C.K.’s offenses didn’t rise to Weinstein’s level. Yet, that argument fails to address the real issue–that when victims come forward, they face swift and immediate retribution. They face losing everything. The problem with C.K.’s return is that the women involved don’t get one.
As a one time fan of C.K.’s, I always felt there was room in his comedy for me, for women. However, I predict that may no longer be the case. I fear his comeback will widen the gender divide as he pulls away from more inclusive topics. If Twitter offers any insight today, those most vocal against his comeback are women and those for it, are men.
SNL’s Michael Che, comedians Marlon Wayans and Mo Amer were the first of his colleagues to speak in his defense, but I doubt they’ll be the last. Men are angry and confused. They identify with the public figures who’ve been called out. Even those who say they support the MeToo movement, fail to get what it’s about. An interview last year on MTP Daily with Chuck Todd encapsulated this perfectly for me. Jeff Daniels and Peter Sarsgaard say they fully support the MeToo movement and believe the women who speak out. When asked about Woody Allen and whether the two would do another film with him, Sarsgaard levies a decisive no. Daniels, however hesitates, yet quickly says he believes Dylan Farrow. Then, this happens: Sarsgaard says, “Throughout history there have been so many artists that had bad behavior. Picasso, I mean my god, it’s just been one after another, right? In all professions, but a lot of artists, right?”
And he was doing so well.
Then he adds, a bit defensively, “I would continue to watch Woody Allen movies, I’ll tell you that. I would go back and watch those movies. He’s a fantastic filmmaker.”
Uh huh. Woody Allen’s films demonstrate the various ways in which women exist to serve men’s needs and desires–something that has existed so long in the arts, we don’t even question it. His female characters succumb to his sexual desire as soon as he arrives. When they don’t they are portrayed as devious, manipulative and untrustworthy. Manhattan, for instance, is about a 44-year old guy who dates a swooning 17-year-old Mariel Hemingway.
That’s exactly the point of the MeToo movement. TimesUp on that behavior. Someone’s genius does not excuse his predatory and misogynist point of view or artwork. It does not give him a free pass to continue to undermine women, while his career soars. His talent or ability should not trump a worldview that feeds a narrative that disempowers half the population.
That said, I don’t believe people should be tried, convicted and destroyed in the court of public opinion. I don’t believe that Louis C.K. should go away forever. Instead, let’s stop talking about him and the men like him. If we’re ever going to move the needle, we need to hear from the women.
Let’s give them the opportunities they lost. Let’s showcase their work and their voices. Let’s find their genius. If we are ever to strike a balance, the Entertainment Industry power brokers, the same ones who vanquished the worst offenders in the MeToo movement, should seek out the women who were wronged and give them their lost platforms. Offer them the same opportunities to prove themselves. If they really believe them as they say they do, put their money where their mouths are.