At 11 p.m. on Aug. 26, a comedian took the stage at the Comedy Cellar in Greenwich Village. He told jokes, the audience laughed and 15 minutes later said good night.
The performer in question was Louis C.K., formerly one of the biggest comedians in the country, attempting to make his return to stand-up after nine months of exile. His routine, whether consciously or not, shifted one of the biggest movements in recent history into its next stage: possible redemption for perpetrators of sexual misconduct in the #MeToo era.
Less than a year ago, Louis C.K. admitted to sexual misconduct, confessing that he used his power over women who admired him to maneuver them into uncomfortable sexual situations. Now he wants America to forgive him or, even better, to forget that his past actions even happened.
Louis C.K.’s set at the Comedy Cellar was unannounced. The comedy club gave its patrons and staff no choice to decide whether they would like to sit through the jokes of an admitted predator. There is a touch of disgusting irony in the fact that, after so long away from the spotlight, the first thing Louis C.K. does when he comes back is force himself upon an unsuspecting audience.
During his set, he did not mention any of the scandal that surrounds him. He did not speak a word of his severed ties with FX, HBO and Netflix, or of his canceled film or how thousands of his fans turned on him. Instead, the comedian pretended none of it ever happened. He even made a joke about a rape whistle, either highlighting his complete apathy to his past or choosing to ignore it.
He was given a standing ovation before he told a single joke. The room was apparently ready to forgive him after his brief hiatus.
After years of denying these rumors, the comedian only admitted they were true after The New York Times put out a report about his misconduct. It seems that he’s learned nothing from this. This man feels that he paid his dues and now wants back in the game.
He stepped onstage without considering if there were any victims of harassment in the audience who might feel uncomfortable by his presence. Thankfully for Louis C.K., the audience was filled with mostly white, male members who were more than happy to accept his return.
One can imagine how different this story would be if he had masturbated in front of men without their consent. There would be no talk of a comeback and no standing ovation at any comedy clubs. He would be deservedly scorned for the rest of his life. Because his victims are all lesser-known women, however, society is quick to forgive, just like with countless other celebrities who have a long history of mistreating women, such as Mike Tyson, Floyd Mayweather, President Donald Trump and many more.
Louis C.K.’s redemption tour sets forth a dangerous precedent that others in his shoes will be eager to follow. Every man in power who lost everything because of the #MeToo movement — such as Matt Lauer and Bill O’Reilly — will begin plotting his comeback in the same mold.
Just because Louis C.K. is not Harvey Weinstein does not mean he is free of guilt. Masturbating in front of anyone without their consent is not only criminal, but also extremely inappropriate and morally depraved. It is reckless to minimize the damage caused just because Louis C.K. is “not as bad” as some of the others who were brought down by the movement
This is not to say that he never deserves another chance. Only society can decide that. The ball is not in his court, but in all of America’s. As with all who have fallen from grace, they do not get to decide if they get a comeback. Society does, and everyone should choose carefully, as the decision will have ramifications.
Before C.K. gets his shot at redemption, if he ever does, he has to prove that he’s earned one by doing what he can to improve upon both himself and the toxic environment that allowed him to prey upon his victims. Compassion without accountability is simply a form of enabling and if the #MeToo movement has taught America anything, it’s that it is no longer permissible to enable sexual predators.
This is just the beginning. Louis C.K. will undoubtedly start doing more shows and attempt to break back into comedy’s innermost sanctums. As he does so, it is important not to forget that the comedian used his power and fame to make women of lesser status feel inferior, objectified and unsafe. The least society can do is make him feel like he has to actually feel remorse for his actions and work to earn back everything he has single-handedly squandered.
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