Louis C.K.’s return to comedy after his widely publicized fall from grace met expected outrage that has not dissipated in the months since he’s resumed stand-up comedy. Although videos are regularly shared on social media of the comic performing to packed clubs full of cheering fans who laugh hysterically at his signature self-deprecating humor, outraged pushback on his re-emergence is as loud as it ever was.
It’s been nearly two years since C.K. admitted to behaving in a sexually depraved and fairly despicable manner with several women. While some may still be affected by his transgressions, he capitulated and apologized publicly. He broke no laws and was charged with no crime.
He also paid dearly for his transgressions—losing a movie, other projects, and a fortune. He went from being one of the top-earning comedians in the world to essentially being unemployed. As he claimed he would, he took time away from the comedy scene. It was nine months before he appeared on a small New York stage after the public apology. Since that time, he has been slowly clawing his way back up, one night club at a time, like he did when he first started out.
But many hoped his promised time away would be permanent, that he would bend to the will of the perpetually outraged and disappear for good. Following a recent surprise performance at Brooklyn comedy festival, Skankfest, the venue that hosted the festival issued a public apology to after pressure from many who found out that the disgraced comic had made an appearance.
Video from C.K.’s set showed an elated crowd of cheering fans welcoming him to the stage and instantly laughing at his opening joke—a nod to his public admission of sexually inappropriate behavior.
— Luis J. Gomez (@luisjgomez) June 23, 2019
It was the people not in attendance who eventually got the venue, Brooklyn Bazaar, to make a public apology for allowing C.K. inside their space. The statement says, in part:
We would like to state that this was a surprise appearance and that the venue had no prior knowledge that his performance would occur. By the time he was brought through the side entrance by promoters and put on stage, it was too late for our staff to stop it… We would first like to apologize to our community and staff for what occurred, and we would also like to apologize to the Music Department because they have put a lot of effort into making Brooklyn Bazaar a safe space with diverse programming. We will make sure to be more clear when discussing our guidelines and policies with outside events and to vet these events more thoroughly in general in the future.
C.K. has not shied from controversy since his return to the stage. In January, he stirred the pot by resisting the idea that he should refer to any person as “they or them” and making jokes about the very serious nature of the activist survivors of the Parkland school shooting. The leaked footage showed fans howling with laughter. The outrage mob saw his jokes as a battle cry against their increasingly hostile political correctness.
Many admire C.K. for his willingness to peel back the darkest corners of self-doubt and point out the aggravating elements of life that most are too afraid to mention. Based on leaked footage, C.K.’s material is as sharp as ever. Fans are drawn to his comedic ability to alleviate the shame normal people feel in everyday life by painting it all over himself. While this talent draws his biggest admirers closer, it is also this element of the veteran comic that has galvanized his status as persona non grata in the post-MeToo world.
Could C.K. convince his way back into the hearts of the general public by changing the way he tells jokes? Possibly. Could he open every set with an apology to the public for what he did and a promise that he will never be bad ever again? Sure, but he would be better off retiring and selling used cars upstate because pandering to a mob of humorless harpies bent on social justice is simply not funny. And, despite what some woke comics try to say, comedians should still be funny.
As it becomes less popularly acceptable to have distinct opinions about political and social issues, stand-up comedy becomes antithetical to prescribed groupthink and will continue to be under attack. To be a comic is to get on stage and fear nothing, to evoke laughter from the most tragic and dark places.
Many comedians find their stage time to be therapeutic, that connecting to an audience with laughter is to share real pain and be able to laugh about it. To give comedians rules about what they can and cannot joke about is to take away their ability to be a comedian.
Louis C.K. has apologized for what he did. Those that don’t like his jokes are under no obligation to hear them, but they have no right to tell anyone else what or who to laugh at. And fans have made it clear: they want Louis C.K.