Author Michael Arceneaux on why Louis C.K.’s attempt at a “comeback” and the male comics supporting him are emblematic of the rape culture that #MeToo is fighting.
In his heart of hearts, comedian Michael Ian Black believed he was asking an important, daring question when, on August 28th, he tweeted: “Will take heat for this, but people have to be allowed to serve their time and move on with their lives. I don’t know if it’s been long enough, or his career will recover, or if people will have him back, but I’m happy to see him try.”
Black asked this in response to comedian Louis C.K. returning to the stage on August 26th by way of a performance at the Comedy Cellar in New York. The performance has been described as a “surprise,” but it reeks of intentionality. Louis C.K.—like Matt Lauer, like Kevin Spacey, like Charlie Rose, like Mario Batali, and like other high profile men who have been marred with scandal over allegations of some level of sexual misconduct, assault, and/or harassment—is seeking a comeback. In November of 2017, the comedian admitted to exposing his penis and masturbating in front of women without their consent.
Louis C.K. had been avoiding public appearances ever since, and yet, not even a full year after the accusations were made and acknowledged, he’s already back to the stage.
Speaking to Vulture, women described the atmosphere as “intimidating” for anyone not all ready to watch Louis C.K. perform. Making matters worse is word that he actually made jokes about rape whistles. “It felt like there were a lot of aggressive men in the audience and very quiet women,” one woman in attendance explained. “It’s the kind of vibe that doesn’t allow for a dissenting voice. You’re just expected to be a good audience member. You’re considered a bad sport if you speak out.” It’s as if, once again, the comedian is forcing himself on women without their consent.
When Louis C.K. took the stage, he was greeted with a standing ovation. Some would be inclined to take that as evidence that the public is ready for Louis C.K.’s return and couple it with the suggestion that we simply move on. This is certainly the gist of Michael Ian Black’s question—whether he realized that or not. Indeed, when another Twitter user informed Black that his question was “hurtful,” he wrote back: “My intention was never to place the needs of the abuser over the victims, but rather to begin asking a question: is there a way to bring people back? I asked the question in good-faith, but perhaps naively…” Later, after numerous women confronted his stance, he seemed to better understand the problem. He retweeted a thread from Kathy Griffin about women comics’ careers being stalled and then said, “I made a mistake the other day in trying to defend a position that was…ultimately indefensible. I was wrong…” When actress June Diane Raphael responded to Michael Ian Black’s original question with her own: “How do we break it to men that the #metoo movement has barely even begun?,” Black tweeted, “I can tell you from personal experience, this point was brought home loud and clear to me yesterday.”
Another male comedian, Marlon Wayans, also took to Louis C.K.’s defense. When questioned about his return to the stage, Wayans said to TMZ: “Comics need the stage. That’s where we express and that’s where we take all our anxieties and life depressions…we put ’em on stage and we make people laugh…I think he wants to come back and talk about it. He’s apologetic and sincere and funny, so I hope he finds the funny in it. Nobody may understand that journey, but comedians, we go in dark caves and we come out with these light things called jokes.”
All of these people—Michael Ian Black, Marlon Wayans, the folks who applauded Louis C.K.—are guilty of the same sin: placing far greater concern on the culprit rather than the victim.
It has not even been a year since Louis C.K. admitted that he forced himself upon women, and he is already staging a comeback—with support from his male colleagues, no less. Louis C.K. has faced no consequence from the actions for which he has admitted fault. There has been no criminal persecution, no civil litigation. We do not know if he has sought treatment in any real way. We don’t know if he’s offered any acts of contrition to the women he intimidated.
Louis C.K. has not offered the world anything to right his wrongs, and yet Michael Ian Black and other like-minded people (noticeably men) are rallying on his behalf. As if he is the victim. As if he deserves our graciousness and understanding. As if he is the one we should all be focusing on.
The owner of the Comedy Cellar, Noam Dworman, revealed to the Hollywood Reporter that he wasn’t at the club when Louis C.K. performed. Dworman says the move was done at the “spur of the moment,” and noted that C.K. told the emcee that night that he wanted to go onstage. Perhaps Louis C.K. feels he is ready for a comeback. Maybe he, as Marlon Wayans explained, felt he truly needed to be back on stage. Sure, that’s understandable—but ultimately, it’s telling.
His choice to return to the stage already, and to make jokes about how “rape whistles are not clean,” all demonstrate that Louis C.K. is as selfish as ever.
For once in his life, he ought to be thinking about women. Why didn’t it dawn on C.K. that seeing him on stage only nine months after owning up to despicable predatory behavior might be triggering for women and perhaps even other men in the audience? And if it did dawn on him, then he decided to show up on stage anyway. Why? He doesn’t care; it’s about him, still.
Sadly, such a degree of self-centeredness and a lack of compassion is understandable for him to have. After all, we are only now seeing men be held accountable for their awful actions thanks to the #MeToo movement, but we have already been bombarded with so much chatter about their “comebacks.”
Thanks to the likes of Michael Ian Black and Marlon Wayans, those men stand to feel even more empowered to return to business as usual, wrongdoing be damned. And if you care more about these men than the people who they have hurt, you may not have exposed yourself in the gross manner that Louis C.K. is now known for, but you have certainly shown your ass to the world. I “may take heat for this,” but I stand by it.
Michael Arceneaux is the New York Times bestselling author of the recently released book I Can’t Date Jesus from Atria Books/Simon & Schuster. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Rolling Stone, Essence, The Guardian, Mic, and more. Follow him on Twitter.