One of the unresolved questions hanging over the entertainment industry amidst the #MeToo movement is when, or if, there is an appropriate time for performers to make their return to the stage or screen after being accused of sexual impropriety. That conundrum was brought into sharp focus on Sunday night (Aug. 26), when comedian Louis C.K. did a 15-minute, unannounced walk-up set at New York City's Comedy Cellar, his first public performance since the Louis creator admitted to sexual misconduct last fall.
The setting was a natural one for the stand-up comic and TV producer, who was accused by five women of sexual misconduct in a New York Times expose in November amid the firestorm of accusations against disgraced former Miramax studio boss Harvey Weinstein. But the reactions have been swift, and in many cases, harsh, with many questioning why, as fellow comedian Aparna Nancherla wrote, "Louis CK 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."
C.K. was accused of masturbating in front of a number of women. He later admitted to the sexual misconduct, and subsequently lost his production deal with FX. He also saw the cancelation of the release of the film I Love You, Daddy, which he starred in, directed and wrote. HBO and Netflix similarly cut ties with C.K. in the wake of the controversy.
According to the Cellar's owner, Noam Dworman, C.K. did a "typical" set of jokes about tipping waitresses, racism and parades for the crowd of 115 or so, but did not make any reference to the sexual harassment claims or their effect on him. And while at press time Dworman said there was only one complaint about the comedian's return, a number of C.K.'s peers weighed in with strongly-worded opinions about what the set represented to them, and to the #MeToo the movement at large. A majority of the reaction posts were harshly critical of C.K.'s ability to slip back into the limelight less than a year after the allegations, with a scant few coming to his defense.
On the other hand, Saturday Night Live "Weekend Update" co-anchor Michael Che reportedly defended C.K. on his Instagram Story on Tuesday (Aug. 28), writing, "What’s interesting to me about these articles against Louis CK performing again, is how important fame is to people...a lot of what I read says that CK shouldn’t get to be a ‘famous’ comedian anymore. Because to them, he’s still winning. Isn’t that strange?...meaning he can be shamed, humiliated, lose millions of dollars, lose all of his projects, lose the respect of a lot of his fans and peers, and whatever else that comes with what he did. But since he can still do a comedy set for free at a 200 seat club a year later, it means he got off easy. THAT’s how coveted fame is...just because it looks to you like someone is 'getting off easy' cause they still have the perks you would kill to have, doesn't make it so."
Check out some of the reactions below.
Comedian Michael Ian Black was one of the few peers who defended C.K., and the response was, as he expected, vigorous.